Here is another article from Gary (Gary’s Wellness Toolbox). Gary walks us through a process he is experimenting with in order to deal with morning anxiety. I love what he does and how it changes things for him, making life a little bit easier for him. I also suggested to him that another way to approach the anxiety is to look at what need is not being met. Our uncomfortable, unpleasant or painful feelings, as well as our judgments, tell us we are not getting something. I’m talking about the overall needs we all have to some degree or another. Such as ..

  • Autonomy, control over our lives, ability to choose, make our own decisions;
  • Connection with others which feels safe, contains trust and acceptance and listening and empathy;
  • Meaning, sense of purpose/direction, understanding, effectiveness, competence;
  • Peace, balance, rest, peace-of-mind, equanimity, space;
  • Physical well-being;
  • Play, rest, fun, laughter, relaxation, participation, stimulation, celebration.

When we understand that we all have these needs AND there are usually many strategies available to meet those needs then we can have more of that sense of peace. When we are in conflict with someone else it’s because neither person is getting their own need met. Working together to figure out what the needs are and the possibilities of meeting them can generate a deeper sense of connection and more peace-of-mind. However, it is not easy. If you really want to practice this type of communication (focusing on needs, rather than on each other’s behavior) you can check out Non-Violent Communication. I think that this model is so ‘right on’ and makes so much sense. It helps take out the sting of solving problems that turn into conflict.


Take it away Gary ….




Lately, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to my experiences throughout the day… starting in the morning. When I first start to wake up, I am instantly aware that my thoughts are already flooding into my consciousness, brain, awareness….or whatever it is they flood into. I don’t know if this happens to everyone, or just me, but I refer to it as “morning anxiety”, and I do not like it. It’s a very uncomfortable, invasive, negative experience for me, so naturally I don’t want it to continue.

For as long as I’ve been waking up this way, I’ve thought there’s (a) something wrong with me, and (b) something I should be able to do about it so I can be in control of it, rather than my racing thoughts being in control of me. I “feel” the experience in my heart first…it beats way faster than a person at rest should beat. Then, sometimes I begin to feel sweat on the back of my neck, back and legs.

Then, I “go to work on myself” trying to think through, figure out, understand what’s going on…what’s causing this discomfort. It seems so logical that I first have to know what’s going on in order to fix it. I’m aware that words matter, and semantics are important, but “fixing” something implies that it’s broken. I have, at times in life, felt broken. When my depression was at its worst, I felt broken beyond repair, and was becoming convinced that there was no point in trying to fix myself if I’m beyond, or not worth repairing. So I developed a “why bother” outlook which led to an “I’m not worth it” attitude about myself

Since being in the Self-Compassion Group, I’ve learned and am continuing to practice a few techniques that are becoming helpful to me throughout the day more times than not. But no tool or technique has helped me wake up feeling any different, and I still wake up every day having the same experience over and over.

I usually start thinking through what’s going on in my day ahead that might be triggering me? Or what’s going on in my life that I should be feeling so anxious about? Often, a critical voice in my head says “grow up and get over it already”. All my adult life I’ve bought into the thinking that I should be able to do exactly that, that I “should” be able to control or ignore these thoughts like a “normal” person would…again the implication is that I’m not a normal person.

Today I had an experience that may help me change the way my day starts so I can begin my day feeling more “balanced” before I get all sweaty. The experience was one of actually putting some “suggestions” I’ve heard…into actual practice. Today was the first time I’d been able to do this.

Here’s what happened….I started to wake up, felt the rapid heart beat, said to myself “here we go again” – and then – I remembered the words I’d been hearing both in group, and that my therapist has been saying all along… just notice the experience, without judgement, and to allow myself to just be aware of it, in order to accept and embrace it”!   To be honest, I’ve struggled with, and been vocal about, not knowing how to “accept” and particularly “embrace” a negative, invasive, and uncomfortable feeling that I don’t like and don’t want to be having. It makes no (logical) sense to me, but I realize that sometimes even logic doesn’t make sense or explain an experience either.

I can easily “notice” this morning anxiety…no problem! And when I do, I can “notice” that I don’t want to be feeling and dealing with this. In other words, today I noticed myself doing way more than just “noticing”….I noticed myself in the act of judging, criticizing, not wanting, fighting, and pushing back against the whole experience. I noticed myself and my “process” making things worse than they had to be….and all of a sudden I became willing to try to accept, even embrace, the racing thoughts, the rapid heart beat, as if to say to myself that “I hear you, I feel you, and it is unpleasant to experience what I’m going through”. It was very simple, and I said this a few times to myself until I sensed myself calming down a bit. When I reviewed and asked myself what I did different today, I saw that what I did in my effort to “accept” and “embrace” what was “real” in that moment, was to offer myself a few words of compassion, in the same way I would try to console anyone else experiencing something difficult.

As I think (and write) about what was different today, I’m realizing that I was making too big a deal about the semantics of accept and embrace. It doesn’t have to mean that I like or welcome difficult feelings….just that, to the extent I can accept (just notice and be aware they’re there) and embrace (give ‘em a consoling hug), this may have allowed them be on their merry way much more quickly than if I had engaged them in analysis, self-judgement, and self-criticism! I have to adopt a new morning mantra…..”Accept and embrace – Accept and embrace – Accept and embrace!”






EXTRA DEC 18 2017



EXTRA DEC 18, 2017

First, here’s Gary next post for the Wellness Toolbox. This one is about patience. Thank you, Gary.

~ Patience ~

Are you like me in that you put pressure on yourself to know and understand every new thing right away? If you don’t understand a new concept, do you criticize yourself? Can you be okay with learning at a slower pace?

I’ve been coming to the group faithfully for 2 months. I listen, I share, I practice at home. I read every email Caer sends out as a reminder of concepts and practices we had in the recent group…it helps me not forget what I learned, or may have just heard for the first time. I generally don’t learn new things easily and I have to hear, see, and read things over and over before they start to seep in to my brain.

