SC Group June 26 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

JUN 26, 2018

 

I’m beginning to see the loveliness in this moment.

 

Well that’s all folks … sort of

I may be leaving but you folks are in good hands with A. and C. keeping the group going. I am really grateful for them. I think this group is so worthwhile for those who need it. I think we have helped many people, even a little, along the way. I have heard some people exchange some of their habits and ways of thinking for new and more beneficial ways.

We had a wonderful farewell gathering with the beautiful poem below read out. And we had cupcakes (ooh yummy) and chocolate hedgehogs (ooh yummy) and I got a beautiful bouquet of flowers and beautiful cards. Thank you so much to everyone of you. You have taught me and given me so much.

 

THIS BLOG

I’m not sure where I’m going from here. I think I might be inspired from time to time to put something here or perhaps add the readings from the group here even though I will not be at the group anymore. I would like to continue to contribute to this still, so we shall see. Thank you all for following my blog.

 

A Tender Not Knowing – By Matt Licata

In whatever form the visitor appears – as an intimate partner, child, friend, or as one who triggers and annoys you… as an animal, message, vision, or the moon… these ones long to know you, to dance with you, for permission to penetrate and be penetrated by you. To not have to hold back in their yearning to know you all the way through, to mingle their essence with you, to love and be loved.

The inner and outer travelers ache for that quivering in your heart, for your tender not-knowing. To stand in awe as you touch this world together, not as an expert or master, but as an amateur and beginner… sometimes broken, sometimes whole, sometimes a mess, but always alive. No longer oriented in mastery or perfection, but in tending to and caretaking the soul – yours, theirs, and the soul of the world.

When we are totally unclothed – of all the old concepts and fantasies of a life without vulnerability – love will show us what we are. When the known crumbles away, all that remains is this tender heart. There is nothing more alive than that. There is nothing more sacred than that. There is nothing safer than that.

~~~

 

The following is from Pema Chödrön’s instructions on how to practice tonglen (taking and sending).

On the in-breath — lean in to the feeling, touch it, feel the pain of it, be there for it  (compassionate abiding)

On the out-breath — send out spaciousness, well-being, healing, whatever would lessen the suffering of the situation

 

 

~~~

READING – from the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher Germer

CHILDHOOD ROOTS

Is it actually possible to raise our happiness level? Aren’t the emotional patterns laid down in childhood and through family genetics too strong to overcome? And how do children learn to be kind to themselves?

Can We Change?

New research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues shows that our overall happiness level is determined by our genes, circumstances, and intentional activity. “Happy genes” account for about half of our happiness (50%). “Circumstances” – the conditions of one’s childhood and present circumstances like being married, well-paid, religious, and healthy – cover a mere 10%. The most interesting category is the 40% that refers to “intentional activity” – our activities and outlook. That’s what we do, such as exercising and spending time with friends; how we think, such as cultivating gratitude or kindness; and how engaged we are in our interests and values.

This means that, in contrast with what a lot of us believe, wining the lottery (circumstances) isn’t going to make you happy for life. You’ll probably return to your old happiness set point (determined by genes and the rest of your circumstances) unless you use the money to do what you like, like learning to play the mandolin or volunteering at your church, temple, or mosque (intentional activity). If you want to feel measurably happier, you should invest in intentional activity – how you spend your time and how you think – rather than simply acquiring a particular object of life circumstance like a BMW or a new spouse. If you do acquire a BMW or a new spouse, learn to savor those things for a long time to elevate your happiness level. Cultivating intentional activity is an antidote to the hedonic treadmill.

 

[The Hedonic Treadmill: In 1971, Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell proposed that we’re on a pleasure-seeking treadmill, vainly trying to achieve happiness by seeking what’s just around the corner – a better relationship, an easier job, a nicer car. The problem is that our nervous systems quickly adapt to anything familiar. Once you get a nice new car, how long do you enjoy it before thinking about renovating your home? Studies show that most lottery winners are ultimately no happier than nonwinners, and paraplegics usually become as content as people who can walk. For better or worse, we adapt to both good and bad life events.]

Learning to Relate to Ourselves

Self-compassion practice is an intentional activity, and it’s closely tied to our early childhood experience. How we treat ourselves depends, in part, on how we were treated by our parents. Therefore, the circumstances of our early lives affect our ability to fully utilize the power of self-compassion.

The scientific study of how a child adapts to his or her caregivers is known as “attachment theory” and was pioneered by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main. For example, if the primary caregiver is emotionally responsive and can “mirror” the emotions of the child (“Yes, I know you’re feeling sad, dear”), the child learns what it means to be sad, angry, afraid, excited, joyful, tired, and so forth, and that it’s okay to feel a wide range of feelings. If, in contrast, the caregiver becomes enraged whenever the child is angry, the child will push anger underground because it threatens the bond with the parent. As an adult, such a child is likely to criticize him- or herself for being angry, rather than responding to anger with self-kindness.

If the parent patiently acknowledges when the child is expressing negative emotion, the child can grow in self-awareness without danger. Such children feel secure with others. For example, a young child with secure attachment will explore a roomful of toys, and when the parent leaves the room, the child will express distress. When the parent returns, the child will initiate physical contact and return to play after he or she has settled down. These children learn to appreciate connection with others.

A child who shows no distress when the parent leaves, and seeks no contact when he or she returns, may grow up to be isolated or dismissive of relationships. A child who is unduly concerned about the parent’s leaving, who can’t explore his or her surroundings, and who isn’t comforted when the parent returns, is likely to become an angry, passive, or fearful adult who has difficulty calming or soothing him- or herself. Such nonverbal emotional habits are transferred from childhood into adulthood.

We also internalize images of caregivers who mattered to us when we were young. If a girl’s mother was patient and interested in her, she’s likely to carry that role model inside her and relate to herself and others in the same way. Having an inconsistent or abusive parent deprives the child of knowing how to be kind to him- or herself, perhaps even of knowing that feeling good is an acceptable emotional state. I know adults who were abused as children who feel that they need to work themselves to the bone or they risk being called “lazy” or “bad.” They feel like robots and resent others who work much less and still feel okay about themselves. We carry these internalized images of our caregivers, and the thoughts and behaviors attached to them, long into adulthood. A former client of mine, Andrew, is an example.

