Wendy Block, LCSW - A Spiritual Life

June 04, 2021 00:41:23
Wendy Block, LCSW -  A Spiritual Life
More Happiness Less Suffering
Wendy Block, LCSW - A Spiritual Life

Show Notes

Wendy N. Block started practicing meditation at age 18, studying different traditions, including Buddhist, Hindu, and Advaita paths with various teachers. She has been practicing Vipassana meditation for the past 15 years, and has helped organize meditation programs in Long Beach for the past 10 years. She has trained with cognitive psychologist Zindel Segal to teach Mindfulness- Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).


Website: www.mhlspodcast.com


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Welcome to the more happiness, less suffering podcast. I'm Casey Howe, senior meditation and Dharma teacher for insight. Speaker 1 00:00:07 And I'm Dr. Monisha Basa psychiatrist in our little podcasting studio in orange county, California. We bring wisdom from the couch and the cushion to your real life questions and struggles. So grab a cup of tea and join us. We're so glad you're here. Welcome back everybody to the more happiness, less suffering podcast as always, we are so grateful to have you with us today. We are really excited to welcome a very special guest to our podcast. We have Wendy block here who is a licensed therapist and meditation teacher. Um, I know she teaches very closely with Casey and has for many years and the long beach community. Um, and so I'm going to hand it over to Casey to, uh, introduce Wendy and Wendy. Thank you so much for being here with us today. Speaker 2 00:01:05 Well, thanks for having me. Speaker 0 00:01:06 Yeah. Yeah. So Witten, uh, Wendy is my partner in crime, um, over at inside LA long beach and yeah, we've been teaching together probably. What do you think? Eight years Wendy? I think coming up on eight years, so yeah. Uh, yeah, it's been really wonderful. So Wendy and I head up the, the long beach arm of insight LA and have done retreats together and, um, yeah, just, uh, heading up the community. It's been quite a pleasure because there's so much involved in building a community and supporting the community and, and allowing that community itself to, um, just, uh, inform each other's practices. So there's so much involved in that and it's been really, really wonderful doing this with you, Wendy. So extremely happy to have you on today to tell us about your journey. And I have certainly learned a lot from Sydney with you and learning from you. So thanks again. Speaker 2 00:02:16 Thanks Casey. It's been a pleasure and journey sharing this with you. Speaker 1 00:02:23 Uh, you know, we would all love to hear, you know, maybe just a little bit about kind of your background where you initially grew up and I would love to know more about your path, both towards becoming a therapist as, as well as a meditation teacher. And maybe this is a second question, but I'll just, you know, add it in here is how, how the two of those inform one another or how you bring them together in your work. Speaker 2 00:02:55 Okay. Um, well I was born in Hawaii and lived in Germany. My father was in the army and when he retired, we moved back to New York where my parents are from and my parents joined a good Jeff, you spend ski group in New York and they were kind of esoteric teachings. Meditation was involved movement, um, fascinating philosophy. So when I was a little girl, they would have dialogue around the kitchen table about, um, higher consciousness, meditation waking up from a dream, um, focusing like your life, not on material things, but on spiritual growth. And that's how I was raised. So I didn't know anything else. Uh, it was really emphasized in my home that new worked on, um, awakening and spiritual inquiry. Um, and, um, they meditated in the home and I remember one time being a little girl, they took us to the metropolitan museum of art in Manhattan, and that museum had these ancient Buddhist statues in the new in the museum. Speaker 2 00:04:32 They were beautiful and large, and they were from very old from archeological digs, uh, in the, in China and other parts of the east. And, um, they kind of gave me this con like, what is the Buddha saying in his expression sitting there? And they asked my sister and I to sit with the Buddha. Now this can sound completely nutty to ask children, to sit with the Buddha and contemplate what the Buddhist message was. But this resonated with me as a little girl. I never forgot that. And I felt this peace and E grounded-ness depth, warmth, centerdness expansion, all those things as a little girl. So there wasn't a mistake that I was drawn to meditation and yoga and the spiritual path from the beginning. And as soon as I was old enough, I was sitting with gurus and doing Noga and learning transcendental meditation. Speaker 2 00:05:44 I think I remember age 18. They gave me the TM course, like, okay, now you're an adult. We expect you to meditate every day. Um, nobody really seemed to care if I had a career, went to college, it was a real thing. We hope you're going to meditate every day. That was their orientation. So I, uh, was obedient, you know, I believed what they had to share. And I really devoted myself from a young age to, uh, meditation. And first with the guru, which was very popular, then looked in Nanda, was around in New York. And I spent a lot of time in the Ash from setting both, um, the urban setting where we really had, uh, centers in people's homes. And then, um, there was a townhouse in Manhattan and then I would spend a lot of time in the ashram itself for many years. And