I have an inner critic and judge that often pushes back against me having new information about myself, or forming new habits. Something in me wants to believe that I already know what’s best for me (since I’ve gotten this far in life with my old ways of thinking)…so buying into new ways of thinking just doesn’t come easy to me. Accepting this as a fact, is a good first step toward developing the patience I’m gonna need, to continue allowing new information, new concepts into my brain.

The 3 (new to me) concepts of Self-Care, Self-Acceptance, and Self-Compassion, that we speak of in our group as the foundations of our learning, have been completely unfamiliar to me, and absent from my life. They are entirely new and foreign concepts to me. When I hear or read about them…my mind can easily wander due to a lack connection to them or understanding of how to apply them in my life yet. At first glance, they seem to be just “theories” and “concepts” that some spiritual person created, rather than actual practices I can use.

When I notice myself starting to question the validity or value of new concepts, new insights, or new information, this is where I need to learn and practice being more patient with myself. It’s where I need to constantly remind myself that what we talk, read, and learn about in the group… is all so new and foreign to me, and that it’s okay if it takes time for me to embrace or even understand these new concepts, new ways of thinking, new ways of living, new ways of just…. Being! I have to remember that I’m trying to retrain my brain to not see myself as a human “doing”….but as a human “being”….with all the flaws that we come with!

So, when I look back over the past couple of months of making an effort to understand and “embrace” the 3 concepts of Self-Care, Self-Acceptance, and Self-Compassion, I’m starting to see that I AM, in fact, slowly incorporating many parts of them into my life. Even when, or especially when, I don’t particularly feel like doing one of the new practices I’ve been doing, I do it anyway….that’s Self-Care!  When I remind myself that learning anything new takes time and practice…. that’s Self-Acceptance! And when I don’t do something perfectly, but remind myself I’m just human and humans don’t do things perfectly…that’s Self-Compassion! So whether I know it or not, I’m already starting to practice these new concepts…. woohoo!

Regarding my moods…I had a bunch of good weeks in a row, but for whatever reason(s), I had an “off” week this past week. My old patterns of thinking started to creep in, that all this “stuff” I’m practicing, and learning isn’t really helping after all. If it was, I wouldn’t be feeling this way again. Then today, I got Caer’s email about last Tuesday’s group. I made myself read it through without letting my mind, my eyes, and my fingers on the keyboard, jump all over the place and distract me. In doing so, I realized that things happen, including learning, when they’re supposed to, and when we’re ready, willing, and able to receive them.

In the email I was reminded to try taking a “Self-Compassion Break”, and in doing so, I became willing and able to write again for Caer’s blog, after starting, but not being able to complete any new writing for the last 2 weeks! Patience is a new skill for me that will take time, practice, and that I may never do perfectly. In fact, I can see that even learning patience… takes patience!


THE BURIED SELF-CRITIC (or “Projected Self-Judgment”)

I have come up with a new term. At least I think it is. All this time, well… for the past 2 years or so, I thought I had self-compassion nailed. I have not been consciously aware of criticizing myself which made me think I don’t judge myself negatively anymore. Hah! So, you thought Caer! But in the last few months I have been more painfully aware of my interactions with other people. And the most difficult times are with the people I hold closest. Well I had to dig around and find out what the hell was going on. Why did I, do I, feel this way? What’s wrong? What need is not getting met?

I began asking myself about the feelings I have when talking with people, and again, especially with those whom I feel closest. I realized I feel fear and a sense of shame – and often. Then an OMG (lightbulb) moment! I’m thinking that this person is thinking terrible things about me! They are thinking that I … talk too much, over-analyze things, am too speedy, have too big an ego, am mentally ill, screwed up … shall I go on? And sometimes they say something that just sets me off because, for sure, they are criticizing, judging and condemning me. What I believe they are saying is that I am wrong and should be ashamed of my wrongness.

There’s my Self-Critic! All this time I thought she had retreated but she was just hidden carefully behind the scenes. She fooled me and well! Okay, now what do I do this knowledge? How do I change my opinion of myself that I project onto others? It isn’t other people I’m afraid of. It’s my own thoughts when I interact with others. The belief that I am not good enough, not lovable enough and don’t deserve to be treated with the utmost love and care.

Thank goodness, though, for the other parts of me that know these are my own thoughts and do not belong to other people. In fact, in some ways, it doesn’t matter what someone else is thinking about me – because they probably aren’t. They’re probably thinking about themselves in some fashion, what they need and want in the moment. What they want to say. How they want to be heard and validated.

Yah, like that book published decades ago. I’m okay, you’re okay. If only we all knew that was really the truth. What a different world it would be.






SC Group Summary Dec 12 2017





A group member shared that her head is filled with “have-to’s”, which I relabel as “should”. Oh what a mean word that is indeed. As bad as the Grinch. It makes you feel pressured and overwhelmed and sometimes depressed and anxious. The bottom line? There is nothing we have to do. Of course, there are consequences if we don’t do certain things – like eat, brush our teeth, get enough sleep. But when we see them as commandments (and written in stone) … well we suffer.

So, what if we reframe those have-to’s and shoulds. Let’s talk about needs instead, and look at them in this mindful moment. What do I need right now? What do I need today? I need to eat, brush my teeth, and get enough sleep in order to feel good. In order to care for myself. When I come at these have-to’s with the intention of caring for myself, I can feel more at ease about things. I often will let myself off the hook if there’s something I really don’t want to do right now, and if it can be put off without any dire consequences. I mean ‘important’ consequences too.

What strikes me, as well, about telling ourselves we “should” and we “have to”, is that it seems to be about controlling ourselves. As if there is a fear that we won’t do what needs to be done if we don’t pressure ourselves … and constantly. Maybe we can take a look at those “shoulds” and see whose expectations they really are. Are these my expectations of myself or someone else’s? Am I trying to please someone else (so they will love me and accept me) or am I focusing on what I need?



Three members talked about their past and the grief they feel about it. The really neat and interesting thing was that each person had a different perspective of their past and different reasons for their grief. One person is grieving all the ways he was wounded as a child, by not being heard, not being validated and accepted for who he was. I can so relate to this loss as I feel some of those same things. It’s like there lies the question – if the past had been different, if I had been treated with full acceptance and love for who I was, who would I be now? How might I be different? When we have had trauma and wounding in childhood, and we know what is possible in the absence of these two things, then we grieve for what we weren’t allowed to have, when others could. That hurts so deeply.

