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.
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
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.