from there, I spent a lot of time on the non-dual Advita path with teachers like on your Shaun team and several others. And from there Buddhism, I never really stopped. And I don't think I stopped pursuing a spiritual path, studying reading, sitting with others because that is what created meaning in my life. And that's where I found joy. And those are the people I like to be around. Uh, and most of my life, I would say meditation has been a true gift, a really beautiful gift. Um, one of my favorite things to do. Speaker 2 00:07:45 So I'm just doing what I love and I'm lucky that I got introduced to it so early in life, I, there was a doorway, you know, an opening for me and Speaker 1 00:08:00 That's wonderful. That's wonderful. And when did, when did therapy, uh, become a part of the picture for you? Speaker 2 00:08:09 Well, um, my parents were, um, struggling emotionally and mentally, I would say in spite of their spiritual path. And I think the spiritual path was really something uplifting and positive and really holding them both. But my father had a very serious bipolar disorder that he struggled with. So like most children who have parents who have mental illness, we, a lot of us wind up becoming a therapist and in the, um, mental health community, I was one of those. Um, I had so many colleagues with a similar story. It isn't funny. The second piece to it was I grew up really in poor neighborhoods of New York city in a time of very high crime and poverty. I don't really think those neighborhoods exist in LA, like I've seen in New York and I could be wrong, but a lot of these communities were burnt out buildings with very high crime. Speaker 2 00:09:25 And I grew up pretty close to that. And I really, as a kid wanted to be part of that solution. I wanted my hands on solving poverty, child poverty, the problems of poverty, um, the problems of, uh, poor kids. And there wasn't any thought. I knew I either wanted to be a social worker or teach in inner city schools. And eventually I decided on social work and therapy, and most of my career has been dedicated to issues of poverty and poor families, uh, at risk kids. Uh, I've done private practice and counseling, but there's always a project. So that's been my focus and I got to work in child and adolescent therapy in Southeast LA for Kaiser, for a decade and develop, uh, mindfulness. And, um, all sorts of groups are really poor kids and that I am most grateful for that experience today. It was hard, difficult to face a lot of work, but, um, somehow it unfolded just like it should, you know, I felt like I had a debt to pay, you know, I wanted to turn around and pay it back. And I'm glad that I got to do that. Speaker 0 00:11:16 And, and how would you say that your, your meditation practice has informed, um, the work that you do that, that, that therapy work that you do, and maybe also how you hold the difficulties that bust arise, um, seeing what you've seen working with those populations and whatnot, uh, has your meditation spiritual practice been able to assist with all of that? Speaker 2 00:11:44 Well, one thing, um, I was able to bring mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression to Kaiser, to Southeast LA, to communities of color and poor communities where they don't have access to these programs that can be very expensive. Uh, and that was really exciting to bring some of the mindfulness programs that we learned, and we practiced it inside LA too, through Kaiser to some of the poorer communities and very exciting to, um, to offer that and to see the eagerness, the response, the happiness. Um, so I got to do that. That's pretty, pretty amazing. Um, you know, the mindfulness based cognitive therapy program that was written by Zindel Segal and his colleagues has a lot of good wisdom in it. And I think that's been a springboard for me to look and practice cognitive therapy with an emphasis in mindfulness, um, particularly Ms. Self-compassion, um, courses by Kristin Neff and Chris grimmer. Uh, this has been really helpful treating a general population in the psychiatry department where people can't afford long-term therapy, they need short-term models. Uh, they need something solution oriented and hands-on something they can take home. Um, most working class people and working people. They can't afford to be in therapy for many years like this. So that model has been really helpful. Uh, Speaker 1 00:13:44 And that's wonderful. Um, Wendy, and for, for maybe those in our audience who may not be familiar with mindful mindfulness based cognitive therapy, um, do you mind just kind of summarizing what, what that looks like, and maybe a little bit about the model and, um, how it's used for depression? Speaker 2 00:14:05 Yeah. You know, um, and, and this course has really been a springboard for me to develop my own, um, therapeutic modalities around it, but that the emphasis of this course is to begin to help people who have never had experience with meditation to begin to look at thoughts as thoughts and find a way to have mindful spacious awareness around the thought and bring some space from, from depressive thoughts. So the course starts with teaching people about thoughts that bring your mood down and seeing these thoughts, not as facts, not as true, but thoughts, and then developing a practice on giving these thoughts, some space and working with depressive thoughts and low mood, more skillfully through, um, looking at the mind and reframing through, um, better self-care through day-to-day activity and group support and bringing in compassion around mood disorders and the