Another person grieves a time in his life when he wasn’t that ‘productive’. He saw that time as a waste. Many of us know about that sense of wasting time – whether it’s doing something that seems to go nowhere, or doing something that we think we shouldn’t be doing (e.g., playing instead of working), or simply sitting and watching tv for hours. “What a waste of time that was!” Well, I’d like to reframe that thinking as well. I’d like to propose a theory (I’m big on those) — that nothing – I mean absolutely nothing – is a waste of time. All of it has value in our lives. We just have to go looking for that value sometimes.

We are such a “productive”-oriented society. The idea of sitting and doing nothing (which is impossible – you’ve got to be dead) is seen as unproductive. Why is it so important for all of us to be doing things all the time? Why do we have such a focus on being busy and active? Multitasking is highly praised. Why? What is it we are trying to achieve here?

It may be that in those wastelands of our lives are hidden treasures. Our wasted times may be exactly what we need to do in that moment, or even many moments. Maybe we are processing things, or simply resting, taking a break. I think it’s time we learn to trust ourselves and feel confidence in whatever we choose to do. Even if it’s being “unproductive”. Productivity is highly overrated.

The third person was grieving the loss of a past when she was a lot more functional and active. I see this as a normal (and healthy) response to becoming ill and losing functionality. It makes sense to grieve (i.e., let go of) that past when we were so able to do so many things and now we are so limited. Illness does that. It puts up new boundaries around our daily life and we need to come to terms with them.

Whatever form grief takes I think it is such a wonderful thing. Sadness and tears are the ways we slowly let go of something that doesn’t work or doesn’t meet our needs anymore. Letting go is painful as it brings to light the thing we are losing and what it means, or meant, to us. We can even let go of all the things we never had in our life, things that others have had.

I am grateful for my losses, even though they were intensely painful. For I have learned and gained so much for myself through understanding them and truly grieving them. I have learned who I really am, and I see myself as constantly changing. What happens to me today influences who I am tomorrow … and so on and so on.


READING – Joseph Goldstein on CBC Radio show Tapestry

It’s been called a dumpster fire of a year, 2017.

The intensification of white supremacy. The endless parade of famous men accused of sexual misconduct. Dire warnings about environmental collapse.

It’s enough to make you blow your top. Or crawl under a rock.

But it is possible to stay centred – and relatively sane – in the Age of Outrage. Renowned meditation teacher and writer Joseph Goldstein tells you how:

  1. Send out lovingkindness to everyone, including people you really, really don’t like

Goldstein teaches lovingkindness meditation, a practice of sending positive, friendly wishes to yourself and to the rest of the world. “May you be well in body and mind. May you be at ease and happy.”

It’s not always an easy thing to do.

During a meditation retreat shortly after the attacks of 9/11, some residents of New York City said they weren’t able or willing to send kindhearted thoughts to the people who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers.

Goldstein understood, but the Buddha said lovingkindness should be extended to all beings; there are no exceptions. The solution: reframe the intention.

“It would have been very difficult for people to express the wish, ‘May you be happy’. That was not on the table. But to express the wish, ‘May you be free of hatred’, that’s a real possibility. So it’s finding the right expression for the particular situation.”

Goldstein says extending lovingkindness to people you fundamentally disagree with can transform your perspective and help engender a sense of hope.

“Often at night, I’ll be laying in bed, thinking about the political situation and feeling upset by it all, and very often I will actually start doing the lovingkindness meditation toward Donald Trump. And it’s really sending it in the same way – ‘May you be at peace’. Just that wish. Because clearly a lot of these responses that we hear from him to different situations in the world are coming about because there doesn’t seem to be much peace in his mind or heart. When I do that, it’s genuine. I would wish for that in him. And in some way it steps out of the polarization and allows for a more considered reflection on what we might do in this situation.”

  1.  Be responsive, not reactive

Social media is a space that seems to promote impulsive behaviour and hair trigger reactions. Inflammatory remarks, name-calling, and hurtful comments are par for the course… and so are the anger and remorse that tend to follow. Goldstein says that we will feel infinitely better once we train ourselves to stop and think before doing anything. This gives us the ability to respond thoughtfully, instead of reacting impulsively.

“Because our buttons will get pressed – unless one happens to be a saint! – we are going to have these reactions. The question is: can we become aware of them as they are arising in the mind and consider an alternative? Or are we simply caught up in the reactivity and lost in that whole chain of action that follows from it? So mindfulness of what’s happening in ourselves is the key.”

Goldstein says emotions such as anger or self-righteousness are signals that you may be in reaction mode. Slow down so you can respond mindfully.


Joseph Goldstein has studied various kinds of Buddhist meditation with masters from Thailand, India and Tibet. He is co-founder of The Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has led insight and lovingkindness meditation retreats around the world since the 1970s. In Canada, the True North Insight is a similar organization that was founded in 2004.

Joseph Goldstein is the author or co-author of many books on Buddhist practice and mindfulness, including One Dharma and Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

To listen to the entire interview with Joseph Goldstein on Tapestry go to:

May you (and all beings) be safe

May you (and all beings) be happy

May you (and all beings) be healthy

May you (and all beings) live with ease






















We have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionally

Susan Cain



One group member asked for group feedback on her relationship with her adult daughter. I gathered that the daughter is in a situation that is not at all pleasant for her and thus she complains to her mom a lot. Being a parent can be so hard sometimes especially when our child is suffering. So how to deal with such a situation? My suggestion is about listening (surprise! Surprise!). We can give our full attention to our child and hear their pain. However, this may be very hard to bear, and we need to have compassion for ourselves in this position — remembering that most parents go through this, the ones who really care about their children. This is a common human experience and we don’t need to feel isolated or ashamed of our feelings. The hardest part about this is that we want to fix things and we take on our child’s pain. This is compassion at its best and most loving, and yet it can be debilitating for us as parents.