Andrew telephoned late one winter evening in despair. He was driving home from work in his truck, just after a light rain had begun to freeze on the road. As he tried to slow down for a stoplight, his truck slid straight into the car stopped before him. No one was hurt, but he crumpled the trunk of the car ahead of him. This accident happened one week after Andrew had argued successfully with his wife to raise their auto insurance deductible to $1,000. Andrew was upset, but not quite so much about the money as about the mishap.

As a little boy, Andrew had often felt unwanted. He recalls that when he went to college, his parents refused to let him come home for the holidays, falsely claiming it was too expensive. Andrew would have taken a 12-hour bus ride home from college if he had been allowed to do so.

It was an important step for Andrew to call me. When things went wrong, Andrew usually reacted with isolation and self-judgment. He was learning that these reactions were self-harming, and he didn’t want to repeat them any longer. In our phone conversation, Andrew reflected on what he might have said to a friend who had a similar problem. Would he have told a friend that he was stupid to drive on the ice? No, never! Andrew recognized that his car problem could have happened to anyone – that it was just that, a car problem.

Before we hung up, Andrew recalled that he had been verbally abused whenever he inconvenienced his mother – for example, when he crashed his bicycle into a curb and bent the wheel rim. Andrew felt he was having an emotional memory and was mimicking the treatment he received as a child. Andrew vowed to respond with “compassion first” when difficulties like this happened again.

In this example, Andrew was learning how to meet his emotional habits from childhood with a new intention: self-compassion. We can learn to deal with whatever arises in the present moment even if our caregivers didn’t show us how. The influence of both genetics and a difficult childhood can be softened if we relate to our moment-to-moment experience with more mindfulness and greater kindness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SC Group Jun 19 2018

 

NON-VIOLENT COMMUNICATION

We talked a little about this in our group yesterday and some wanted to know about local organizations.

http://roadtocompassion.com/nvc-in-the-vancouver-area/

Marshall Rosenberg is the creator of NVC and his books can easily be found in the library or online.

 

COMPASSION COURSE ONLINE

http://www.compassioncourse.org/

I took this course and it was excellent and not at all expensive. $52 USD for one year, $26USD with a scholarship. For one year you get an email once a week with a ‘lesson’, story example and suggestions for practice. The course is very much about the NVC model in that it focuses on needs (mine and yours). It’s also about understanding our anger and judgments/evaluations of ourselves or others; understanding that these are a result of unmet needs within us. I ended up ordering the book as well which has all the emails you receive over the year. I highly recommend this course. It helped me understand a lot and I hope to return to the book again to digest more of the information. Oh, there are also monthly phone/video(?) conferences so you can ask questions of Thom Bond (developer) and hear other people’s ideas and questions.

 

COMMUNICATION

I shared with the group about my focus on learning about communication. Not just non-violent communication which is effective for conflicts, but all the ways we communicate and why we can upset each other so easily sometimes. I especially want to understand what I am communicating as well as what makes me get upset. Bottom line, is that it’s all about relationships.

I found this book at a yard sale and I’m finding it quite interesting, complicated, takes some time to digest the ideas, and helpful. Its’ called “That’s Not What I Meant!” (which sounds exactly like me) by Deborah Tannen (1986).

 

Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

 

READING: from the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher Germer

The next section in the chapter called pathways to self-compassion

The Wisdom of Selflessness

A flexible sense of self is necessary to cultivate positive feelings. The less “self” we have to defend and protect, the more likely it is that socially positive emotions like tolerance, generosity, and acceptance will emerge. In contrast, if we identify with a fixed image of ourselves, or a particular ideology, we may feel the need to incessantly fight for our psychological survival.

Wisdom includes the direct realization of how everything changes, including ourselves. The modern Indian sage Nisargadatta Maharaj wrote:

Love says, “I am everything.”

Wisdom says, “I am nothing.”

Between these two my life flows.

 

When we make the shift to seeing ourselves as transitory events – as verbs rather than as nouns – we can step back and allow the flow to continue. Our efforts shift from controlling the circumstances of our lives to learning how to meet each brief moment fully and wholeheartedly.

 

Selfing and the Brain

There appear to be two neurologically distinct ways of relating to personal experience: (1) moment to moment, or “experiential” and (2) as a “self,” or “narrative.” Norman Farb and colleagues at the University of Toronto scanned people’s brains as they did tasks that evoked each of these two modes. Participants saw adjectives like “confident” and “melancholy” and were asked either (1) to sense what was going on in their body and mind or (2) to judge whether the trait applied to them.

As expected, the latter, “self”-oriented task activated brain areas associated with the “default network” and the wandering mind… [the default network is active when the mind is at rest and becomes inactive when our mind is engaged in a task, focusing on something specific. When our mind wanders during meditation it’s in default mode. The default network operates in the background linking our past to the future and providing us with a sense of “self”. This is what our brains evolved to do while at rest.] Present-moment awareness, in contrast, helped participants disengage the medial prefrontal cortex of the default network (areas that link the past to the future and give coherence to the “self”) and instead engage the insula and lateral brain areas (regions more closely associated with body awareness). Of particular interest is that people trained in mindfulness meditation were able to achieve this uncoupling more readily than novices. This research suggests that we can train our brains to be less preoccupied with narrative thinking – how daily events affect the “self” – and instead experience the emotional freedom of moment-to-moment awareness.

 

MY COMMENTS

I love this reading because this is really about mindfulness and how it can help our mood. I think that mindfulness can improve our moods, whatever they are. Whether we are feeling absolutely awful and depressed, or just wonderful thank you. To me, mindfulness is about paying attention to my senses as often as I can (which is not very often as I keep forgetting), as well as paying attention to what I’m doing and that I am thinking (not so much what I am thinking). Being in my body rather than my ego. I think when we focus on worrying about ourselves we are focusing on our ego, that shell which we think protects us but actually often disconnects us from our deep genuine feelings and from others.