difficulty of depression and anxiety. So it's a good frame to help people begin to not identify with that so much. And, um, adding to that, really helping people, seeing a harsh inner critic, the field of the inner critic, the harsh super ego, and the role that plays in increasing depression and anxiety and stress. So helping people w mindfully, uh, create some space and become aware of how to skillfully get to know their inner critic, their harsh, super ego, the impact that it has on their lives and how it changes our mood. Speaker 2 00:16:17 So, um, and then, you know, of course we can, we have this whole new layer of self-compassion, um, modalities that really come in and support cognitive therapy, knowing your inner critic, um, finding spacious awareness and then bringing in compassion. Speaker 0 00:16:39 Yeah. One thing I was, I wanted to ask you, Wendy, is, um, what do you like to teach, uh, the most, I know, like, like we mentioned, I've been teaching with you for quite some time and know dating back from your childhood with kerchief, and it was Penske, um, all the way through your therapy training and the non dual schools and Teravata, Buddhism, Vipassana, um, self-compassion the list goes on and on. What do you find that you like to share the most and maybe maybe intertwined. This is just kinda, I'm just kinda thinking of this too. Cause we're, you know, over a year in tech to COVID, um, yeah. What kind of teachings do you like to teach them most and you find are the most supportive in this time that we're alive? Speaker 2 00:17:36 Well, um, the one thing that I would add to the list is having been a diamond approach, a student for a decade now, and very much influenced by the work of H Alma's that's his pen name, his actual name is Hamid Allie and Karen Johnson. So, um, they really, and I'm coming around to your question, Casey, they have really stressed in the work, how this inner critic and harsh, super ego, the self image that we create and the personality that we develop shuts down this, um, capacity to feel spaciousness, presence, presence, light, ease, awareness moment, by moment. Most people in Western cultures have this difficulty of this harsh, super ego or a personality view. That's kind of suffocating them. So, um, I really love teaching anything and everything that helps people loosen this difficulty of, um, being stuck in personality and ego and in harsh inner critic and super ego, the most, um, useful thing I found during the pandemic to support people with is the mindful self-compassion course by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer, um, which really has fit so well in helping everyone adjust to the change, the stress, um, the uncertainty, the level of anxiety. Speaker 2 00:19:34 This course really shows it's a strength right now. And we offered it at, um, insight LA a couple of a month or two ago. And, um, got a very good response from that. So I think mindful self-compassion is very helpful right now. And I also think helping people, uh, create a habit and a discipline to sit every day. And Casey knows I I'm online at seven in the morning offering to sit with people every day because helping people create a habit of sitting is so important. And so many people struggle with sitting and meditating regularly. And yet it's, to me, one of the most beneficial things we can do. So I love supporting people in sitting and I love supporting people in, um, breaking free of that personality structure. And the internal dialogue is so constricting. It's so difficult for most people. I don't know if that was clear, but basically the things I think about, you know? Speaker 1 00:20:57 Yeah. And I, I would love to ask the, both of you, you know, because the, both of you as we've discussed have together kind of really created this community, um, within long beach here in Southern California and kind of started that in a way from nothing and have grown the community over time. And, you know, both of you speak to the importance of community when it comes to supporting a meditation practice, you know, so maybe you could both share a little bit about the role of community and what it's been like to, to support and build and grow a community of, of meditators within long beach, um, over these last years. Speaker 2 00:21:41 Well, I would say what Casey and I really haven't common is that we've spent a lot of time in spiritual community, supporting community, growing community, maintaining community, and creating an atmosphere of safety and support. And we both highly value the group structure, the community supporting each other. And the Buddha said, you know, um, you can't do the, that the path alone community is quite a bit of the Buddhist path. So I think our long beach group has had the benefit of two teachers. Who've spent a lot of years, uh, participating in different spiritual communities and value it. And Casey could speak to it rather than someone whose orientation is I'm going to be a meditation teacher and a life coach. And I don't, I'm not putting this down at all. Um, and I'm going to create this business model for myself, and this is my role. This is my profession. You know, that's not our orientation. We've done that too. And there's nothing wrong with it, but the, he and I together have always agreed. Community is first creating a safe place for people to come and sit together and practice together. Um, and we put that as a priority when you say Casey. Speaker 0 00:23:19 Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. When I left the meditation centers, um, you know, and I had nobody to practice