I think it’s important to find a balance in our relationship with our children, and anyone we feel close to really. We can be a support to those we love and do it best by listening and allowing them to feel the way they feel in the moment. We can acknowledge and validate their feelings. This will make them feel heard and comforted. We can also step back and not take on the other person’s pain. We don’t have to fix anyone for everything to be okay.

To be good support, I believe that accepting my son exactly where he is can help him more than anything else. He may want me to fix things for him, rescue him from a situation, but it is far better for him to figure out how to fix it himself. Also, his way of fixing a situation might be more effective than my suggestion as he knows best what works for him and what doesn’t. My suggested ‘fix’ would be what I would do in the same situation. It doesn’t always fit.


Here are some things we can say to anyone we care about and want to show them that we care as well as accept them right where they are in this moment.

  • We can say “Yah, you’re really upset about this. This seems to be really important to you”;
  • Or “You sound very unhappy/angry/sad right now. Do you want to say more about it?” (Asking for more really shows you want to hear what’s going on with them);
  • Or “I can tell this is a hard time for you right now. I think I would be feeling the same way if I was in your situation. How can I support you, how can I help?”

LISTEN and VALIDATE (acknowledge, paraphrase, rephrase, ask for clarification). I want to stress these two words. If we practice doing this with people, before expressing our own opinions, our communication with others may be a lot more effective and even powerful. There is such relief when we think someone has truly heard us and accepts us right where we are. I would call this MINDFUL LISTENING.

I want to point out, as well, that it is not about suppressing our own opinions, insights or feelings. Just the opposite. But if we are in a situation where emotions are high then we have a choice to ‘stand down’ for a minute in order to dilute things. Stepping back and giving space to what’s happening can be precious and yet so difficult to do. I believe it takes practice and lots of it. We are emotional beings and our tendency is to respond and react to them.

I hope some of these suggestions help.


Sometimes we feel great and other times – well, not so great. I’m having a ‘down’ time right now and not sure what’s causing it. Of course, that’s often what we do – ask why we feel this way. I learned not long ago about ‘overdetermination’ – the idea that significant things/events are usually caused by more than one thing. So now when I wonder why I feel down (or sometimes even really good) I look for ‘contributing factors’ rather than a single cause. For example, how have I been doing physically? Have I been eating well, getting lots of rest, exercising, not too much sugar? I know that these things can alter mood. I also go looking for any conflict in my life, or stressors of some kind. All of this is done without judgment of myself if possible. At least that’s my intention. I’m not looking to blame myself for my more depressed mood.

As well as asking those questions I also engage in the practice of SELF-ACCEPTANCE. Can I accept that this is the way I feel right now, today? Can I possibly embrace these feelings and allow myself to deeply feel my emotions? Not always easy. A scary place to go.

The SELF-COMPASSION BREAK is especially useful during these times.

  • Recognizing that we are in a moment of suffering (I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to feel like this) “This is suffering. I am suffering. I am in pain right now. I hurt. What my friend said to me yesterday really hurt me. I feel so angry and upset.” Simple acknowledgement of the state we are in;
  • Then — remembering that many people feel the same way. “This is a common human experience. Many people feel this way when a friend says something mean to them.” “I have no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed for my feelings as they are normal and appropriate”;
  • Third — treating ourselves with kindness. A hand on our heart, our cheek, a self-hug. “I’m sorry you are hurting right now Caer”, “What do I (or you) need right now?” (Often, it’s some form of soothing and comfort. Maybe some reassurance from someone that I’m not a bad (unacceptable, unlovable) person).


READING: RICK HANSON from the Self-Acceptance Summit 2017

My ‘Rick Hanson’ experience

Our reading this week was a continuation of Rick Hanson and the idea of focusing on our positive experiences in order to rewire and retrain our brain. So, on my way home after the group I had one of those positive moments and it was really neat to recognize that it was such an experience and then hold it for a while. I was walking home, and an adult came towards me holding the hand of wee one. This little child stole my breath away for a moment. I just love babies and children and dogs and cats, and they give me such moments of pure love when I see them. They are so utterly vulnerable and so dependent on us. That nurturing instinct just gets firing in my brain.

Anyway … right behind me were two young women and they saw the little child at the same time and oohed and aahed. I turned to them and smiled, “So adorable eh?” and they said yes. It was a wonderful shared moment. A common humanity moment really. The recognition of a small human being just starting out in the world and how sweet their awkwardness and clumsiness is. We all seem to accept these things as part of the learning process. Anyway, I did what Hanson suggested and really held onto the moment. I felt it in all of its warmth. And I thought – wow, I’m rewiring my brain right now. I’m programming it to notice the good moments. Cool!

Then I fell….  (seriously I did). Off the curb. A moment of inattention. While I was practicing one thing (storing up those positive experiences) I was forgetting another – mindfulness of where you’re walking. (I’m okay. Whew!)



Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.

That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways.  For example, studies have found that:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
  • Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

In your own mind, what do you usually think about at the end of the day? The fifty things that went right, or the one that went wrong? Like the guy who cut you off in traffic, what you wish you had said differently to a co-worker, or the one thing on your To Do list that didn’t get done . . .

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction.

And that’s just not fair, since probably most of the facts in your life are positive or neutral. Every day, lots of good things happen, such as a lovely sunset, someone is nice to you, you finish a batch of emails, or you learn something new. And lots of other good things are ongoing aspects of your world (e.g., your children are healthy, life is peaceful in your corner of the planet) or yourself (e.g., personal qualities like determination, sincerity, fairness, kindness).

Besides the sheer injustice of it, acquiring a big pile of negative experiences in implicit memory banks naturally makes a person more anxious, irritable, and blue. Plus it makes it harder to be patient and giving toward others.

In evolution, Mother Nature only cares about passing on genes – by any means necessary. She doesn’t care if we happen to suffer along the way – from subtle worries to intense feelings of sorrow, worthlessness, or anger – or create suffering for others.

The result: a brain that is tilted against lasting contentment and fulfillment.

But you don’t have to accept this bias! By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field.