We do want to be recognized as an individual in the world but most of us often hang onto all kinds of labels and tags for ourselves and others that are much more about good or bad, and whether I’m deserving of a reward or should be punished and shamed for my actions. I am either a ‘loser’ or a ‘success’. I am either a ‘good person’ or an ‘evil person’. I am either ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’. If we can recognize that these labels do not serve us well in terms of feeling good about ourselves. They are only there trying to protect us but at a cost. The more often I can focus on being in the moment, aware of my body, my language, my intentions, and that of others, of my sensations and my emotions and acknowledging that it’s all quite transitory, the more often I liberate myself from that suffering of my ego.

When I am in emotional pain, I find the thing that helps me the most is paying attention to the pain and to me. It also helps to me to focus as much as I can on the things that I’m doing – sensing. I often focus on the sounds outside and connect with the activity of my neighbours and my community. It takes me outside of my “self” and in touch with something bigger. That is one thing that I find soothing. I also will try to focus on my activities such as making a cup of tea, preparing a meal, taking a shower, going for a walk. These activities tell me that I’m still okay no matter what is going on in my mind. It’s still a sunny day. The neighbourhood children are still playing outside. I have found over and over that this has eased my pain. Bringing myself into the present and out of my “self” narrative is freeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SC Group Jun 12 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

JUN 12, 2018

 

Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.

Miller Williams, Compassion

Thought I would reprint that poem. My co-facilitator A. reminded us of this poem and as a reminder about not judging others so quickly. We don’t know what they have struggled with in their life – ‘down there where the spirit meets the bone.” Yes.

 

READING: pathways to self-compassion from Christopher Germer’s book the mindful path to self-compassion.

We have been reading this chapter for several weeks now. Germer identified five pathways to self-compassion – physical, mental emotional, relational and spiritual. Then we read about practicing nonharm, noticing how we care, or don’t care for ourselves, how we treat ourselves. We also heard about savoring from Germer. This section and the one today both reinforce Rick Hansen’s way of thinking about things. Hansen is a neuroscientist and we have read some of his stuff in our meetings – focusing on, savoring, and enhancing, our positive experiences in order to rewire our brain. In other words, to make it a habit. So we can regularly say “Wow! That was awesome!! That was a wonderful experience. I’m really grateful for it.” Things like that. Important is that it’s genuine. It’s not about turning ‘negative’ experiences into ‘positive’ ones but not really meaning it. It’s about recognizing and really acknowledging when we do have an experience that feeds us, nourishes us, lifts us up, and connects us.

And why rewire our brain? Because when we focus more on the positive experiences, we tend to reframe our perspective and attitude over time. We start to look for and see more patterns of positive things happening. We begin to look for them more and weed out the more ‘negative’ ones. With that, we tend to have more of a sense of well-being and we tend to be more emotionally resilient because we know there will be more positive experiences again.

Positive experiences can be found in the simplest of things or in the big things as well. A great cup of tea can sometimes surprise me with delight – if I’m paying attention to it. Being at a sports game with thousands of your team’s fans beside you and winning the big game. Wow! what a thrill! The sound of birds, the face of someone laughing heartily, all can be experiences we can pay attention to and understand that the world is full of beautiful things. No matter how bad things are. The beautiful moments still survive, and they happen every day. We just have to look for them and see them there, in front of us.

 

CULTIVATING POSITIVE EMOTIONS

Our emotional landscape consists of positive emotions – those that make us happy – and negative emotions – those that make us suffer. Cultivating positive emotions is therefore a compassionate thing to do for ourselves. But let’s do it mindfully – not pushing negative emotions away, not clinging to positive ones. As you’ll see, it’s good to understand the value of positive emotions and to enjoy them.

 

What are Positive Emotions?

Positive emotions have at least two noteworthy qualities: they feel good and they reach beyond the individual. Examples include affection, cheerfulness, zest, hope, surprise, and awe. Happy people feel connected to their environment, and unhappy people feel separated from it. Most positive emotions include regard for other people. Compassion , for example, is an emotion that keeps us in touch with others even when it’s difficult to stay connected.

Negative emotions feel bad, and they separate us from others. Examples include hatred, anger, disgust, guilt, sadness, shame, anxiety, and pity. Anger pushes people away, and sadness disconnects us if our response is to curl up within ourselves.

Sadness is a “soft’ emotion – there can be an opening to others, a readiness to receive help. Anger and hatred, in contrast, are “hard” emotions that flatly reject others. Soft feelings – sadness, guilt, rejection, embarrassment – require that we befriend them and go through them, feel them until they pass on their own. Hard feelings like anger require different treatment. We “let go” or “abandon” anger and hatred, whereas soft feelings become workable when we pass through them. When we let go of hard feelings, we usually discover soft feelings underneath. For example, beneath anger is often longing for connection, fear, sadness, or loss.

Negative emotions serve a useful function by alerting us to a problem. Our emotional or physical well-being might be in jeopardy when we feel negative emotions, and we should take heed. For example, bodyguards know that a sense of fear is a better defense against getting mugged than a black belt in karate. Fear will tell us where not to go and when to run. Likewise, sadness can alert us to a disconnection in relationship that could, left undetected, jeopardize the well-being of our families. We don’t want to eliminate negative feelings – we just don’t want to get stuck on them.

 

Feeding Positive Emotions

It appears that positive emotions have ample benefits. A review of over 225 published papers showed that positive emotions are related to happiness, and happy people are more likely to be successful in life and resilient in the face of misfortune. They’re often more creative, less racially biased, more likely to succeed at work, and have more satisfactory relationships.

The research also shows that positive emotions allow us to see the big picture. Our vision is not narrowed by survival-based self-interest. This suggests that if we want to be mindful of whatever arises in our field of awareness, a minimum standard of happiness must exist. Meditation teachers know this: they often give love and support in personal interviews before sending students back out to meditate. Psychotherapy operates similarly – it makes a person a little happier and supplies the courage (from the French coeur, meaning “heart”) to explore and master life’s problems.