with, it was really weird. It was quite strange. I felt like, kind of out on an island. And, um, and so, yeah, I was really thirsty for spiritual connection and, you know, I ended up putting out a, a meetup group, um, cause I didn't have anybody and that's, you know, kinda, kinda grew and, and whatnot. And you know, now we have this, this wonderful, um, spiritual community and I must say, you know, Wendy and I were so lucky because yeah, there was just, you know, a handful of people at first. And we just got so lucky that in, in long beach, there's some really dedicated practitioners, amazing, an amazing Wendy. Like when we started out there's people that were coming, I think it's seven. It's going to, yeah, it's like seven and a half years. Speaker 0 00:24:28 I think, no, it's, it's actually over eight years. Sorry, let's get my data. But anyway, there's people that are still coming from that small, that small seed group. And I think that's something that's kind of innate in, in the Dharma, when we're looking for outside tools, they could be wonderful and beautiful and, and whatnot, but they're not ours. And so I think that, you know, Wendy, you're alluding to this is that when we're just coming together and offering space to sit with yourself, but together and people connect with something that's real within themselves, nobody could take that away from you. And then like you're mentioning Wendy creating that safe space to do that. Does that set safe, open, informed space. It has really connected and, and people come back and, and that creates the creates that community, that community piece. So yeah, I know whenever I've been without it, I've just been really thirsty for it, for sure. It's, it's everything in the practice and being, you know, on the path for a while. I've seen so many of, you know, my spiritual friends throughout the years kind of fall off the path and there's, there's one reason why it's just, I don't have, they don't have a community. Right. Um, yeah. So it, it really is everything. Speaker 1 00:26:09 I think it really strikes me, especially these days because there are so many apps now that are available for people who are looking to start a new practice or get introduced to mindfulness and meditation and such apps obviously have a certain role and a certain benefit to them, but obviously don't necessarily provide this, this type of, uh, community and support. Um, and you know, Wendy, you mentioned the word safety a couple of times sort of the importance of having a safe space to sit and practice in community. And so, you know, what guidance would the, both of you have to maybe somebody who doesn't necessarily have access to a community or if they do how to sort of gauge whether it is a safe space to learn and grow, um, you know, a safe environment. Speaker 2 00:27:05 Yeah. You know, you're bringing up such a good point that so many people use the apps, which seems to be wonderful. I, I hear so many good things about the app. I, um, feel personally, my experience has been sitting with teacher and groups for all my life. There's a warmth, a holding, a caring, uh, kindness. And we learn from each other and the wisdom is shared. We respect each other and we're here to be spiritual friends. And in poly that's called co call Yana, meta, uh, spiritual rans that, um, see the light in each other and the goodness in each other and reflect it back for each other so that when we don't feel so great about ourselves or work hard in, um, you know, some kind of self contempt or, uh, anger in ourselves, or we're not feeling up to it, the person sitting across from you or next to you can shine that light and see who you are. Speaker 2 00:28:20 So when you're in a group that provides this kind of caring, love, nurturing safety, it's felt, it's felt that, um, you are cared for and respected as you are when you walk in the door. And there are healthy boundaries and, um, good con positive communication. And I think what Casey and I really have stress is the Donna, the generosity of sharing a space and offering the Dharma, um, you know, just on donation, just come just that we want me to sit. And that's what we were given all these years and we're paying it forward, trying to give it to others, creating a safe place, to feel the heart, and to feel that connection with others, you know, to feel the ways in which we're vulnerable and we struggle and to feel the way in which we are spacious and free and, um, capable of any kind of enlightenment awakening, you know, um, all of that is reflected back to each other as we sit together. Beautiful. Speaker 0 00:29:43 Yeah. And I think, uh, on a practical level, you know, if you are looking for a group, a community, a song got to practice with a good place to start is to check out some places with, with that lineage. You know, so lineage is important. Lineage is obviously, um, teachers vouching for one another. Um, so if you have a, a teacher that's kind of off, uh, off on an island, uh they're by themselves, they don't have a community. Um, this is a little bit harder to discern what they're all about, but if they're part of a larger group, um, and you vouch for lots of other teachers that have really good reputation, and then this is a bit easier to kind of discern if this is a teacher of high quality, especially if they are, you know, authorized to teach in, in a, in a lineage, this is quite nice. Speaker 0 00:30:46 Also teachers that teach as a team, this is quite nice too. So you see that, uh, in inside LA, if we're teaching at any kind of a neat length of retreat and we, we group teach, and this