SC Group Mar 13 2018 Summary





The limitations of illness just change the game, they don’t stop it.


Metta (loving kindness) phrases revisited

For newer members here are the basic metta (or loving kindness) phrases that we use. These are like wishes or prayers. Wishing the best for ourselves and for others. For when people receive what they truly desire and need we tend to be happier, more compassionate and kind, wiser and present.

Here are the four basic phrases with some extras in brackets. However, you can make up whatever you want such as May I accept myself, May I forgive _____, May I feel calm in the interview this afternoon and so on.

May I be safe (free from inner and outer harm)

May I be happy (content, at peace)

May I be healthy

May I live with ease (accepting each moment with equanimity, etc.)

You can use these phrases in a formal meditation session and repeat them over and over for any length of time. You can also use them informally at any time of the day. Some of us in the group have found that saying these phrases does help us and give us some ease. You can also wish these things for someone else or for all beings. May you be safe, happy, etc. or May all beings be safe, happy, etc.


Accepting the present

Over the years in MDA support groups, and in this group this week, I have heard people express their pain about losing abilities they once had because of their mental illness. As if the illness had stolen something precious from them – and in a way it did. I see this state as part of a healing process. The moment that an illness occurs in us, is the moment we can begin a healing process. For me, that process starts with getting to know all about my illness – its symptoms and how it will limit my functioning in the world. I’m really asking how I can change and adapt to this new way of living.

Illness can take away a life that we had and that we were very attached to, and to lose it is extremely painful. I think if we can, first of all, take the time to grieve what is lost, we can eventually move on. It is totally appropriate to grieve for whatever we have lost. We don’t just need to grieve when someone dies. When we can enter into a grieving state for a while, and fully accept that this is what we are going through, I think eventually we can move on in the healing process. Grieving is about feeling sad and letting go of something that is no longer viable.

When we can let go of that past, then we can begin to focus on the present and what things look like now. What can I do? What can’t I do? What are my symptoms and how can I deal with them? What are my expectations of myself at this time and are they realistic given the limitations of my illness? How do I see myself now?

Accepting any limitations in life can be very difficult however, I think another door is open when we become ill. There is opportunity here for new thinking, new ideas, creative ways of living life now. Stephen Hawking (died March 14, 2018), renowned British scientist, lived with ALS a huge part of his life. At the end the only muscles he could move were in his face, yet he felt free to do whatever he wanted. And if he couldn’t do something, well he didn’t want to do it in the first place. He came to accept his physical condition and he didn’t see it as a barrier in his life at all. Talk about an inspiration. I think limitations that arise from illness just change the game, they don’t stop it.


Distraction vs Mindfulness

I am noticing my resistance to being mindful and specially to sitting and meditating for any period of time. So, I ask myself why? What is it that is so uncomfortable for me to sit with for 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes? Because I want to go and do things, like play on my computer or my tablet. Or my phone. Such wonderful distractions. Well, then I ask myself why do we humans love to be so distracted? After all, even while we’re driving, we can’t let go of those little screens. In the news the other day, the police put up a huge sign on the highway that told people to pay attention and put down those phones. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe they said that about 80 people drove by that sign and didn’t see it … because they were distracted on their phones. They all got ticketed.

Distraction vs mindfulness. I think most of us prefer distraction. We prefer to be distracted by our thoughts, by a screen (computer, phone, tv), by drugs and alcohol, by drama. Anything to not pay attention to what’s going on for us right now. I think many of us are filled with fear, anxiety, worry, anger and these are all very painful to us. When we are distracted, we are not thinking about those things. We probably aren’t thinking about ourselves. When I play video games I’m lost and it’s extremely pleasurable – up to a point. Then it gets boring.

I read something the other day about how we become ‘contracted’ in pain and I really like that term. When I am distracted too much, when I’m totally overstimulated and yet can’t seem to stop, I feel contracted in pain. I feel as if I’m scrunching up into a little ball or like a turtle trying to pull into its shell. The world feels more unsafe to me and I feel detached and disconnected – from myself and from everyone. I feel more impatient with my cat and irritated with anything that doesn’t go my way.

Well, I’m not going to stop playing my video games but I’m going to keep trying to find a balance and practice letting go. This is a challenge for me and I’m accepting it as such. I don’t want to turn it into a problem, a fight or a struggle. Just an opportunity for me to learn what makes me tick, what feeds me and how to balance all the things I’m doing and want to do. Wish me luck and anything else you can think of.


READING: THE ROLE OF MINDFULNESS from Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert, PhD and Choden


We need to say from the outset that mindfulness is not an area without controversy, and there are now important and fascinating debates in this area. We look at the practice of mindfulness in the next chapter but here we can briefly note that there are different definitions of mindfulness. In fact, the whole history of mindfulness over hundreds of years is itself not without debate and controversy. One of the Western world’s most renowned mindfulness teachers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment-by-moment.” Another mindfulness teacher, Ronald Siegel, has a somewhat simpler definition of mindfulness as “awareness of present experience with acceptance,” while Rob Nairn says, “Mindfulness is knowing what is happening while it is happening no matter what it is.”

The theme of nonjudgment is important to all definitions because judging as good or bad can set us into loops between the old-brain and the new-brain processes .. – we start trying to push “that” thought or feeling away, or make “this” thought or feeling happen more. Mindfulness helps us cultivate a particular type of attention and awareness and to become a skillful observer of what’s going on in this tricky mind of ours. In this way we are less likely to get caught up in three types of problem: (1) attention hopping – where our mind wanders all over the place like a butterfly, alighting on whatever object of the sense it happens to find; (2) rumination and brooding – where our mind gets stuck in a loop, going round and round specific themes that are often negative and a source of depression and anxiety; (3) emotional avoidance – where we try to block out of conscious awareness the things that are very painful or don’t fit with how we see ourselves.