The question is how to mindfully shift the balance of emotions toward the positive. There’s a story to illustrate this.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

How do we feed emotions? An emotion is essentially a habit that we can either strengthen or weaken. It’s not a “thing” or a “substance.” … Research shows that expressing anger actually increases the likelihood that we’ll get angry again. The only way to reduce anger is to stop practicing it – to stop feeding the emotional habit.

So how do we unwittingly feed a negative emotion like anger? When we struggle with anger by obsessing why such-and-such happened and what we’re going to do about it, we’re feeding it. When we turn away in denial, but it lingers in the back of our minds, we’re feeding it. When we hang on to anger because it makes us feel strong and certain, we’re feeding it. In sum, resistance feeds negative emotions. They weaken if we stop regurgitating them in our minds and maintain a mindful, compassionate attitude.

And how do we feed positive emotions? Positive emotions naturally arise when we embrace our moment-to-moment experience fully and completely. Even anger can be transformed into something positive when we don’t resist it because anger communicates important information about our world. The habit of relating to all our experience with mindfulness and compassion is the foundation for positive emotions (that is, emotional habits) like joy, peace, generosity, and love.

 

MY WORK WITH ANGER (by Caer)

Since Germer talks about anger, well, I wanted to talk about how I have begun to deal with my anger, especially towards other people. Now, when I feel angry about something, I immediately ask myself “What is it that I cannot accept?” I think anger, in general, is a feeling of frustration about something we cannot control. We feel helpless when something happens that we don’t want to happen, or don’t expect to happen.

I took a compassion course over the past year and I learned that judgments and anger are about something that I need and am not getting. So I can look at anger and ask what I’m not accepting, as well as what is it that I am needing? I was angry at my neighbour recently because he hadn’t responded to an email quickly enough, i.e., within the time frame of my expectations. So I dug deep to find out why I was so upset and what were my thoughts about myself that were bothering me. Because that’s where my mind went. I was being rejected, ignored and dismissed. He was being inconsiderate and rude.

When I could get to the point of understanding that I value timely responses to emails, and that good and kind communication with others is my priority, and that these weren’t necessarily what he most valued, I was able to begin letting go of my anger. I think I get angry because I want to change something or someone. I want to force the person if necessary, bend them to my will, my expectations, my values. Anger can tell us so many things if we listen to it with compassion. I don’t think it’s an emotion to reject or deny. But I agree with the Cherokee grandfather as well – we don’t want to feed it because it will win. It will take over.

I think most human beings have a hard time with the idea that we don’t have a lot of control over life, over others, and even over ourselves. Anger may be the emotion that responds to that difficulty – accepting how powerless we really are. I also recognize what goes on with my anger – my wish for revenge, or to change another person, or even to shame them for behaviour that I do not accept. I want to hurt them because I feel like they are hurting me. However, the more I take responsibility for my emotions, the unpleasant and uncomfortable ones too, the more I seek to understand them and understand what’s going on within myself, the more freedom I feel. When I can see that big picture it eases my pain immensely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SC Group Jun 5 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

JUN 5, 2018

 

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

 

FAREWELL (my longest spiel…)

Well folks, I am on my way out the door, off to a new part of my life. I’m calling it ‘retirement’ as it is in a way. I am retiring from my work in the mental health field, which includes leaving this group. I have been volunteering in the mental health field since 1994. I was inspired by a woman who volunteered her time with me, every week, for one hour. She was my extra ‘therapist’. So, I thought if she could do it then so could I. I worked one-on-one with women who had been abused in childhood, like I had been, giving them extra support. Helping these other women helped me heal and grow tremendously. I did that for 13 years.

Then I joined CMHA in 2000. One of the best parts about this time was telling my story to audiences who really wanted to know about and understand mental illness. It was so gratifying. CMHA then developed a program called Mental Illness First Aid and I was extremely fortunate to become a part of this program for a few years. This was a paid position and that was really exciting. I had not worked (i.e., received money for my work) since 1996. And the work was stimulating and thrilling. We taught people about different mental illnesses. It was a two-day workshop and completely exhausting but oh so fulfilling.

However, I had to stop, due to situational depression, and I did in 2007. That year my psychiatrist moved away, and I grieved the loss of her. We had worked together for 17 years and she was one of my major supporters. So I was without a therapist. Fortunately I didn’t need one the same way I had done 17 years earlier, but I still needed some extra support.

Then a friend mentioned MDA. At first, I wasn’t interested. Then one day I was. Funny how that happens. So in 2009, I went to a group on Commercial Drive. (That is such a long time ago). It was not easy. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked being in a group. Groups were triggering for me quite often. But I kept going anyway. Something in me said it would be okay eventually. By the third time, I felt more comfortable. Months down the road I wondered what had took me so long. I began to think that I didn’t need a therapist anymore. This was fantastic!

One year later I was facilitating a regular support group there. I loved it. It made me feel so present, so aware, and in touch with how mental illness affects us all. It helped me with my own issues a lot. I did that for four years then decided to help Catherine in her role. So I created the role of Facilitator Liaison and helped Catherine train and support all of our facilitators around the province for 2 years. I got to know a number of facilitators and I loved that part of the role especially. I also enjoyed helping with training as the trainees I found to be always inspiring in their courage, their values and their intentions.

What led me to this group … well, I was getting to that. I started running a self-care group at MDA. It was an 8-week closed group. I learned a lot about people and self-care from that and went on to add self-compassion to the mix. From there I developed half-day workshops on self-care and self-compassion. I did about a dozen of them at MDA. This led me to the idea that a regular group would be more helpful than just a one-time half-day workshop. My co-facilitator A. and another person expressed their interest in it and together we three came up with a plan.

The outcome is this group as it is today. And it’s just wonderful. Whether it’s only a handful of us or a full house, the discussions never fail to amaze me. And I have heard that, many times, people were learning and growing in their self-care, acceptance and compassion for themselves. Yea!!!