is also quite nice. So, and also too, just sitting with teachers for a longer period of time, uh, so you can see what they're all about and make sure that ethics and, and all of that's in, in water. So there's like the standard red flags of high high prices and, you know, things like that too. Um, but I I've always found lineage to be really, really important. Speaker 2 00:31:28 Yeah. Yeah. You know, um, we both were authorized to teach by Sharon Salzberg and to the Goodman and Jack Kornfield. And it's important to see if your teachers have put their time in, in either long retreats or for me, I did the two and a half year dedicated practitioner program at spirit rock and spent a lot of retreat time and spirit rock, um, you know, meditation teachers, uh, need to sit quite a bit and go on retreat and have teachers. And you really, um, you need to know that they have spent quite a bit of time sitting, you know, a long retreat or multiple retreats or intensive study programs and that they have teachers and mentors and that they continue to sit sitting as a focal point of their lives. That makes sense to me. Speaker 0 00:32:36 Yeah. That's a great, it's a great point. And it's an obvious one that some times people miss is that, you know, it's like being a basketball coach, but she never played basketball like meditation is about sitting. And, you know, we kinda, as other teachers, we kind of add up retreat days as a way of just kind of checking in with people. Um, it's, you know, your daily practices is so, so important, you know, all of us teachers we're, we're practitioners that's, and first and foremost, you know, we're just, we're sitting with our own stuff daily and, and work in our own spiritual practice. And this is what's most important, um, all the time, you know, to keep, to keep up with that. So he had wonderful, wonderful points. Speaker 2 00:33:32 Yeah. And, you know, having a teacher who really, as we, as Casey just said, who really takes time to sit and go on retreat and emphasize, emphasize is the sitting practice. Speaker 0 00:33:49 Um, so speaking of, of meditation and, and sitting with the practice, maybe if you don't mind leading us in a short meditation, um, to end our time together, and we just both want to thank you so much for your insights and your wisdom. Speaker 1 00:34:10 And actually just maybe before we do the meditation, if you want to share how our audience can find you. And also if there's anything that you want to share in terms of upcoming events, um, or, or other ways that people can sit with you or work with you, we would, we would love to Speaker 2 00:34:29 Hear well, um, can be found on Facebook. Uh, and we do have a Facebook page Sunday sit, um, long beach had been inside LA and, um, teach it inside LA it could always be reached through inside LA and Casey and I are teaching a class next month on, um, uncovering, how did we, uh, do this timeline, demystifying the concept of emptiness, what is emptiness in Buddhism? So we're doing that. And I think we're also doing a retreat in August. Speaker 0 00:35:13 Yes. We're doing a retreat in August of some kinds. So the heart practices. Speaker 2 00:35:20 Yeah. Right. And, uh, we're available on Sunday mornings, uh, long beach. Speaker 0 00:35:28 Yeah. Nick. Yeah. I find that information on the Facebook page Sunday set, long beach, you could find it there. Um, and also through insight, la.org, you could find the Sunday set, long beach information there as well. Speaker 2 00:35:43 And people are welcome to sit at 7:00 AM for 30 minutes, Monday through Friday. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:35:49 And all that information is on the Facebook page. It's all via zoom. So you hate to sit with us anywhere you are Speaker 1 00:35:57 Wonderful. And when do you also mention that you might be opening up a private practice as well for people who might want to work with you? One-on-one yes. Speaker 2 00:36:07 That will, uh, open June, July, and I'm looking forward to, and, uh, increasing that. Speaker 0 00:36:20 Yeah. So, you know, we talked about self-compassion um, today, maybe you can, if you don't mind leading us in a self-compassion practice. Speaker 2 00:36:32 Okay. So we'll see what comes up. It's about three to five minutes. You said Speaker 1 00:36:38 Whatever, five minutes, five minute Speaker 0 00:36:41 Ish. Speaker 2 00:36:43 Okay. All right. So I will start. So finding a comfortable posture and taking a few deep nurturing breaths, taking a moment to scan the body for tension or stress, softening the forehead, noticing any tightness tension in the muscles around the face, the mouth using this nurturing breath is soothing breath, breathe in some fresh energy, into any tightness or tension in the face and forehead allowing the back of the neck and shoulders to drop and relax each in breath, softening, relaxing, and using the in breath to give yourself something that you need. Okay. Maybe breathing in kindness. You could even just use one word breathing and kindness, uh, breathing in calm, perhaps P giving yourself something that you need <inaudible> And on the exhale, letting the body relax, soften, and let go breathing in something good, breathing out, letting go, breathing in kindness and breathing out stress, tension, breathing in ease and calm and on the exhale, softening and letting go. And just remembering that you can come back to this place during the day for small moments, softening, letting go, and giving yourself what you need. And when you're ready, you can slowly open your eyes.

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