You’ll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you’ll become more able to change them or bear them if you tilt toward the good, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others.

And now, tilted toward absorbing the good, instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain. In the famous saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you get your neurons firing about positive facts, the more they’ll be wiring up positive neural structures.

Taking in the good is a brain-science savvy and psychologically skillful way to improve how you feel, get things done, and treat others. It is among the top five personal growth methods I know. In addition to being good for adults, it’s great for children, helping them to become more resilient, confident, and happy.

Here’s how to take in the good – in three simple steps.


  1. Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.

Good facts include positive events – like the taste of good coffee or getting an unexpected compliment – and positive aspects of the world and yourself. When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it.

Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day. There are lots of opportunities to notice good events, and you can always recognize good things about the world and yourself. Each time takes just 30 seconds or so. It’s private; no one needs to know you are taking in the good. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning).

Notice any reluctance to feeling good. Such as thinking that you don’t deserve to, or that it’s selfish, vain, or even shameful to feel pleasure. Or that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen.

Barriers to feeling good are common and understandable – but they get in the way of you taking in the resources you need to feel better, have more strength, and have more inside to give to others. So acknowledge them to yourself, and then turn your attention back to the good news. Keep opening up to it, breathing and relaxing, letting the good facts affect you.

It’s like sitting down to a meal: don’t just look at it—taste it!

  1. Really enjoy the experience.

Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that’s fine. But try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else.

As you can, sense that it is filling your body, becoming a rich experience. As Marc Lewis and other researchers have shown, the longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory.

You are not craving or clinging to positive experiences, since that would ultimately lead to tension and disappointment. Actually, you are doing the opposite: by taking them in and filling yourself up with them, you will increasingly feel less fragile or needy inside, and less dependent on external supplies; your happiness and love will become more unconditional, based on an inner fullness rather than on whether the momentary facts in your life happen to be good ones.

  1. Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you.

People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt, filling in old holes of loss or yearning; a child might imagine a jewel going into a treasure chest in her heart. And some might simply know conceptually, that while this good experience is held in awareness, its neurons are firing busily away, and gradually wiring together.

Any single time you do this will make only a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your self.

“The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion”. It’s excellent and very helpful.
























Taking care of the present, we can even transform the past.

Thich Nhat Hanh


One member talked about being in school and the pressure to get work done despite being exhausted. The member was unsure how to deal with her exhaustion. From time to time, many of us get involved in something that takes up a lot of our time and energy. How do we take good care of ourselves then? A great suggestion came from another group member – to set a timer/alarm and every half hour take a 3-minute rest break. In that time, you can simply sit and rest, or meditate.

Exhaustion can certainly be a part of life and a difficult thing to deal with. When we are tired our brains don’t work so well which means our reasoning abilities may go downhill as well. I really like the idea of scheduling regular breaks when in that kind of situation. I guess it would make sense to PRIORITIZE REST in terms of self-care priorities. The great thing is rest can come in many forms. It can be something like the break described above or it can be simply getting up and moving around, moving your body around to get the circulation going. For me, it’s video games. Something about video games turns my mind away from everything else. I am totally focused on that game, yet my mind is quite active. It’s kind of like going for a mental run.



The biggest obstacle to meditation is perfectionism

We talked a bit about trying to achieve mindfulness, when we set it as a goal rather than simply a daily practice. I think our culture is a huge factor in this kind of thinking. We live in a pretty competitive kind of environment. So many apps seem to be about setting goals and meeting them. Then when we don’t meet those goals we can indulge in some good self-criticism or “I’ve tried everything, and nothing works.”

If we focus on achieving mindfulness (how would you even measure that?) or somehow having a blank mind during meditation, we are missing the point of both things. Mindfulness is about living in the now, not the future. It is not about performance either, or accomplishment. It is simply this moment … and this moment only. As well, I think it’s about letting go of our thinking about mindfulness (and whether we are succeeding or not right now). There is nothing to achieve.

Similarly, with meditation. I have a theory that it’s the repetitive process of recognizing we have strayed from our focus, from the moment, and coming back to our focus. I think that the back and forth is what actually relaxes our mind/us and creates a bigger space of awareness within us. I think it’s a soothing exercise for our brain.

Through repetition the magic is forced to arise.

That quote is from a group member and I love it. Sometimes when I meditate I do feel a kind of magic arise. It’s a lovely spaciousness and a sigh of relief. A letting go and falling into softness. Once in a while that magic happens.



Benedictine monk Father Laurence Freeman speaking about meditation on Tapestry:

Mary Hynes:  What’s the biggest danger to would-be meditators?

Father Laurence:  If we’re not free of this compulsion to be perfect, we will never actually learn how to be excellent, and by excellent there I mean ‘whole’. So we shouldn’t be worried about failing in meditation. The first step of the spiritual journey, like the first step in a human relationship as well, is to accept yourself as you are. And every time you meditate, that’s who you are and where you are at that moment. Going back to that point of self-acceptance is humility.


 Being listened to is the medium through which we discover ourselves

as understandable and acceptable – or not


From: The Lost Art of Listening – Michael P. Nichols

As I read this book I am seeing more and more ways I don’t listen and why. I can see some of the shoulds that pop up when I talk to a certain person or the times I am focused on my own agenda and my own thoughts. I am also learning that when we are actively listening to someone, we give up control for that moment to the other person. They have the floor (or the Talking Stick). Learning that was an ah-hah moment. I know I have issues around control of situations and how uncomfortable it is for me to give up control. Listening can sometimes be quite threatening to me.

Listening to someone means putting aside my needs for a moment, especially my need to express my opinion. It may also mean dealing with triggers. Sometimes someone says something to me and I can feel an immediate pressure in my chest, and my breathing gets tight and shallow. I am getting into defense mode. This is all great news to me, by the way. It means now I have something tangible to work with. I don’t have to deal with these nebulous vague feelings. I can now begin to recognize the triggers and work with them – either right at the time or later. I can begin to understand them which will probably help them decrease over time. And I can practice gentle self-compassion with myself when I am triggered and react before I even think.