People often get into mindfulness because they are trying to cope with some personal distress or even mental health difficulties; but importantly, Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us that mindfulness is not just a technique – it is a way of being. For this reason a key element of mindfulness is to remember to be mindful. It’s to remember to be fully present in our lives as we live them, as well as during a formal daily practice.

One of the Buddha’s great insights was that in becoming more aware of how our mind bobs about like a cork on a stormy sea, we can begin to settle it and learn to rest in present-moment awareness. We get a sense of how distracted our attention is when we start mindfulness practice. At first, holding our attention on the breath can seem as tricky as grasping for the soap in a bath. May of us will also be familiar with our lack of mindful attention to what we are actually doing because we have had experiences of driving home and not really remembering the drive because we were thinking about 101 other things.

However, reflect on this key issue: where do you actually exist? It can only be in this present moment. Although we only exist right here and right now (neither in the moment to come nor in the moment just gone), our attention and focus are seldom here. Most of the time our mind is off planning, anticipating, ruminating, problem-solving, regretting, hoping, or just daydreaming, that is, caught up in new-brain hustle and bustle!

Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and to a simple awareness of our physical senses. At a deeper level it helps us begin to separate the mind that is “simply aware” from the contents of experience that are constantly flowing through it. In his lectures and at retreats Matthieu Ricard likes to say that consciousness is like water. It can contain a poison or medicine but it is not the poison or medicine; it is pure unto itself. A mirror can reflect many things but is not the things it reflects. Similarly, our mind can be filled with many different emotions and thoughts that pass through it moment by moment, but none of them affect the quality of this “right now and only now” awareness that remains changeless and pure. Many clouds pass across the sky but the sky itself remains constant. At its deepest level, mindfulness is a way of becoming more aware of the passing clouds and learning to rest in a sky-like awareness.


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















SC Group Summary Mar 6 2018


… that provides some hints about the fact that our minds can be lying to us about what really matters. We should take the data seriously and not always believe the kinds of things we’re getting from our …  primate brains.”

[CBC interview with Laurie Santos – Under READINGS]



Oh, my it was a busy group and on the bigger side. 10 or 12 of us. I lost count. I was in awe as the first part of our group session was so well focused on the self-compassion model – mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness. It seemed as if everyone who spoke had directly chosen one of those components to speak about. The great thing about that is it’s one of the things we facilitators are hoping and aiming for. For you to share your experiences, your struggles AND your successes with those components as well as with self-acceptance and meditation and loving kindness. This is one of the ways we want to support you.


“I have trouble having self-compassion for myself”

I have heard this many times in this group and I know that it is common amongst many of us human beings. In this culture, and many others, we have been taught to feel inadequate, to always be pushing for bigger, better, faster, smarter than everyone else. For perfection – whatever that is. Above average. Special. Self-compassion is left far behind in this race.

As well, it may be a hard concept to get hold of but if we break it down into the model’s three components we might have a different perspective and an easier time of it. If we are really struggling to feel self-compassion, we could try focusing on only one element of the model. Mindfulness seems the best and most appropriate place to start. We can start by just being aware. Just noticing, without even evaluation, analysis, figuring out, or moral judgment about ourselves and what we are doing, thinking or feeling. Just noticing. Ah. There it is. A moment of judgment. A moment of criticism. A moment of anger towards myself. A moment of shame. Whatever it is. I think we can stay with this for as long as we need to. Days, months, maybe even years. And that would be wonderful. Krishnamurti said that the highest form of intelligence was observation without judgment. I’m talking about judgment that is moralistic – right/wrong, stupid/smart/ rich/poor, beautiful/ugly, and so on. These kinds of judgments hurt us even when they are ‘positive’ because we can easily fall into the ‘negatives’. But when we simply observe ourselves in action, notice our feelings, our fears, our behaviours with some sense of objectivity, without attachment to what we want to be, we may find the first flower of liberation. In fact, maybe we have to liberate ourselves before we can move towards compassion.

About mindfulness

It’s really simple. What’s hard is remembering to do it.

I don’t think we’ve given as much energy to discussions on mindfulness in our group as opposed to self-compassion, self-acceptance and self-care. Yet we facilitators agree that mindfulness seems like the first step towards these other things. We first need to be aware of what we are doing in order to make any changes to it. One member talked about doing the body scan and how helpful it is. I agree. It’s a wonderful way to be mindful. You can do it on your own or you can find an app (see MEDITATION APP below). Also, Sounds True may have some recordings you can buy and download. Jon Kabat-Zinn, well-known in the field of mindfulness, ran a program (don’t know if he still does) called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It’s a program that runs for several weeks and people learn a variety of mindfulness exercises. One of the things he has people do early on in the program is a 45-minute body scan 6 days a week. Phew! I would find that hard. It’s brain work really because you are focusing on one part of your body for quite a while before moving onto the next part. I have done a 10-minute body scan and my co-facilitators do body scans as well.

When I first decided to really ‘get into’ mindfulness (in other words, actually do it and practice doing it) I kept asking why is this so hard? I wondered why we can’t just do it all the time except when we need to plan or create or provide information, for example. Why do our human minds veer towards worry and fear or criticism and shame? Why can’t we control our minds, our thinking? I guess we’re just made this way and we have to teach our minds new things, new ways of thinking. Also, if mindfulness means being aware of what’s going on right now, then it would mean we might also become aware of how we’re feeling. And if we’re not feeling good then why would we want to be mindful? (Oh, what a great question Caer? 😊)

Well, my answer to that would be because there are great rewards to being mindful. Huge. When I am mindful more often in a day, I feel a sense of spaciousness to everything. More of a sense of wonder. I feel liberated from those thoughts which seem to make my body contract in resistance, pain, fear. Instead I am simply noticing this glass I’m washing right now and how someone made this glass, how someone even came up with the idea of a glass in the first place. Not taking things for granted. Noticing the mundane and the trivial and seeing its significance. All of these little mundane moments make up our lives. They are the ingredients, the flavour, and the texture of a life lived.

