Why a “Personal Trainer” is essential for making the most out of meditation practice.
By: Carl Eisen
Mindfulness teacher George Mumford changed professional sports when he brought meditation practice to the Chicago Bulls, LA Lakers and countless other elite athletes. He was often considered Phil Jackson’s “Secret Weapon” to winning eight NBA championships.
One of George’s students Kobe Bryant says this about his meditation practice: “It’s like having an anchor. If I don’t do it, it’s like I’m constantly chasing the day”. Check out this interview with Phil and Kobe on Mindfulness Meditation.
George came to meditation practice when he hit a low point in his life and nothing else was working for him. He calls this his “Ass On Fire” moment.
Let’s be realistic. Most professional pilots would never consider mindfulness and meditation practice unless they’re in serious need of a solution. I suffered needlessly for years trying to “go it alone” because the thought of asking for help made my stress worse. I reached my AOF point and went out on medical for a year in 2007. We’re expected to be superhuman and when we need help, the public, our own industry and even the FAA turn their backs on us suggesting programs that label us as mentally defective or risk our careers. If your union has a trustworthy and effective Wingman program, you’re in the minority and even these programs are under constant threat.
A recent USA Today poll listed airline pilot as the 3rd most stressful profession right behind active duty military and first responders. Another recent study shows that 13% of airline pilots qualify as being clinically depressed or worse. This is consistent with the general population. There are over 130,000 active airline pilots in the USA right now. If that 13% number is even close, then 17,000 crewmembers are suffering yet only a small fraction of them actually seek help for obvious reasons. This silent epidemic is tragic and the only way we can do something about it is by talking to each other (confidentially) about it! We may be exceptional in many ways, but we are also human. If you’re struggling with stress or other related issues it does not mean you’re weak! Given the right tools, it can be the gateway to personal growth that leaves you light years ahead of the pack in terms of resilience, overall happiness and on task focus.
If a resource like Mindful Aviator had been available to me in 2007, I’m confident that I would have never gone out on medical. Even more important, I would have gotten help sooner and suffered less. The earlier crewmembers identify stress as an issue and seek help, the easier it is to deal with.
Today, a surprising number of crewmembers I encounter have already tried meditation through online recordings and Apps. This is great, but it’s sort of like having books about flying and the keys to a simulator. Without a qualified instructor, you’ll never make it through a checkride or LOE!
Over the past few years, it seems like every magazine stand or grocery store checkout lane features a cover story about Mindfulness. These publications normally feature a thin, beautiful woman (often blonde) in some ridiculous yoga pose that no-one actually uses. This certainly doesn’t appeal to the average airline pilot and misrepresents the practice itself (although it does sell magazines). There’s a downside to all this media hype about meditation and the availability of easy do-it-yourself mindfulness Apps. When meditation becomes difficult (and it will, just like a sim session), there’s no one there to show you how to learn from those challenges and turn them into a valuable experience. Just like an ugly first attempt at a V1 cut, this is how you learn! This is how you take your skills to the next level of understanding! Without a good teacher, the value of these negative experiences can be lost leading people to suffer more or just plain quit out of frustration.
Mindfulness teacher Andy Puddacombe was the primary developer of the Headspace App for meditation. He only became successful online after teaching wealthy, high reliability professionals one-on-one.
Headspace and other Apps like Calm, Insight Timer and so forth are excellent resources. Some pilots prefer these Apps to the recordings I offer, or they use them in conjunction. That’s all good, but I promise you that Andy Puddacombe won’t be available to give you one-on-one instruction when the going gets tough!
We’re pilots, which means that we have critical and analytical minds. We use our past experiences (conditioning) to predict and create a safe and certain outcome for ourselves, our ship and our passengers. Professionally, this conditioning is necessary and appropriate.