Listening for me means letting go of control for the moment, giving it up to the other person, and trusting that I will be fine. If I need to express my opinion about something, then I can after the other person is finished.

Listening also seems to mean really seeing the other person. Looking at them. Watching the expressions on their face and their body language. What are they communicating? It also means putting aside my thoughts about them and simply entering into the experience of paying attention to what they are saying and how they are saying it.


Listening shapes us: lack of listening twists us.



READING: Rick Hanson Ph.D. from the Self-Acceptance Summit

The brain has what’s called a negativity bias, or as I put it, it’s like Velcro for the negative but Teflon for the positive. In other words, we have a brain that evolved to be very, very good at learning from bad experiences but to be bad at learning from good experiences. We all know this experience. We could have 20 successes in a day. We could accomplish 20 things. We could be praised 20 times in the day, but if we have one failure in a day, in other words one goal we didn’t meet or one criticism coming at us from somebody else, boom. That’s the one that sinks in. That’s the one we remember because of this negativity bias of the brain.

The hopeful thing is to take up arms against our oppressors, which largely live right between our ears. And to go forward by being in reality about our ordinary good accomplishments, our ordinary good qualities, to be in reality about the appreciation of us and the love for us that’s coming at us. Then, to really take in that good again and again and again, which will have three benefits. One, it will install progressively over time, those supplies, if you will, into neural structure. Two, implicitly, we will be active rather than passive on our own behalf. We’ll be treating ourselves like we matter, which is fundamental to this whole matter of self-acceptance.

Third, studies are showing that you can gradually sensitize your brain to the good. We have a brain that evolved to be very sensitizable to the bad. You can make it increasingly like Velcro for negative experiences, which is useful if you’re living in a hellhole. On the other hand, if you’re living in the life that most of us have, it looks increasingly like you can actually sensitize your brain for the good, so that as you go through your days, you’re much more able to actually internalize the experience of self-worth and the antidotes to self-criticism and self-loathing.

I get excited about how hopeful it is because it’s a second order benefit. In other words, we’re not just taking in the very useful positive experiences as we go through our day and weaving them into the fabric of our brain in our life. Over time, we’re making our brain stickier and stickier for the good, rather than its default setting of being like Teflon. The how of it, we’ve all had the experience, right, of something good happens, and we maybe say to ourselves or we just know somehow inside, this one’s a keeper. You know, let this one land. Maybe we accomplish something, or there’s a beautiful sunset, or we’re just very joyful, or we come off a meditation retreat, or we have some insight in therapy, or we’re just standing under the stars and say, “OK, let this one sink in.” That’s how simple it is to take in the good. there are four basic steps that follow the acronym H.E.A.L.

The first step is to have a positive experience in the first place, either because you’re already having one and you notice it rather than ignoring it, or two, you’re actually skillful in creating a positive experience, so you Have it. That’s the H. In the second step, you Enrich it. You stay with it 10, 20 seconds in a row. Get those neurons firing together so they’re wired together by letting it be as intense as possible, by coming into your body with it, by savoring it in various ways. The third step of taking in the good is to Absorb it. That’s the A for Absorb where you sensitize memory systems in the brain by sensing and intending that the experience is sinking into you like water into a sponge, or I’ll say with kids, like a jewel into the treasure chest of the heart.

Then, the fourth step, L for Link is optional but very powerful, in which you hold both positive and negative material and awareness at once, but make the positive material more prominent, more in the foreground of awareness. Bigger, if you will, so that it gradually associates to and starts soothing and eventually potentially replaces that old negative material.

You might get a sense that this positive experience of your own quality, your own goodness, your own accomplishment, your own likeability, your own attractiveness, whatever, that this experience of worth is connecting with places inside that have felt unworthy, unlovable, like damaged goods and you have a sense that this positive material is associated with the negative material.  In real practice, for most people, the steps mush together. It usually takes one or two dozen seconds.


LINKS, etc.


The mindful path to self-compassion: freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD (2009)



There are about 30 short videos online at this site. All for free. Just need your email address. Each video features someone speaking on aspects of self-acceptance. The first video is by Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering self-compassion researcher and is so inspiring.

Here is Christopher Germer’s site. One of his books both Alex and I are reading is called “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion”. It’s excellent and very helpful.


Dr. Kristin Neff’s website:

This is such a useful website on the topic of self-compassion. Dr. Neff is a leader in the field. There is a self-compassion quiz you can take and a more in-depth article on the self-compassion model of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Here To Help is an amazing site and has a wealth of information on mental illness.



May you (and all beings) be safe

May you (and all beings) be happy

May you (and all beings) be healthy

May you (and all beings) live with ease


















The quotes are from The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols, (1995)

He’d assumed that establishing some common ground between him and his patient was a sign of listening, that sharing his own experience was the equivalent of empathy. In fact, though, he had switched the focus to himself, making his patient feel discounted, misunderstood, unappreciated. That’s what hurt.”

For a couple of years, I have been noticing bit by bit that I don’t feel satisfied in my relationships with others. The problem has been that I began to think something was wrong with me, not the relationships. I thought that I was simply becoming anti-social and a hermit. Maybe because of age.  Still, I figured that I was not getting something I needed. This book has helped me find it.

Although a big part of what Nichols talks about is how to listen to others, what surfaces for me is listening to ourselves first when in relationship (i.e., dialogue) with someone. I have begun to pay more attention to how I feel when someone is speaking to me and I’m discovering some very interesting feelings that I had never given attention to before. Fear, panic, threat.

My relationship with my mother, right until the end, was about her talking and me listening. Occasionally I would share something going on in my life, but I was careful in selecting what to share with her. I also didn’t feel strong motivation to share my life with her. I just wanted to be kind to her (and ignore my own needs – sigh). I came to a point of believing that my mother just wasn’t that interested in me and my life. She simply wanted attention and validation of her own.

However, I’m beginning to think that my mother could not listen to me as it caused her pain. The result, though, of her not listening to me, was that I felt unimportant and insignificant. And I felt that way throughout my childhood. I was an only child amongst 3 adults and I felt I lived in an adult world, full of adult rules. I felt excluded in many ways. So … now when someone is speaking to me, those feelings come up sometimes. Those feelings of exclusion and not mattering.