Even if we feel rotten, being mindful of it can ease some of the pain sometimes. I think pain is an attention-seeking device. It’s us asking ourselves to pay attention to something. Even if it’s simply to notice that we don’t feel so good. We don’t even have to offer compassion to ourselves if it just isn’t there. But we can simply pay attention to it. Hello. An acknowledgement. Then … technically … you could say I practiced self-compassion today. In the form of mindfulness. Attention without judgment.


I’m finding a lot of useful apps on my new iPad. (oh boy oh boy). One in particular I find quite useful in terms of guided meditation and body scans. Now, you can spend money on it and get a monthly subscription HOWEVER what is free is plenty. Under the heading at the bottom called EXPLORE you can find a whole series of free guided meditations. Body scans or working with emotional issues, or after events to calm you down. There are also guided breathing thingies. They guide you through specific kinds of breathing to help calm you down or whatever you want it for. Pretty cool.

You can download it onto your phone, tablet or laptop. Very useful



Another thing I often hear from people is that they don’t practice very good self-care. I don’t take care of myself very well. Hmm. My take on self-care is we are doing it 24/7. The only time we are not taking care of ourselves is when we’re dead. I think what gets us thinking, or defining self-care is a whole bunch of shoulds. If I’m not eating right, getting exercise, getting enough sleep then I am doing a poor job of taking care of myself. However, if I look at what I am doing, it’s taking care of whatever need and desire is forefront. if I am feeling ‘lazy’ (gawd forbid) then it may be that I’m tired and need to take things easy and relaxed, do nothing. We seem to always be judging our activities and behaviours, categorizing them as good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy.

I think the best self-care possible is about paying attention to my needs and deciding how I’m going to meet them. End of story. If I’m depressed, and in the darkest place possible, what do I need to do? Go to bed and pull the covers over my head. I suggest here is a good time to do exactly that. Go to bed and pull the covers over your head. And do it until you are bored of doing it, satisfied, or motivated to do something else. I think good self-care is listening to ourselves in the moment, paying attention to what we are feeling and what we are needing and desiring right now. Responding to the moment. No shoulds. Instead the ability to choose and respond to myself right now. That, to me, is the best self-care possible and I’m willing to bet that most of us do already do this. We seem to focus on what we are not doing and think we should be doing instead of what’s needed in this moment.



One of our members whom we haven’t seen in months returned. I remember her anger and how much difficulty she was having with it. Anger is such a painful thing. It makes us feel so frustrated, out of control and helpless, powerless to do anything. It’s downright awful. However, this member walked herself through her anger one day. To hear her story, well it was wonderful. I was so impressed with her ability to control her emotions to some degree, for reason to step in and have a say. And it was difficult she admitted. Yes. I think that sitting through our anger, not responding the way we usually do but holding back, observing, doing whatever we can to understand what’s going on is a courageous act. I am still learning to do it myself. Understand my triggers and learn to PAUSE, and step back. Thank you to this member for this story. I am encouraged by this because it means others can do this as well.



CBC INTERVIEW Anna Maria Tremonti and Laurie Santos on The Current

AMT: Laurie Santos is a professor of psychology at Yale University. She teaches the course called, Psychology and the Good Life. She’s in New Haven, Connecticut.

AMT: So what tips your hand for the rest of us who aren’t students at Yale or students at all on how to figure out what a good life could mean for us?

LAURIE SANTOS: I think the top three tips that we’re telling students is first take time for yourself. Really focus on time affluence. Often we wind up working too hard to get access to salary and money and compromise our time, but it turns out that because salaries aren’t making us as happy as we think that might not be the best strategy out there. A second thing is to really take time to be mindful and grateful. A short 5 to 10 minutes every day where you meditate or just sit down and write five things that you’re grateful for. Those things don’t take a lot of time but can have really serious impacts on subjective well-being. And then the third tip would just be to think about doing nice things for others. It turns out that the reason that money doesn’t have an impact on our happiness that we think is we often keep it for ourselves. People who give money away, give things away, donate to charity, and volunteer their time, those are the folks that tend to be happier. And so the more nice things you can do for others the more you’ll inadvertently end up increasing your own happiness.

AMT: You made the point that you teach evolutionary psychology as well and you do research on this. What does your work in evolutionary psychology — how does that inform what you’re doing now? How does that inform how we are as individuals facing these kinds of issues now?

LAURIE SANTOS: I think the evolutionary perspective gives us two things. First it tells us a little bit why the stuff we think might make us happy probably doesn’t, right? We’re species that are built for our social connections. We’re species that are built to cooperate with one another. As we get further and further from that I think we see the seeds of some of this unhappiness. The second perspective that evolution gives us is the fact that our minds are a little bit [unintelligible]. You know we didn’t have an intelligent designer who designed them from scratch. They’re kind of just built from our old primate brains and that means of course they’re going to have some errors. Of course they’re going to have some motivations that don’t really work. And that provides some hints about the fact that our minds can be lying to us about what really matters. We should take the data seriously and not always believe the kinds of things we’re getting from our [unintelligible] primate brains.

AMT: Is this cause leading you toward a better life?

LAURIE SANTOS: I think so. One great thing about the class is that I have to practice what I preach. You know the students will tell if I am not sleeping enough or not taking time for my own time affluence. So it’s really forced me to do a lot of the same practices I am doing with the students. And in that sense it’s been really fantastic. It’s also giving me something to be incredibly grateful about that we were able to start this conversation. It’s resonated with so many people. I’m really thankful for that and I feel really humbled by it.