I needed to tell you all of this. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, but this feels like my ‘swan song’ –  at least in the mental health field. I will still be volunteering with my housing co-op. But I am retiring from this ‘career’ and it feels like a big deal. I feel sad to leave and at the same time, I’m excited about what I might do next. Non-violent communication is definitely in the works and hopefully introducing it to my co-op. And photography. I have some wonderful equipment that I would dearly love to play with, as well as learn more about the art itself and the editing. I can hardly wait.

I thank all of you for your participation in this group and I’m confident it can continue with A. and C. at the helm. It’s a good group all round.

Caer

 

READING: From the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher K. Germer

Chapter 5: pathways to compassion

There are five key ways in which we can bring self-compassion into our lives: (1) physically, (2) mentally, (3) emotionally, (4) relationally, and (5) spiritually. Each area offers numerous practice options. Following are some preliminary ideas for how to implement them in your own life.

[In the last three weeks we have read about them – physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. This week we look at two more subjects in this chapter – Nonharm and Savoring)

 

NONHARM

At its most basic level, the practice of self-compassion means not harming ourselves. It’s often easier to notice when we’re harming ourselves than it is to discover ways of being nicer to ourselves. Consider the following:

 

  • How do you brush your teeth? Gently? Harshly?
  • Do you rush around in the morning?
  • Does your body feel tense or still from lack of exercise?
  • Are you fatigued?
  • Do you overeat?
  • Do you get stuck in front of the computer?
  • Do you have sex just because you feel you should?
  • Do you resent going to so many social events?
  • Do you rage at politicians on TV?
  • Do you overspend on the holidays?
  • Do you have to speak with your mother every Sunday?

 

The devil is in the details. Most of the harmful things we do to ourselves are unconscious habits. We don’t stop and ask ourselves what we want or whether there’s a good reason for it. The first question to ask when you start practicing self-compassion is “Is this harming me?” If it is, drop it. When you know how it feels to feel good, and think you deserve it, a red flag will go up when you’re harming yourself and you’ll probably stop what you’re doing.

 

We also have mental habits, mostly unconscious, that cause us trouble. For example, if your attention is unrestrained, jumping from one thing to another, you’ll suffer from mental agitation. And a perfectly good day can be spoiled if you find yourself entangled in disturbing emotions – brooding about the past or worrying about the future. An awareness practice like mindfulness meditation is a useful antidote to these common types of mental suffering.

 

One mental habit that can wreak havoc in our lives is self-judgment. If you watch your mind for 10 minutes after something goes wrong, you’ll probably notice that you’re criticizing yourself. It’s undoubtedly useful to know what went wrong and to correct our mistakes, but usually we go way beyond that. What can we do about self-judgment? It doesn’t work to “just stop judging yourself” because you’re likely to judge yourself for judging yourself. (Remember, what we resist persists.) The best solution is simply to “witness” judgments, letting them come and go.

 

It’s not easy to recognize self-critical thoughts because they happen so quickly. Sometimes it helps to focus on the body; if there’s a little tension in your stomach, perhaps you were having a critical thought. It’s okay to go back a few seconds to what you were thinking a moment before you felt physical tension. Ironically, the intention to be aware of self-judgment starts to eliminate the habit, even if you miss most of what’s happening in your mind.

 

SAVORING

Savoring refers to the “capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life.” It’s a self-kindness to savor. The opposite of savoring is raining onto your own parade. Consider the following questions:

 

  • Do you let yourself enjoy a compliment?
  • Have you lingered over a delicious meal lately?
  • Can you revel in the love you feel for certain people?
  • Are you prone to take a deep breath of fresh autumn air?
  • Do you let yourself laugh out loud when you’re happy?
  • Is it okay to feel pride in accomplishment?
  • Do you take pictures to remember great times?
  • Do you have friends who really know how to enjoy themselves?

 

We shouldn’t cling too tightly to positive experiences because that will cause suffering when they disappear. But we don’t want to avoid happy moments because we’re afraid of losing them either. It takes courage to savor positive experiences.

 

Emily Dickinson wrote:

 

I can wade Grief –

Whole Pools of it –

I’m used to that –

But the least push of Joy

Breaks up my feet –

And I tip – drunken –

 

Are you ready to open the door to both positive and negative experiences?

 

Savoring is a variation on mindfulness. When we savor, there’s the intention to enter fully into the experience, rather than cling to it or drag it out. The goal of mindfulness is not to get “hooked” by positive or negative experiences – to let things be just as they are, fully and completely. In an advanced state of mind, we can savor grief and sorrow too. Research has shown that the savoring of pleasant experiences can become a habit that elevates our baseline level of daily happiness.

You can also savor your own personal qualities. Enjoying what you do well doesn’t mean you have to be arrogant about it. If you wish, you can take a scientifically valid inventory of your “signature strengths.” Please go to www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx and click on VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire. It’s free of charge, and your strengths will only be ranked against one another for yourself, so you needn’t be worried about what you might learn.

After you’ve identified your strengths, you can intentionally apply them in your daily life. For example, if you’re naturally “curious,” create opportunities to learn new things. If “humor” is your strength, let yourself be entertained. Also, when you’re going through a tough time, remind yourself of your strengths. If “bravery” is your strength, use that special quality when you’re in need. If it’s “humility,” find your way through with humility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SC Group May 29 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

MAY 29, 2018

 

 

Unable to perceive the shape of You,

I find You all around me.

Your presence fills my eyes with Your love,

It humbles my heart,

For You are everywhere…”

 

From The Shape of Water, author unknown

 

Pong Yi

I especially like the reading this week – about how we take care of ourselves spiritually. For me, attending this group has become a spiritual practice. I see it as a discipline in some way in that it keeps me focused on certain values and ideals throughout the week – my practice, my devotion. It helps me pay attention to my connection to this world, and especially to others. It encourages me to keep compassion in mind, as a priority in my life – for myself and for others. And every Tuesday is a bit like going to church. There is the sense of a space that is a safe sanctuary, and it’s where we talk about our values and our ideals. We also feel connected to each other out of our shared experiences and I think that “church” ought to be exactly this as well. Finally, our discussions are like group sermons for me, peppered with so many different points of view that add up to something quite beautiful and profound. I am almost always left in awe after a group session by what was said in that room.