I think that if we are going to learn to listen to others, we need to start with ourselves. We could call it mindful listening. It’s all about awareness of our triggers. Noticing what comes up for me as someone is speaking enables me to grab hold of it and put it aside. It’s an ah hah moment. There you are you little rascal. You’re the one that’s upsetting me.

When I can recognize my triggers, and put them aside to ‘process’ and understand them later, I can then clearly listen to whoever is speaking to me. More important, I can hear what they are saying. When I can hear I can then validate. By that I mean let the person know that I have heard what they said. I can then reflect back something of what I heard – “wow, sounds like you really handled that well.” Or “It sounds as if you are sorry about what happened.” “It sounds like …” is a good start. You can use “I imagine that was difficult for you” or “I would have had a hard time dealing with that kind of situation.” Something that says I really heard what you were talking about and how you are feeling about it.

LISTEN and VALIDATE are my favourite words when it comes to conversing with anyone. But I need to remember to start with myself. Listen to my own feelings, validate them in some way maybe, reassure myself that I really am okay, and then listen to what the other person is saying. All of this may only take seconds … eventually. Maybe at first it will be awkward.

… human beings require nourishment not only to grow up strong but also to maintain their strength and vitality. Listening nourishes our sense of worth.


SC Group Summary Nov 21 2017




“It hurts not to be listened to”



One of our group members had what I gather was quite an intense experience with a friend who was dying. Mostly he is now struggling with self care and he asked for group feedback. So here was mine. First of all, being present for someone’s death (or at a birth as well) has got to be one of the ‘biggest’ and most meaningful experiences in life and I think that it definitely begs the question – how do I take care of myself in the wake of such an experience. What does my own unique experience with grief look like (because people grieve in many different ways)? What needs do I have at this time? For space to process my friend’s dying? To be alone? For rest? For distraction? For support and connection? For nourishment and play? To talk to someone and have them listen and validate all my feelings? To cut back on my activities right now?


It’s very important for us to ask, and keep asking, “What do I need? What do I need?” And it’s important that we do our best to take care of those needs. If we don’t, there will likely be negative consequences down the line. By ‘negative’ I mean we may cause ourselves more pain and suffering through our neglect. When we can care gently about ourselves and allow ourselves to feel the deep sadness we may be feeling we are helping ourselves move through the natural and normal process of letting go. It’s also a change in relationship as we tend to carry significant and influential people in our lives in our mind – many times for life. Every time we reflect on that person and what our relationship was like, or what they were like, we are entering into the relationship again, revisiting it and coming to a new understanding of it. Grieving can be a beautiful process while also deeply painful. It’s possible for it to be both. I lost my ‘brother-in-law’ to suicide back in 1989 and I allowed myself to grieve for him as deeply as I could. I played sad and profound music in order to tap into my feelings about him. And I thought a lot about him that first year especially. I talked to him in my head a lot and I sent him as much love as I could. I still think of him many times and I dream about him regularly. In my dreams he seems to always represent comfort and solace. His death played a big part in healing me. I would have preferred another way but it’s what happened, and I can appreciate it all.

A couple of other group members shared their experiences with a dying parent and what they gained from that experience. It’s a precious thing to be a witness to. Someone leaving this earth, going to a final rest, where they are free of human struggles. No more suffering. And we might just miss them terribly.


There was another issue with this member that I wanted to point out as well. He felt he should have responded more quickly to his friend’s needs while she was dying. The problem is he’s using hindsight – “I should have done…” He’s speaking from the perspective of NOW. Now that I know the whole story and I can see the whole picture – I should have done….  That’s fine if we want to analyze an experience and see if we want to change our behaviour in any way the next time it happens – though I would prefer to say, “I could have done this.” But when we feel badly that we didn’t do what we now think we should have done then we have a problem. We are essentially accusing ourselves of not being able to predict the future and act accordingly. (Sheesh that’s harsh!!)

How many times do we say to ourselves ‘I should have done’? But that statement is made with the knowledge we now have, that we didn’t have at that moment. So, we are being unfair towards ourselves. I believe we always do what we need to do in the moment, based on all our knowledge and skills, based on what we can foresee as consequences, and based on other priorities in our lives. It’s often not one single idea – oh I’ll do this – but probably a quick overview of everything we know and can imagine in the moment and making a quick decision based on all those things. (whew!)

What I think is most important is that we forgive ourselves for what we have done in the past. Take away the lessons learned for sure. Benefit from experience. Learn from experience. I think it’s what we’re here for.


I just started reading a book called “The Lost Art of Listening” by Michael P. Nichols (1995).

He starts by saying “Nothing hurts more than the sense that people close to us aren’t really listening to what we have to say. We never outgrow the need to communicate what it feels like to live in our separate, private worlds of experience. That’s why a sympathetic ear is such a powerful force in human relationships – and why the failure to be heard and understood is so painful.”

I felt for years that my mother didn’t listen to me and I believed her self-centered and uncaring about me. However, after reading almost half of the book, I have revised my perspective. Maybe she did indeed have trouble listening to me but not because she didn’t care but because some of the things that were going on in my life caused her pain and made it hard to hear. I may have been a disappointment to my mother. Never married. Never really had a career because I didn’t keep jobs. And then the knowledge that my stepfather was abusing me, and she didn’t know and that I am now being diagnosed with mental illness. I can imagine how hard all of those things would have been hard to hear and maybe that’s why she didn’t – couldn’t — listen to me. Wow! What a different spin on things!

I have been troubled by how we humans communicate and how often we end up criticizing and condemning each other. I have wanted to understand the dynamics and workings of conversation and relationship mostly because it irks me, leaves me full of questions. This book is helping immensely.

A few quotes from the book:

“To listen well we must forget ourselves and submit to the other person’s need for attention.”

“Most failures of understanding are not due to self-absorption or bad faith, but to defensive reactions that crowd out understanding and concern. Each of us has characteristic ways of reacting emotionally in key relationships. We don’t hear what’s said because something in the speaker’s message triggers hurt, anger, or fear.”