AMT: You actually live on campus, right? You’re in one of the residential colleges.

LAURIE SANTOS: That’s correct. So I live with students. I’m in the dining hall with students all the time. I’m really part of their community and it’s allowed me to really see that kind of need for a course like this.

The following link will take one to the complete radio interview:


“A person can learn to recognize that voice and separate it from his or her essence, can learn to say, “”That’s not me saying that.  It’s my unconscious parent blathering inside my head.  I can concentrate on hearing my own voice, my own needs, my own feelings.””  That’s when healing begins.” 

— Marion Woodman


Taming the Monkey Mind

Psychologist and Cambridge meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg recommends:

  1. When possible, do just one thing at a time.
  2. Pay full attention to what you are doing.
  3. When the mind wanders from what you are doing, bring it back.
  4. Repeat step three several billion times!
  5. Investigate your distractions.


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













SC Group Feb 27 2018 summary

Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.

(Martha Postlewaite)



Just a revisit with these phrases. They are called loving-kindness or metta phrases. They are not exactly mantras but really wishes or prayers dedicated to ourselves first, and then to others. The common ones we use in group are

  • May I be safe (protected from inner or outer harm)
  • May I be happy (content)
  • May I be healthy
  • May I live with ease (may I accept myself and this moment as they are)

We can adapt them to a specific situation (e.g., preparing for an interview – may I be calm, cool and collected) to overall life. Whatever works for you. My favourite right now, at the beginning of the day, is May I be awake, aware, grounded and centered. These are the things that  make me feel great and I want to have them in my life everyday.

And we can wish/pray for all beings

  • May we all be safe, happy…



I shared with the group a ‘Rick Hanson’ moment. Hanson is a psychologist and studies neuroscience. All about our brain and its neuroplasticity. He suggests that when we have a positive experience, one that makes us feel really good, that we embrace it, nourish it, enhance it. In other words, make a big deal of it and remember how good it felt. This affects our brain, changes it and the more positive experiences we can treat in this way, the more positive we will feel overall. It’s as if we are filling a vault with good feelings such as kindness from another. I know it sounds very cliché and a bit corny maybe. But bear with me as I explain further (in case you’re not familiar with Hanson’s work).

I think it’s because we tend to think in patterns a lot of times. If a terrible incident happens we remember it. If the same thing happens again we start thinking there is a pattern and that this is happening all the time now. Just watch the news and see how many times they pose questions about a pattern emerging because something happens more than once. I think this is normal thinking. It’s our alarm going off saying uh oh do we have a problem here and how should we deal with it. And I think these patterns get stuck in us, for ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Maybe this feeds into more negative thinking if we dwell on unpleasant and difficult experiences and vice versa. If we notice the pleasant, kind, wonderful connections with others we may tend to see the world as a pleasant place. Not rose coloured glasses but just a tendency towards pleasant experiences and events.

So, I think we can use this same tendency towards making patterns and form them around positive events. Remembering all the moments of kindness you noticed in a day is an example. I particularly pay attention to positive news items on the local news now. And they are there. Whenever I see a moment that feels uplifting, that’s about people overcoming difficulties and being strong, then I give it a thumbs up and a mental note. Now I can see the news as a source of suffering around the world as well as what people are trying to do about it. It gives me hope. Its especially good to remember how kind and courageous humans can be especially when there are so many scary things going on in the world. I think we need to fill up our memory banks with these kinds of events and experiences. I know I am.

Oh … my ‘Rick Hanson’ moment. I was walking along a street and one block was cordoned off because of street work. I had no proper place to cross over to the other side. I came up to all the markers and a sweet young man (gawd do I sound old!) looked at me and said “I’ll get you across. Follow me.” I followed him halfway across the street and stopped and looked at him for guidance. With a gentle nod of his head he motioned me to cross.

Now all this happened in the span of 10 seconds or so, but I really held onto it afterwards. Particularly my feelings. That young man’s look was one of kindness and protection. And I felt small and vulnerable and yet totally trusting of him. I felt so safe and cared for in that moment. As well, it was the look on his face. He really looked like he cared about my welfare and that touched me deeply. It was a wonderful moment.



We talked a bit about trying to meditate. One woman said she struggled to find the time. She also seemed to think that 10 minutes wasn’t really enough. Another person shared that to her thinking, 10 minutes was absolutely fine, and I agree. In fact, I think 1 minute is fine. I guess we need to define meditation and also mindfulness.

What I found on the internet – written by Elisha Goldstein, author of The Now Effect and designer of Mindfulness at Work program….

… here’s a quick nutshell summary, just because it’s definitely complicated: Meditation is when you intentionally set aside time to do something that’s good for you, and there are all kinds of meditations. Mindfulness is both a general awareness of the world and a formal meditation practice. It’s two things, not one. Meditation and mindfulness overlap in mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most popular types of meditation.


Well, whatever we want to call it, we can meditate or be mindful for 30 seconds in a day and that’s great. Any time we can give some attention and awareness to ourselves and what’s going on within us, and what’s going on with others in our world, we are practicing meditation and/or mindfulness.



One member reported that she has been focusing on her needs currently and is finding this really helpful to finding compassion for herself. I’m grateful that she said that because I found the same thing. When I started asking myself “What do you need right now?” especially if I felt lousy, it felt like a very compassionate question and helped to center on me. This feels like one way to connect more easily with self-compassion. It certainly works for me and for this group member. I’d love to  know if it works for others.


