As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Kane.
Cynthia Kane is a certified meditation and mindfulness instructor and the founder of the Kane Intentional Communication Institute, LLC. She is the author of How to Meditate Like a Buddhist (Hierophant Publishing, April 2020), Talk to Yourself Like a Buddhist (Hierophant Publishing, April 2018) and How to Communicate Like a Buddhist (Hierophant Publishing, April 2016).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Iused to be a horrible communicator: closing off instead of sharing how I truly felt, reacting rather than responding to the words of others, and being passive-aggressive instead of assertive and clear. I would judge others and compare my insides to their outsides, which always resulted in a tirade of negative self-talk. What changed was my first love tragically passed away, and with his passing the world looked different. What I saw was that life was too beautiful to be upset all the time — constantly comparing, competing, thinking this is right and that is wrong. Life was too unpredictable to disrespect others and myself with my interactions. Life was to be enjoyed, not to suffer through. I craved to feel present, to enjoy my time here.
I wished nothing more at that time than for someone to come in and take all the pain away. To take my suffering and replace it. I wasn’t saying it had to be with something spectacular, but with a sensation of normalcy or at least an allowance of life being as life is. I read books, took courses, and signed up for workshops all on this quest to feel better. And no matter the class, teacher, mentor, over and over again I found that the root of my unhappiness and insecurity came from how I communicated. How I talked with others and myself dictated so much of my feeling state that to really enjoy each moment, to be here now, I had to teach myself a new way of interacting.
During this search to feel better in the world, I was introduced to the Elements of Right Speech in Buddhism and meditation. It was these two things that changed my life and when my career was really born. I started a lifestyle experiment to figure out how to speak in a kind, honest, and helpful way, which is what became the Kane Intentional Communication Method and what I’ve now taught to over 40,000 people. The formal practice of this method is meditation — as how we are in meditation is how we are within our conversations.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
To me there’s not one interesting story that’s happened to me since I started my career. Maybe it’s because since I started my career everything has become that much more interesting. Once I got in to meditation and mindfulness and really changing the way I communicated, I finally learned how to be present and enjoy my days and relationships. Henry Miller said, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself”. So to me, each day is the most interesting story in itself.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Come to every interaction with the intention to listen. To see each person in your organization, no matter how large, as someone you value and appreciate. By doing this, you then understand what people in your community need to thrive and feel inspired and motivated. Giving them the space they need to be able to think, create, smile, laugh, feel useful and helpful.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are many books that have truly impacted the way I see myself and the world. The one though that stands out among the rest is Nathanial Branden’s A Woman’s Self-Esteem. A lot of people will question a book written by a man about women’s self esteem, but the concepts within the book identified a lot of what I was struggling with after my first love’s death. The subject matter is very big and complex but Branden’s book is short, simple, and practical, making it very easy to understand. I use a lot of his finish the stems of sentence exercises with my students when we’re working on having difficult conversations.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
The state of being mindful is awareness or wakefulness. It is paying attention to what you’re doing at the moment you’re doing it with non-judgmental, friendly attention. It’s becoming curious about the moment you’re in, observing it, engaging with it — all without evaluating it. It’s noticing where your attention is, what sensations that’s producing in the body or the mind, and knowing that it’s either helpful or unhelpful (all with a sense of it being as it is — not good or bad — simply as is). If it’s unhelpful, then choosing to move your attention to something that feels more yum than yuck.
So mindfulness is
- Feeling upset and letting yourself feel that way — not beating yourself up for it and telling yourself you need to get over it, or what’s the big deal.
- Eating too much and noticing the sensations in your stomach and not judging yourself for overeating.
- Being stuck in quarantine and noting it without judging whether it’s good or bad. It simply is.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
- Regulates blood pressure
- Lowers heart rate
- Lowers cholesterol
- Increases fertility
- Improves circulation
- Reduces insomnia
- Decreases chronic pain
- Helps your memory
- Alleviates depression
- Increases contentment
- Boosts self-confidence / self-esteem
- Less reactionary
- Improves decision-making skills
- Enhances concentration
- Reduces anxiety and compulsive behavior
- Increases feeling of connectedness with life
- Increases feeling of safety
- Increases intuition
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Listen to yourself: Starting to pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself is important. You want to notice if you’re talking to yourself in a way that promotes feelings of fear and anxiety, overwhelms. If your thoughts make you feel discomfort in any way or less than in any way. When you notice your language is unhelpful, moving you away from the feeling you want to feel, practice seeing it, saying to yourself, there I am speaking to myself in a way that’s leading me to feel more stress and fear — making something mean more than it does, and then come back to the present moment.