Spirituality seems to be something about the bigger picture that we all belong to – seeing that big picture, hopefully even understanding it to some extent, and appreciating the somewhat small but absolutely critical part we play in the whole. I was raised a Christian but, in my teens, decided it was not for me. In my late teens I became more interested in Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism.

I have a goddess I pray to and she’s quite unique. She is a 14-inch, 100-year-old porcelain statue that my friend brought back from China for me. He thought they had called her “Pong Yi” although I think it was probably Kwan Yin, a fairly well-known goddess in that part of the world. But .. the name Pong Yi stuck and that is who she is to me. She is who I ask for help – sometimes for myself, sometimes for someone else. I once prayed for MDA, for the organization to get some support … and lo, and behold, it did. There have been a number of times I have asked her for something and it happens. The power of prayer eh?

What I like about having this goddess is that she is mine only. I know she is simply a concept in my own mind, but she gives me great comfort when I’m in distress. And now, at night before going to sleep, I thank her for keeping me safe, and for taking care of those who needed her. She’s so beautiful. Her face is that of the utmost compassion and when I look at her it’s as if she’s saying to me “Caer, I know you and I understand you. And I have the utmost compassion for you. I am here for you – any time.” That is truly the voice and expression of my self-compassion.

 

READING: From the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher K. Germer

Chapter 5: pathways to compassion

There are five key ways in which we can bring self-compassion into our lives: (1) physically, (2) mentally, (3) emotionally, (4) relationally, and (5) spiritually. Each area offers numerous practice options. Following are some preliminary ideas for how to implement them in your own life.

[In the last two weeks we have read about the first 4 – physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. This week we read about spirituality.]

NOURISHING YOUR SPIRIT

By “spirituality,” we typically mean the intangible aspects of our lives: God, soul, values (love, peace, truth), or sacred connection. For most people, spiritual practice is about cultivating closeness to an ideal transcendent being, a process that, one hopes, reduces our selfish desires and personal limitations. That’s a top-down approach to spirituality. Others take a bottom-up approach, where intimate contact with the miracle of daily life – the imperfect reality happening right in front of our noses – is the way. Most spiritually minded people see the need for both approaches in their lives: to be uplifted by a transcendent ideal and yet to remain grounded in ordinary reality.

Some people believe it’s against their religion to care for themselves. Most religious traditions emphasize the importance of compassion for others: “love your neighbor as yourself.” But even the man who spoke those words escaped into the mountains when the crowds became too big. …

What’s implied in most religions is that you already love yourself. In the words of the Buddha:

On traversing all directions with the mind

One finds no one anywhere dearer than oneself

Likewise everyone holds himself most dear,

Hence one who loves himself should not harm another.

But people feel ambivalent about themselves nowadays. It can’t be assumed anymore that we love ourselves. This book was written to fill that gap. Perhaps a better example of spontaneous, unqualified love might be how we naturally feel toward a beloved pet or an innocent child. Tracking this feeling can teach us how to love ourselves better. Once we’ve relearned to love ourselves [or love ourselves for the first time – Caer] we can extend it more fully to others.

Spiritual self-care usually means taking the time to cultivate the values that we hold dear. If you don’t attend to your values, you’ll unconsciously absorb the values of our consumer culture: pleasure-seeking, materialism. Are you regularly meeting with people who share your faith? If you enjoy connecting with nature, do you get outdoors once a week? Is your religious practice nourishing you, or are you just doing it out of obligation? Are you learning to relate to yourself and others with more kindness and ease?

Just as a parent tries to attend to every aspect of a child’s life – physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual – we can cultivate those skills toward ourselves. If you didn’t get this kind of care, or if you learned those skills and they fell into disuse after you reached adulthood, you can relearn them now. All it takes is willingness and a little creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SC GROUP MAY 15 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

MAY 15, 2018

 

What is this self inside us, this silent observer,

Severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us

And urge us on to futile activity

And in the end, judge us still more severely

For the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?

T.S. Eliot, The Elder Statesman

 

READING: From the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher K. Germer

Chapter 5: pathways to compassion

There are five key ways in which we can bring self-compassion into our lives: (1) physically, (2) mentally, (3) emotionally, (4) relationally, and (5) spiritually. Each area offers numerous practice options. Following are some preliminary ideas for how to implement them in your own life.

Softening into Your Body

How do you care for yourself physically? How do you relate to your body when it’s under stress? A compassionate response involves softening into physical discomfort – not tightening up. Compassion is soft and tender. When the going gets tough, the soft get going.

Our muscles protect the body from potential danger by creating a hard shield against the world. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t easily distinguish between a threat coming from the inside and one coming from the outside, so even if you’re worried about your performance on an exam, your muscles will become hard like a knot. Over time, tense muscles can put unnecessary stress on all the systems in the body.

Anything you can do to soothe or comfort the body when you’re under stress fits into the category of physical self-compassion. Perhaps you need to take a nap, eat nourishing food, get exercise, take a warm bath, have sex, bask in the sun, go on vacation, pet the dog, or get a massage. Allow yourself a few minutes to imagine what might help tight areas soften.

Taking care of yourself physically can also clear the mind. Are you sleeping long enough, eating properly, and getting enough exercise? There’s often an inverse relationship between the mind and the body when it comes to exercise: the mind races when the body is inactive, and the mind calms down when the body starts moving.

The most natural way to practice self-compassion is what you’re already doing. By acknowledging how we care for ourselves now, we can build on our strengths and remind ourselves of our good habits when we’re under pressure. Please think in terms of genuine care – the kind that makes you feel truly good inside. … give yourself credit for knowing exactly what soothes and comforts you. Some people love to have a massage, and others would rather take a nap. How about you? Pay special attention to what you need when you’re under severe stress or when things go really wrong.