One group member spoke about guilt around her family, and that she should get in touch with them. Oh, that horrible word should. I read recently that when we should ourselves, we are removing choice. We are no longer giving ourselves the option to choose whatever is best in the moment, whatever connects us to that other person. Instead, we act like there’s some behavioural law book that has been handed down to us and we’re on step #4,132 – one should be a good daughter/son to their parents. Hmm I wonder where that came from. And yet this member says her parents are hard to be around and this causes her a lot of suffering. It doesn’t make sense to me that we should sacrifice our own wants and needs for someone else. It doesn’t make sense that we should suffer in order to take care of someone else’s needs. It doesn’t make sense that we ignore what we most want, need and desire in life.

My suggestion to the group was that when we are shoulding ourselves we can look at what the expectation is and why it’s there. I should be a good daughter, parent, friend. Why? Well, to be honest, because I’m afraid that person will be mad at me, will not accept me and/or my behaviour, will not love me. It’s like stepping up and taking responsibility for that should. I ask myself why should I and try to answer that question honestly. What is it I’m so worried about? Can I change that and trust myself to respond honestly in the moment that is right? Can I trust myself to take care of my needs and respond (be response-able) to others when the time is right?

The question I like to ask myself many times – what do I want to do? See what I really feel like doing. Often, I can see both sides of a situation. Well, I want to respond to so and so at the same time I’m reluctant to because it’s so uncomfortable. Okay, how might I change that situation?

My point in here somewhere seems to be that we need to investigate our shoulds and find out what’s beneath them. This may be liberating and enlightening and from there we might be able to change those shoulds into coulds. ‘Could’ suggests choice. I could do A or B. Which would I prefer to do?

May we all be free of shoulds (unless you’re following a recipe and you want it to turn out right 😊).




From: A Fearless Heart by Thupten Jinpa

 From empathy    >>>>>>>>>>    arises compassion    >>>>>>>>>>>    expressed as act of kindness



Empathy is feeling for (or with) other people and understanding their feelings. When we witness another person suffering, in particular, compassion arises from empathy, adding the dimensions of wishing to see the relief of suffering and wanting to do something about it. Compassion is a more empowered state and more than an empathic response to the situation. Kindness is the expression of that compassion through helping, a basic form of altruism. Compassion is what makes it possible for our empathic reaction to manifest in kindness.

Most of us have experienced, at some point in our lives, the power of kindness, or compassion in action. We have felt it as recipients of others’ kindness … and we have been the source of kindness for someone else. Whether it’s a simple smile or a kind nod from a colleague when we are eager to be acknowledged, a friend listening patiently as we rant about some frustration, wise counsel at a critical moment from a teacher who truly cares, a loving hug from a spouse when we feel down, or help from someone during a really hard time, when the rays of kindness touch us we feel relaxed, acknowledge, and valued – in short, we feel affirmed. Too often, though, we forget to be kind or we don’t appreciate kindness enough. Helping others is part of the everyday reality of parents, grown-up children looking after their elderly parents, health care workers caring for the sick, and teachers taking care of children everywhere in the world – kindnesses so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. Or we think of kindness as a nice but inessential extra in life, a luxury if anyone can afford the time and energy it takes, when in fact our health, happiness, and our whole world depend on our giving and receiving kindness.

Most of us would say we are compassionate. If you’re reading this book, probably you would say that compassion is an important part of your identity. That said, most of us have these thoughts about compassion and leave it at that. Unless we work at compassion, unless we practice and change our habits and make it an active force in our lives, it will only be something that happens to us – we get angry when provoked, feel compassion when triggered – an automatic reaction to the pain and needs of our loved ones, or sometimes to strangers in acute distress. If we leave it at that, we fail to tap into the transformative power of compassion.



Why is it that the kindness of others, especially when received at a critical point in our lives, has the power to leave such a deep imprint in our minds? The simple answer is that such an act touches us at the deepest level of our humanity – where we are most human – with a powerfully felt need for kindness and connection.

We can all see that we benefit from other people’s kindness, but not everyone benefits equally. How much we do benefit appears to be influenced by how compassionate we are ourselves. A team of scientists studied fifty-nine women in the San Francisco Bay Area. Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their individual level of compassion; they were then randomly divided into two groups. About a week later, the participants came to a laboratory session, where they were asked to do three things: give a speech in the presence of two experimenters, participate in an interview, and do a math task. Each person was given five minutes to think about a speech, while they were hooked up to machines, such as electroencephalographs, that would measure brain waves and certain body functions. For one group, one of the experimenters made positive comments such as “You are doing great,” or smiled, nodded in agreement, or made other affirming gestures while the participants engaged in the tasks. For the other group, the experimenters did not offer any positive encouragement.

Strikingly, the participants who scored high on the compassion scale and received supportive signals from an experimenter had lower blood pressure, lower cortisol reactivity, and higher heart rate variability – all proven to be associated with physical health and social well-being – especially during the most stressful of the tasks, giving a speech. Compared to their counterparts in the second group, these same individuals also reported liking the experimenters more. These effects were not observed for those who were in the group that received but scored low on the compassion scale and those who, although scoring high on the compassion scale, did not receive encouragement. In summarizing their findings, the researchers noted that “those who are more compassionate may also be more benefitted by support, particularly during acute stress situations.” In other words, to benefit most from others’ kindness we need to be ready with kindness of our own.


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












SC Group Feb 20 2018 Summary




THIS WEEK – Self-forgiveness

Our focus was on self-forgiveness, forgiving ourselves for past actions. One member asked – what if she wasn’t doing her best at that moment in the past. What if she could have done ‘better’? Near the end of January, in one of our group sessions, I read from Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview on the Self-Acceptance Summit (sponsored by Sounds True; September 2017). She places great emphasis on the idea that we did not know at the time how to do any better than we did. We may be looking back with all the knowledge and experience we have now and say, “I should have known”. But Gilbert says you couldn’t have known then. And when you did know how to do ‘better’ you did. I think that is so lovely, so forgiving and so compassionate towards ourselves.