“If listening strengthens our relationships by cementing our connection with one another, it also fortifies our sense of self. In the presence of a receptive listener, we’re able to clarify what we think and discover what we feel. Thus, in giving an account of our experience to someone who listens, we are better able to listen to ourselves. Our lives are coauthored in dialogue.”

It’s especially hurtful not to be listened to in those relationships you count on for understanding.

READING More from an interview with Oprah and Pema Chodron

About Pema Chodron:

“Beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother, Pema Chodron has inspired millions of people from around the world who have been touched by her example and message of practicing peace in these turbulent times. The Pema Chodron Foundation is dedicated to preserving and sharing Pema’s inspiration and teachings in order that they might help us all awaken wisdom and compassion in ourselves and the world around us.”


OPRAH: I love the idea of making a vow about how you want to be, according to your honored calling or your path.

PEMA: It has a lot of power, particularly if you word the vow in your own way. It’s something like saying, “This morning, I renew my vow to listen more deeply to people, even if I don’t like what they’re saying and I start to tense up.”

OPRAH: Yes. Or “I vow that I will not gossip or speak unkind words against another person to make myself, my ego, feel more validated.”

PEMA: Exactly. That’s what all of that is—the ego. I equate ego with trying to figure everything out instead of going with the flow. That closes your heart and your mind to the person or situation that’s right in front of you, and you miss so much.

OPRAH: As you wrote in When Things Fall Apart, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.” One thing I’ve learned to ask, especially in difficult situations, is “What is this here to teach me?”

PEMA: That’s a very powerful way to look at it. People often use spirituality like medicine when they’re in a tough situation, and they start coming up with their own ways of expressing it, as you just did. All religions point to the fact that being fully present is the only state in which you can wake up—not by somehow leaving. So you have to find your own simple, grounded language to say that to yourself, and that’s a beautiful way to express it: What is this moment, this situation, or this person trying to teach me? Another one that I love is “This is a unique moment. Maybe I’m glad about that because it’s painful, but I don’t want to waste it, because it’s never going to happen again this way. So let’s taste it, smell it, experience it.”

OPRAH: You also wrote in When Things Fall Apart that every day gives us an opportunity to either open up or shut down, and that the most precious opportunity presents itself when you think you can’t handle whatever is happening. So if, in that moment, you can train yourself to open up instead of shutting down…

PEMA: That’s exactly when you get a real transformation.

OPRAH: Don’t you think that’s hard, though? I mean, life is slamming you against a wall and you’re supposed to say, “Let me open up and get slammed some more”?

PEMA: Of course it’s hard. I devote my life to trying to find a way to say this so that it resonates with people. It begins with meditation—you just sit down with yourself. It’s a way of being completely open to whatever is happening in your mind, and you realize your mind is wild and crazy and all over the place. The instruction is so simple: Just keep coming back to your breath. Then you say, “This is almost impossible!” It isn’t, but I know how hard it is. That’s why I have a passion for finding a way to communicate that you can have an appetite for life as it is rather than life as you want it to be.

OPRAH: What would you consider the fundamental pearl of wisdom from the teachings of the Buddha?

PEMA: Oh my goodness! From all the fundamental pearls of wisdom… Can I put it in Christian terms?

OPRAH: Yes, I’ll accept that.

PEMA: It would be something like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Also, stay open to whatever life presents you with, because it will teach you something if you’ll let it. It’s about keeping an unbiased heart and mind. A lot of it is forming an unconditional friendship with yourself as you begin to see all the stuff you’ve been running away from.

PEMA: But when you know yourself at a very deep level, you know other people. Then it’s very hard to condemn them when their minds get sick or carried away by emotionality, because you’ve seen it in yourself.

OPRAH: It goes back to the idea of trying to manage the ego so your life isn’t controlled by it. So much of the pain and suffering we all endure is because we can’t keep the ego in check.

PEMA: If you’re always trying to get things to work out so that it’s all pleasure and no pain, then you’re going to be stuck in this cycle that’s doomed to failure. That belief is one of the major causes of suffering. You keep thinking, erroneously, “Well, other people have it together, and if I could just scramble enough, I could avoid all these bad feelings.” And the Buddha said no, it’s a myth to think that you can get all the pieces to line up so that everything goes your way. That’s what I mean by being open and receptive to situations, rather than trying to control everything. The Buddha taught that we’re not actually in control, which is a pretty scary idea. But when you let things be as they are, you will be a much happier, more balanced, compassionate person. O

PRAH: Which brings us back to being in the now, not resisting it or trying to change it.

PEMA: Exactly. “Being in the now” has become such a catchphrase, but it is actually very profound.

OPRAH: I loved how Eckhart Tolle redefined the present moment in his book The Power of Now. He said that all the stress and pain in the world is about not being in the now, because it’s not allowing whatever moment you’re in, even if it is a moment of despair, to be that moment; wanting it to be something else is what causes the pain and the suffering.

PEMA: That was the basic teaching of the Buddha. Not only that, but the pain that you’re resisting cuts you off from understanding other people. You could say that meditation is about being receptive rather than resisting. That takes some learning, but if you’re hurting enough, you’ll be highly motivated to do it. O

PRAH: Ultimately, it’s understanding what you conclude in When Things Fall Apart: that we all get so caught up in the goal, but the path itself is the goal.

PEMA: The journey is all there is, really. The future never comes, because it’s always the present moment.

OPRAH: And when you know that, you get to move through the world without as much stress. What would you suggest to those of us who don’t necessarily want to become Buddhists, but who do want to continue toward being as highly evolved as we can be? Meditation?

PEMA: Yes. And to notice when you’re hooked, meaning something has triggered you. You’re biting the hook and about to get swept away and lose being in the now.

OPRAH: What do you do when that happens?

PEMA: Notice it, pause, take three to five deep breaths. Just doing that is a shift. Then you can do something different.”


May you (and all beings) be safe

May you (and all beings) be happy

May you (and all beings) be healthy

May you (and all beings) live with ease