 

Allowing Your Thoughts

How do you care for yourself mentally, especially when your mind is preoccupied or racing with thoughts? The compassionate response is to step back and “allow” your thoughts to come and go – to stop resisting. We want to create mental space where upsetting ideas can slip in and out of our minds naturally and easily.What does it take to let go of unnecessary daily concerns? An ancient strategy is to use a mantra, which literally means “tool for the mind.” You don’t need a foreign-sounding word to benefit from this technique. Familiar mantras are “This too will pass” and “One day at a time.” … Repeating these phrases calms the mind, due to their meaning and the power of concentration. Whenever we return our attention to a single word or phrase, we’re unhooking from our thoughts. Some people benefit by simply repeating the word “Yes” over and over in their minds. Pessimists seem to especially enjoy the mantra “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another!”

[Of course, you can use the loving-kindness, or metta, phrases instead of a mantra. Caer]

You can experiment with mantras that allow you to cope with different mental states. For example, a mantra that helps people stop obsessing about important decisions is “Don’t know … don’t know … don’t know.” A mantra for shame is “How could I have known?” A humorous mantra for the fear of disapproval is “So sue me!” Experiment with your tone of voice when you use a mantra. “So sue me” is cocky and “How could I have known?” is humble. To cultivate self-kindness, try “Be good to yourself” or “Be careful with me.”

Visualizations also help us to let go of disturbing thoughts. For example, imagine your thoughts as leaves flowing down a stream, with each leaf carrying away what is on your mind. Or imagine yourself as the sky, with your thoughts as passing clouds, some dark and foreboding, some light and airy, all passing by.

Finally, when we suffer from troubling thoughts, we can cultivate compassion for our brains. The brain comprises only 2% of our body weight, but it works so hard that it needs 25% of our oxygen. Sometimes our overactive brains keep us awake at night simply to complete the work of the day. I know a physician who alleviated his obsessive-compulsive tendency by cultivating compassion for his overworked brain. Whenever he had an obsessive thought, he said, “Poor brain, it’s happening again – so much hard unnecessary work!”

 

May we all be safe, free from harm or harmful thoughts.

May we all be happy and healthy and have all of our needs met.

May we all live with ease, accepting each moment with equanimity,

neither resisting and rejecting the moment,

or attaching and grasping at the moment.

May we all see our problems as opportunities for learning and growth

Rather than hardships and pain.

May we all be liberated from our suffering.

 

 

Caer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SC Group May 8 2018

SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

MAY 8, 2018

 

This kind of compulsive concern with “I, me, and mine” isn’t the same as loving ourselves … Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.

              Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness

ON SECOND THOUGHT

(A group member asked me to write about this.) Some of us really want to change the types of thoughts we have, especially the more ‘negative’ ones which are usually unpleasant and often painful. Well, I believe it is possible to do this, over a period of time and with practice – which really means simply repetition. By the time we are fully grown adults our habitual thoughts are deeply ingrained, as if written in stone. But they’re not thankfully. They just need a little digging up.

In order to change things, it often helps to start where we are. And that includes fully accepting where we are, who we are and how we are. Ouch. That can be quite painful. Nevertheless, I think that if we can take this first step we will have grown immensely psychologically-speaking. Accepting things as they are, I consider a stage in psychological development. The more we can accept and not fight against who and what we are the more ‘psychological maturity’ we have, which in turn enables us to deal more skillfully with even more difficult life situations. (By ‘psychological maturity’ I don’t mean as a moral judgment of anyone, nor their age, but as an expression of skill, knowledge and experience that a human can have in order to live life well. It’s simply a great asset to have.)

So, we can do this accepting thing with our thoughts as well, and those nasty ones especially – the ones that make us feel like absolute crap when we have them. Often, we don’t have control over those thoughts, those first thoughts that pop up in response to some emotion we feel. You know, knee-jerk reactions. HOWEVER, we can choose a SECOND THOUGHT after the first ‘ouch’ one, a thought that soothes, that is reasonable and realistic about things. And a thought that recognizes why you had that ‘ugly’ thought in the first place.

That SECOND THOUGHT is the compassionate voice that says – “Yah, that really upset you didn’t it? That made you feel angry/sad/jealous… I’m sorry for your pain.” Okay, so you can’t drum up that kind voice yet. Perhaps your SECOND THOUGHT might be “Hmm. I wonder what need of mine does not feel met by this situation? Something that brought up a judgment for me.” We can see our judgments and evaluations of ourselves or others as expressions of unmet needs.

One woman in the group talked about driving and how irritable and angry she was at other drivers. She also remarked that it just wasn’t like her to be that way usually. It took her a while, but she finally figured out that she just didn’t feel safe on the road. So, after that first thought “You &*()#$(+!!!!” (shaking your fist as well), you can pause. Then, SECOND THOUGHT – Hmm what need am I not getting met? What is it that I’m wanting and not getting?” The woman in our group was not getting her need for safety and this made her feel irritable and angry. She was not ‘bad’ for being angry with other drivers. She simply was needing something.

I think our ‘negative’ thoughts telegraph some good messages to us about what’s important to us, what we value. If we value safety on the road, and value it from other drivers, then our ‘negative’ and angry thoughts are telling us that. We can face our ‘negative’ thoughts and ask them what they are about, to be curious about what’s really going on in our minds. I find more compassion for myself when I look at my outbursts and judgments of others as unmet desires and needs. It makes me feel so human and connected to all other humans, especially those who are in similar situations.

So, by practicing ‘grabbing’ at our first thoughts, those emotional and distressing ones of anger, fear, jealousy, or envy, and examining them, even offering ourselves compassion for them, we can make this happen automatically after a while. I am speaking from experience here not theory. I have a lot fewer ‘negative’ thoughts throughout my day especially in contact with other people than I did say 5 years ago. And when I do, I often go straight to “what’s happening Caer?” with kindness. I’m less irritable with people, more accepting in many ways (though many things still bother me). I take it on as a challenge … to change my thinking. And grabbing that first thought and choosing that SECOND THOUGHT is the one that works every time for me.