When I was in my 20’s, I lived in a house with 5 other people. I knew one of them was going to give another a gift and I went and got that gift and gave it to the person. Now, I am shocked that I thought it was totally okay to do such a thing. I would never do that now. Of course, the friend who was giving the gift was very upset and angry with me. I’m sure I felt a lot of shame about that. Thankfully, I don’t remember that part. I just see this very young person who thought she was doing something really nice and taking part in the gift-giving. Heaven knows where I got that idea from but there you have it. I know my intention was well-meant and I can forgive myself for that naivete.

I find the best way to get past my shame of something I did in the past is to focus on moving forward. How can I do it differently next time? What have I learned that I can apply in the future? How can I forgive myself and move on? It also helps to remember that everyone ‘screws up’ from time to time. Everyone. Think of the Olympic athletes. I think the ones who succeed are the ones who don’t beat themselves up for their mistakes but learn to make adjustments to what they are doing. Without judgment. That’s all it is. Adjustment. Not a failure, bad, a loser, a screw-up, etc. etc.


Gary (author of Gary’s Wellness Toolbox) shared a wonderful moment he had on Tuesday morning. I loved what he shared and how it shows clearly the process of working with where we are right now and having a clear and grounded perspective of our situation. Gary was able to stand back and see what he was doing and thinking, and I think he found liberation in that moment. A release from old ways of thinking that make us feel imprisoned and claustrophobic. Here is what he shared. (Thank you so much for this Gary.)

Today I had a major breakthrough in my practice of (learning to) become aware and mindful of my mind and its’ racing thoughts upon awakening each morning. Mornings for me have been the most challenging time of day, when thoughts, usually negative, come flooding in the moment I wake up. I have been reading Chris Germer’s book “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion” on which this group is partially based and remembered him talking about finding or creating a “mantra” (a meaningful word or phrase) that we can use to help turn our attention to calming our minds and unhooking from our negative thoughts, allowing them to come and to go more easily.

This morning I noticed my mind (my brain) doing what it’s supposed to do…….thinking! I also noticed my heart pounding in response to the self-critical nature of my thoughts about still being in bed at 9am, when I “should” be up and busy like the rest of the world. I was noticing the unpleasant, distressing feeling I was having, and recalled that whenever I try to think through, rationalize, justify, or argue with my thoughts and feelings, they usually strengthen and feel worse. One thing I’ve learned for certain is that my thoughts “persist” when I attempt to “resist” them (or ignore, suppress, or deny them). So, in remembering that Germer had suggested trying a mantra, I was able to say to myself – “there’s my brain doing what brains do” and I repeated it a few times over the next few minutes as needed.  I was amazed to witness my heart start to slow down and stop pounding, and I became able to give myself some other, more gentle messages like… ”it’s ok to stay in bed longer if I need to, to feel rested”, that’s actually a form of good self-care”. I noticed that it was a form of self-kindness to not beat myself up for sleeping or resting a little longer than I used to today.

I felt kind of exhilarated that I was able to notice and have an alternative and positive response to my “typical” morning thought process. I was able to notice, accept, and even embrace the reality that thoughts happen a zillion times per day, and that for most of my life (and all of my depression and anxiety life), I’ve gotten swept up in each negative thought, as though I accepted them as the absolute truth.

Today, I had a breakthrough by not having to be pulled under or swept up in my negative thoughts or self-talk. I was truly able to notice myself separating myself from my thoughts, and just allowing them to pass by as thoughts, not truths. I can see that I’m really just a new student to the concepts of mindfulness, meditation, being aware of my negative thoughts, self-kindness, gentleness, self-compassion, etc. I haven’t been a student of anything for a long time, and I’ve been impatient with myself most of my life, so I don’t like being so new at something, especially at improving my moods.

But I’m coming to realize that these practices I’m learning (albeit slowly), are going to be very helpful in regulating my moods for the rest of my life, and this is going to be a lifelong process of learning and improving. Sixty plus years of thinking a certain way about myself and developing unrealistic and negative beliefs about myself, won’t change overnight, but I really appreciate when I have one of those “ah-ha” moments, a “breakthrough”, that makes me want to keep practicing what I’m learning, so I can have more of these moments! Throughout the rest of the day, at the first sign of a negative thought, I was able to say to myself….”ahh, there’s my brain doing what brains do” and noticed myself almost laughing at the ease with which my mind changed direction.


Interdependence rather than total dependence or total independence

We talked about relationships quite a bit and making sure we don’t give up ourselves for the other. I have gone from one extreme to the other – being very dependent on my significant other to rejecting any intimate relationships. It’s taken me a long time to find that balance – interdependence, which is knowing that we do need others for things like connection. As well, we need to focus on our own selves, our own care, our own boundaries. If we give those up for someone else, I think we tend to exhaust ourselves or feel resentment or depression. Some of the group members are coming to understand what they want and need in their lives in terms of relationships. I heard their experience and knowledge come out in powerful stances this week. It was wonderful to hear.


Meditation as sanctuary

One member shared that she is finding meditation to be a sanctuary for her. This is especially good news as she has been suffering a long time with anxiety and pain. This means that if she finds it helps her, then others can find that too.

We talked a bit about meditation and how we know it would be good for us but some of us just can’t do it. Meditation isn’t for everybody. It may be too painful to sit with ourselves in the place we’re in. Or it may be uncomfortable to have a racing mind, wishing it would slow down and be quiet. There’s no should about it. It really depends on our perspective and attitude towards meditation. As well as what we are wanting out of it. I share the feeling of sanctuary with some of my meditations. To simply sit and hear my breath every morning and every night makes me feel as if I’ve slowed down enough to acknowledge my existence. Ah there you are! Hi! How are you doing? That feels so good. So soothing, so comforting.