- Focus on What’s True: Once back in the present moment then you want to focus on what’s true. Asking yourself, “what do I know to be true right now.” You want to focus on what you do know, the facts. Any “what if” phrases or assumptions or I think means you’re using your imagination and using it in an unskillful way. Drop the story and focus on what’s true.
- Practice Gratitude: Then to move into seeing the whole landscape, not just the bad, start to put your attention on that which you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude promotes a sense of well-being, bringing you out of a feeling of scarcity and fear.
- Meditation: Sitting for 5–10 minutes in meditation will move you out of the sympathetic nervous system, where cortisol is pumping through your body and you’re in the flight, fight or freeze response to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest. It will help you to focus on one thing at a time, become more responsive instead of reactive, and be in the present moment. Even if you only do five long slow deep breaths in the morning, you’re setting yourself up for a more clam and relaxed day.
- Acceptance / Allow: By allowing things to be as they are, we no longer fight with reality. The saying I love is don’t push the river. Seeing, noticing, allowing, and accepting where you right now make it easier to be in the situation you’re in. The more you fight against being in quarantine or social distancing the more stress, fear, and anxiety you’ll create for yourself. It’s easier to accept it and see how you can make it easier for yourself rather than harder.
- Attention on Present Moment: If you’re caught up thinking about the future then you will experience feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, because you’re focusing on that which you can’t control. Again, using your imagination in a way that’s unskillful. And if you’re longing for the way things were before, you’ll fall into depression. Putting your attention on the moment that you’re in is the only way to love, create, laugh, or be grateful. When you notice you’re caught up in the future or the past, acknowledge it, and refocus back to your present moment. What are my hands doing? What are my feet doing? What is my body doing?
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Allow: It’s our want to care for and fix others; however, the best thing we can do right now allows people to feel and experience whatever they’re going through. It’s not our responsibility to solve or give advice; it’s our responsibility to hold space for them. To give them permission to feel as they do — not to judge or evaluate their emotion — not to talk them out of it — not to provoke it — not to dwell in it with them — but to see them with loving eyes.
- Match: While we see them with loving eyes, we want to match their emotion without getting absorbed in it or taking it on as our own. So we acknowledge their emotion so they feel seen and heard.
- Ask: Instead of jumping in and giving advice, ask if they’re open to hearing what’s been helping you or what you’ve heard other people are doing to feel less stress and overwhelm right now. If they are open to it, then share. If they aren’t open, then respect that and refrain from sharing any resources, etc.
- Meditate: Doing Metta / Loving Kindness meditation promotes healing to others as you’re extending love to those you care for, those who are neutral to you, and to all those who are suffering.
- Refocus to facts: While in conversation, if you notice the other person starting to get stuck in assumptions, unhelpful thoughts, what if’s, what they don’t know to be true, see if you can come back to what you do know to be true. Focusing on what can be done and what choices we do have can be helpful.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
I would download the Insight Timer App. It’s a free meditation app and there are also classes dedicated to mindfulness and meditation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“You can either be a prisoner of your past or a pioneer of your future.” — Deepak Chopra
I come back to the above quote again and again as it reminds me that I have a choice in how I want to interact and live in the world. In each moment I have an opportunity to either move more in the direction of feeling ease and peaceful and calm, of expressing myself to help myself and others suffer less, or of getting stuck in unhelpful thoughts and resorting to my old patterns of interacting that promote more discomfort and disease. To experience the world differently, we have to do something differently than we’ve done before.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Bringing the practice of Intentional Communication and the Kane Intentional Communication Method into schools and business and government. Learning how to communicate in a kind, honest, and helpful way would be part of school curriculum and business and government trainings. Our words are our power and our responsibility and they can be used to promote less suffering for ourselves and others — the earlier we learn this the easier our interactions become.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
My website cynthiakane.com or on Instagram at cykane1 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Cynthia-Blair-Kane-182914353596/.