 

READING: From the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher K. Germer

This is the final reading from his chapter on caring for others.

 

High levels of compassion are nothing but

an advanced state of self-interest.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

This is on doing loving-kindness, or metta, meditation for others. So..

May so-and-so be safe

May so-and-so be happy

May so-and-so be healthy

May so-and-so live with ease.

 

Or whatever phrases fit for you. [Caer]

 

READING…

[METTA FOR A] FRIEND

Difficult feelings will invariable emerge. If you dearly love your friend, the phrase “May you be safe” could trigger anxiety that he or she may not be safe. Anger may arise, perhaps a memory that your friend didn’t visit you in the hospital after your operation. Or you might feel envious that your friend has more money than you or has a happier marriage. When negative emotions hijack your attention, gently return to the metta phrases. If they dominate your attention, drop back to metta for yourself or your benefactor [someone you feel strong positive feelings about, could even be a pet]. Any unpleasant emotion – fear, anger, jealousy, shame, or remorse – is a valid reason for loving yourself.

A confusing feeling that everyone experiences from time to time with friends is schadenfreude. That’s the German word for feeling happy when others are going through difficulties. Ironically, a burst of joy when you hear of a close friend’s good fortune may be less common than the schadenfreude reaction. Instead of feeling ashamed when you feel this way, just continue to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion.

 

LOVING OTHERS WITHOUT LOSING YOURSELF

Each individual needs to find a healthy balance between self-care and caring for others, between having an authentic, personal voice and staying connected, and between the need for solitude and the need for relationship. …

People differ in how much they enjoy connecting with others. Women seem to have a greater appetite for connection than men do. They also seem to like  metta meditation more. I’ve even heard some men, but rarely a woman, say, “I hate metta!” Whether you’re male or female, try to know, accept, and trust your own personal tolerance for connection.

When Me? When Others?

When you’re in pain, give yourself compassion first. heal the healer. Sometimes a micro-moment of self-compassion is all it takes. …

As mentioned earlier, what distinguishes compassion from loving-kindness is the presence of pain. Compassion is a kindly response to pain. You can practice compassion for your own pain, for the pain of others, or for the pain you feel when others are in pain. … The evening news is a great opportunity to practice metta. Stay mindful of your inner state (“This is painful to watch!”) and offer compassion to yourself and those on the screen (“May I be safe. May you be safe. May we all be safe and live in peace”). Try the same practice when you visit a friend at the hospital. Transforming your “worried attention” into “compassionate attention” through metta practice always comes as welcome relief.

The most natural time to practice loving-kindness toward others is when you’re genuinely happy – when you have loving energy to spare. It’s easy to wish happiness for others when we’re happy. You’ll feel even greater happiness when you do so, perhaps because you’re temporarily escaping the prison of your individuality by thinking of others. But timing is everything; when emotional resources are low, it’s still best to focus on yourself.

It takes courage to heal an old, troubled relationship but … we first need to see how not addressing it can be more damaging. Loving our enemies is not a moral prescription – it’s just the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Try using the metta phrases with old boyfriends and girlfriends, parents, difficult in-laws, siblings, ex-friends, neighbors, and other people in any relationship that creates tension inside. It’s easier than you think. If you feel ashamed of how you behaved in the relationship, make a special effort to recognize that emotional pain. Shame, guilt, and remorse are the trickiest emotions to identify because we’re continually dodging them inside. Remember that not a single emotion is outside the range of self-compassion. Bring kindness to yourself because of your difficult feelings. Thereafter, extend good will to the other half of the relationship.

 

Compassion Fatigue

The result of extending ourselves too much to others is called “compassion fatigue.” The term is actually a misnomer because compassion itself isn’t fatiguing. Compassion fatigue is really “attachment fatigue.” We wear ourselves out when we’re attached to the outcome of our hard work, such as the success or recognition. Sure signs of compassion fatigue are (1) believing that you’re indispensable and (2) feeling resentment toward those you’re trying to help. Compassion fatigue feels bad, and it’s not good for anyone. The antidote to compassion fatigue is self-compassion. When your emotional supplies are depleted, take a break and care for yourself in whatever way you can: physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.

Another way to manage compassion fatigue is by cultivating equanimity. When you’re caught by excessive attachment, see if you can untangle yourself by contemplating: “people are the owners of their deeds. It’s their choice how they make themselves happy or free themselves from suffering.” This is a traditional Buddhist saying to cultivate equanimity. It may sound like a prescription for indifference, but when you’re trapped in compassion fatigue it’s your ticket to emotional freedom.

Altruism and Your Well-Being

The psychologist Martin Seligman says that people seek happiness in three different ways: the Pleasant Life, the Engaging Life, and the Meaningful Life. Research has shown that pleasure contributes less to overall happiness than either being fully engaged in your life or having a meaningful life. Being “engaged” means knowing your strengths … and building them into your relationships and leisure activities. … A “meaningful life” is one in which you use your strengths for the greater good – something larger than yourself. Altruistic pursuits and metta meditation fit into this latter category.

 

TAKING IT ON THE ROAD

Walking Meditation

A delightful way to take metta meditation on the road, quite literally, is walking meditation. Whether you walk in the city or the woods, your mind will usually be in the “default” mode, digesting the past (who said what to whom) or planning the future (your errands, your evening). Our minds are mostly critiquing the people and things we see around us. instead, we can  use these walks to develop loving-kindness and compassion.

Recall that every living being wants to live peacefully and happily. Connect with that deep wish: “Just as all beings wish to be happy and free from suffering, may I be happy and free from suffering.”

 

May we all be safe, free from harm or harmful thoughts.

May we all be happy and healthy and have all of our needs met.

May we all live with ease, accepting each moment with equanimity,

neither resisting and rejecting the moment,

or attaching and grasping at the moment.

May we all see our problems as opportunities for learning and growth

Rather than hardships and pain.

May we all be liberated from our suffering.

 

 

Caer