“Resistance is futile” (😊)

There was a brief discussion on resistance to what is. Oh that’s a good one! Well I think there’s two sides to this ‘resistance’ thing. On the one hand we would prefer to not resist whatever is happening as things tend to be more relaxing and have more flow. HOWEVER, resistance happens often. It’s embedded in our culture if not our species. We humans tend to prefer pleasure rather than pain. And we want what we want when we want it. Right?

On the other hand, resistance to something might be telling us we need something else first or instead. So, we could ask ourselves why we are resisting what’s happening and what is it we would prefer? We can be curious about our resistance, stand back from it a little and simply acknowledge it. It’s giving us a message. This week I got ‘stuck’ in the house for two days in a row. I go out for a walk every afternoon, but I did not want to go for these two days. I wanted to stay home and keep playing the video game on my phone. I could feel the resistance to going anywhere. Sigh. Fortunately, I did find a balance. I stayed a little longer playing then finally found the energy to move, got ready to go out (which sometimes takes a lot of energy right?) and go for a nice walk. Sometimes you can do that. You can conquer that resistance and get past it. Other times I think you just have to sink into it and get to know it really well. It’s not an easy thing to do. Painful often. But so worthwhile when we understand what is going on with us in any given moment. Besides we can always work on accepting our resistance. Just letting ourselves be resistant to something. Not resisting our resistance. (How’s that for convoluted?)


READING: CULTIVATING SELF-FORGIVENESS from A Fearless Heart by Thupten Jinpa

To be truly kind and compassionate toward ourselves, we need to examine how accepting and forgiving we are of ourselves. When we have feelings of resentment or enmity toward someone, we cannot generate genuine compassion and concern for that person. The same is true of ourselves. And just as understanding leads to forgiveness for others, understanding our thoughts and actions in terms of the human condition can also give rise to self-forgiveness. We’re only human. We’re doing the best we can. We need that self-understanding and the self-forgiveness that flows from it. Marshall Rosenberg, the found of the nonviolent communication (NVC) method, captures this insight: “An important aspect of self-compassion is to be able to empathetically hold both parts of ourselves, the self that regrets a past action and the self that took the action in the first place.”

When we judge ourselves harshly and refuse to forgive ourselves for something we have done, essentially we are attacking the part of us that did that thing – “part” of us in the sense that there were reasons why we did that thing that, consciously or unconsciously, meant something to us. Our evaluative, self-hating mind would say “bad” reasons, but really they were just human reasons. Or perhaps our strategy is to try to amputate this part of us, and those reasons, by denying they exist. (We “just won’t think about it.” Or, “I’m not the kind of person who does that kind of thing.”) Either way, we are at war with a part of ourselves, disconnected from it, and there’s no hope of understanding and reconciliation so long as we are at war. Without understanding our (whole) selves, we can’t accept our (whole) selves, and without understanding and acceptance we can’t learn from our mistake. It may help to think of it in terms of someone else: In the midst of fighting with someone or refusing to acknowledge him, it’s safe to say we’re not learning from him. Of course, when we don’t learn from our mistakes we tend to repeat them, and the battle with ourselves goes on.

Note that, as when we speak to other people, tone matters a lot when we speak to ourselves. We can scream, “How could you do this?!” with the implication “You monster!” Or we can gently ask ourselves, “Hmm, let’s see, how did you do this?” The implication: “What a mess. Let’s see how this happened, so hopefully it won’t happen again and I’ll help you clean it up.” (Caer’s comment: This is the Self-Kindness component of the Self-Compassion model. Kind self-talk as an act of compassion for ourselves.)

In CCT (Compassion Cultivation Training), we use specific exercises aimed at self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. They help us explore the possible needs or reasons underlying something we’ve done, and use this understanding to defuse our self-reproachful reaction. Once we connect to our underlying need, we may have any number of feelings – sadness, frustration, regret, disappointment, hopelessness, and so on. These feelings, which are inherently more accepting feelings – it’s sad, and it happened – help us move away from guilt, self-recrimination, and negative judgment, feelings that preclude self-acceptance. (“How could I allow such a thing to happen?” “I can’t stand myself for letting this happen,” et cetera.) Through understanding and acceptance we empathize with ourselves, not only for the things we did (“Oh yeah, I see how I could have done that”), but for the painful way we reacted to it. (A hazard of learning these skills is that we can turn them against ourselves, and judge ourselves harshly for not being better at these skills!) In NVC language, this process of connecting with the unmet needs is referred to as mourning. Mourning gives us permission to regret, which Rosenberg says “helps us learn from what we have done without blaming or hating ourselves.”

Meditation Exercise: Forgiving Ourselves

In our compassion training, we lead the participants through a guided meditation to help engender genuine self-forgiveness:

To do this guided meditation, adjust your sitting position so that you feel comfortable and relaxed. Take three to five deep breaths, bringing each one all the way down to your abdomen and then gently releasing it. Pause for about twenty to thirty seconds in silence.

Now think of a time when you did something that you wish you hadn’t, and as a result, you reproached yourself for it. Perhaps you snapped at someone you love and later felt bad about it. Or it could be something that affected only you, such as overspending on something you bought and feeling guilty and ashamed after. Recalling the specifics of the incident is not important, unless they help you to evoke the emotional reaction you felt then. What is important is the recollection of how you engaged in negative self-judgment. Silently stay with this reflection.

Then ask yourself, “why is it that I reacted so harshly then?” “What was the unmet need I was trying to fulfill when I did this thing?” When you lost your temper, it could be that you needed respect and felt disrespected by the other person. Perhaps you needed to be heard and felt that this was not happening. Stay with these reflections for a little while.