Unfortunately, this can create a conditioned pattern of thoughts and behaviors based in critical thinking that we begin to apply to everything. In other words, we develop a negatively biased momentum of mind. A mind that is constantly judging, comparing and ruminating about the past in order to create a safe and certain future. Without a pause button or the ability to untangle ourselves from obsessive thinking, we become stuck in our very own (very stressful) “Museum of Negativity” wandering about from exhibit to exhibit in rumination.
Science tells us “neurons that fire together, wire together”. This is a fancy way of saying that the more you engage in a particular pattern of thought, the more likely you are to do it again in the future. Like pouring water on a dirt pile, ruts and channels develop (neural networks). Trying to get the water to go in a different direction once the ruts form will take some effort.
For any of our AOF crewmembers (myself in 2007), this lifetime of negative and critical conditioning is like the Grand Canyon! You’re gonna need to move a lot of dirt, and you’re gonna need help.
Our anxious, ruminative thinking mind believes it can “think” it’s way to a solution. It’s making an intellectual exercise out of trying to solve its’ own problem of stressful negative conditioning. Round and round it goes turning ditches into canyons and the longer it does this, the harder it is to get unstuck. As Albert Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”.
Books, Apps and audio recordings are a great place to get an introduction to mindfulness. Without a good teacher, even mindfulness and meditation tends to becomes yet another intellectual exercise that further reinforces the negative pattern of thinking!
During my first-year practicing mindfulness and meditation, I didn’t have one-on-one time with a teacher. I did however listen to nearly 300 recorded talks. This was extremely valuable, but I also developed some bad habits (over analyzing) that I had to deal with when I finally got a teacher myself. Learn from my mistakes and let me help you streamline your practice so you can get the most out of it in the shortest time.
The work we do is meditation, which actually rewires neural networks (fills in the ruts). The result is mindfulness, new conditioning that leaves us less stressed, better able to focus and more resilient in the face of adversity.
No, it won’t turn you into a couch potato or cause you to lose your edge (check out the FAQ section). There’s a reason they teach this to Marine special forces units, but those Marines have a teacher and not just a bunch of audio recordings!
Check out the free short introductory “Ten for 10” audio series I offer on this website or continue to use the Apps and recordings of your choice. If you find value in these, if your stress or other symptoms improve, contact me for a free consultation and I’ll help you make the most of your practice. If you find the Apps and recordings don’t help or you’re interested in trying a different approach, contact me or check out LiftAffect for more options.
A word of caution. In the world of mindfulness and meditation teachers, it’s the wild west out there. It’s become so popular and lucrative that people with no experience can go to a weekend course and pronounce themselves expert teachers with a bogus certificate to prove it. Finding a qualified teacher (that you can relate to) can be really challenging, and the wrong instructor can do more harm than good.
I’ve been practicing since 2008. I’ve studied with some of the most widely recognized teachers in the world. Having jump-seat privileges helped!
In 2016 I completed the UCLA Training in Mindfulness Facilitation program (TMF) and hold professional level status in the International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA) and more. I’m also a 15000+ hour Airbus captain with over 30 years airline experience.
For more on my qualifications and history check out my Bio in the About section of this website.
AOF or not, if you want the most out of this valuable and worthwhile practice then you’re gonna want a teacher.
Contact me for a free consultation, it’s a great place to start.
Additional Training Courses
The following training programs are available for purchase. These courses include series talks (for download or online streaming) and one-on-one guidance from IMTA certified Mindfulness Teacher and Airbus Capt. Carl Eisen. If you have any questions regarding one of these courses or the availability of one-on-one coaching sessions, please use the Contact link on this website.
Mindfulness Based Situational Awareness MBSA (Includes Stress Management & Resilience Training)
This is a 6-week program that includes five talks per week (two days to catch up if you fall behind) and weekly “one-on-one” time with your instructor Carl.
MBSA is a prerequisite for most other programs, many of which will be custom tailored to each individual crewmember.
This program is designed to be “portable” and will require less than an hour of time each day. One-on-one time will be scheduled as phone, Skype or other with an emphasis on direct dialog and flexibility for the traveling crewmember.
$300 Please use Contact form to request registration.