Now recognize that although what you did (for example, using abusive language) was not skillful, the underlying need that prompted your action was legitimate. In the case of overspending and feeling ashamed about it, although what you did was unskillful, there again was an underlying need – perhaps you were feeling disempowered and down, and needed a psychological boost. With awareness, allow yourself to experience feelings such as sadness, disappointment, and remorse rather than guilt and shame. Pause with these feelings.

As you touch upon the underlying need that led to the action that brought about the negative self-judgment, stay with it for a while.

Now, breathing out slowly and completely, let go of any tension in the body, let go of any tightness in the mind, and, reflecting on your earlier self-reproachful thoughts, silently say to yourself, “I can let this go. I will let it go.”

Finally, imagine that you feel free and expansive in your chest, and then breathe out fully a few more times.

















SC Group Extra Feb 15 2018



EXTRA FEB 15, 2018


Gentle consistency  … yes.


Here are some more items for our summary this week. Included are excerpts from a book called Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. My co-facilitator read these a few weeks ago.

True emptiness is not empty but contains all things. The mysterious and pregnant void creates and reflects all possibilities. From it arises our individuality, which can be discovered and developed, although never possessed or fixed.

  • Jack Kornfield



I forgot to mention that Thupten Jinpa (A Fearless Heart) suggests counting our breaths might be easier for people who have those racing thoughts. You count each inhalation and exhalation as 1, then all the way up to 10. Then start over. This helps to focus your mind on something. If you forget which number you are on you simply start over. Once you are able to do this more easily you can count up to 20, and/or count forwards and backwards.

After that you can ‘graduate’ to just labelling the breath ‘in’ or ‘out’. This is harder to do in terms of focusing than counting the breaths. And finally, you can try moving onto just focusing on your breath without counting or labelling.

I suggest being kind and patient with yourself when you lose focus and remember that losing focus and regaining it is really what the practice is about. Our group member pointed this out and I was glad to hear that. You can celebrate the smallest accomplishments such as I made it all the way up to 5 or 10 today. (Even if it’s only once.) It’s very much about being kind and patient with ourselves. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and their natural state seems to be that of wandering. There’s just so much to think about. It’s wonderful. A bit like a wild horse that you want to ever so gently befriend.



“HOME IS A truth you carry inside you.” I wrote that a few years back, and I still believe it. Out on the porch, with coffee, a breeze and the calming scent of sacred medicines in my hair, I sit in my truth – this building, this relationship, this day, this certain and assured contact with Creator. I am home. Not just on this street but in this body, on this planet, in this universe.

WATCHING MORNING BREAK, I realize again that darkness doesn’t kill the light – it defines it. I believe that now. For years, I didn’t. I believed that I was my failures, mistakes, misjudgments, shortcomings and wrongs. But I’m not those things. I am the light that shines from my faith, my courage, my willingness to be vulnerable and to be responsible and accountable. Moments of darkness only highlight that truth these days. I’m moving beyond shame. I’m basking in the light of my own recovery and the brilliance that comes from allowing myself to be seen as I am, warts and all. I’m not just those warts, either – I’m the frog who wears them, gradually becoming a prince.

I’M LEARNING THAT happiness is an emotion that’s a result of circumstances. Joy, though, is a spiritual engagement with the world based on gratitude. It’s not the big things that make me grateful and bring me joy. It’s more the glory of the small: a touch, a smile, a kind word spoken or received, that first morning hug, the sound of friends talking in our home, the quiet that surrounds prayer, the smell of sacred medicines burning, sunlight on my face, the sound of birds and walking mindfully, each footfall planted humbly on the earth.

I WALK WITH the scars of a lifetime of living. Some were self-inflicted wounds. Some were caused by others. Either way, they mark the trajectory of six decades of experience with the ins and outs, ups and downs, doubts and certainties of my relationship with living. They mark the territory of my being. I don’t regret a single one of them now. In fact, I’m thankful for them. My scars have the strange ability to remind me that my past was real, and what is real offers knowledge, understanding and an ultimate forgiveness.

ALL WE HAVE are moments. So live them as though not one can be wasted. Inhabit them, fill them with the light of your best good intention, honour them with your full presence, find the joy, the calm, the assuredness that allows the hours and the days to take care of themselves. If we can do that, we will have lived.






SC Group Feb 13 2018 Summary




Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy

The Eagles: Take it Easy


THIS WEEK – Mesmerized by technology; setting boundaries and expectations

So, this morning I meditated using my iPhone. I downloaded some meditation music. And … I checked my emails and my Fitbit while I was at it. Then I played a game on the phone. I scanned a document using my phone. I can also read books, read PDFs, play games and of course, call someone. I am absolutely hooked. (As some of you know I just got my first cell phone a few months ago so this is all new to me). I can easily spend a lot of time on my new toy however, I don’t like the aftereffects. I feel more speedy and tense, focused on what’s next to entertain me. Whew! It’s exhausting.

Technology is addicting. All these screens are mesmerizing and I’m getting caught up in it all. I shared this with the group this week. My intention is to be more mindful and see if I can put that phone aside a little more often. Other members shared a bit about being so accessible now because people can contact us at anytime. One member said we need to look at expectations and boundaries around being so accessible. We need to let others know when we are available and when we’re not in order to keep our sense of okayness.

I think part of what is so mesmerizing about our technologies is that they can be completely absorbing. I find especially when I play a video game I’m not thinking about anything else. And in that way, it’s a break from my mind (that can sometimes drive you crazy right?). Thupten Jinpa, author of A Fearless Heart says that our natural mental state is a wandering mind. If we have nothing to focus on, then our mind wanders to all kinds of places. Some of those places make us feel scared, worried, and anxious. So, it’s good to have these breaks whether they are in the form of playing a video game, watching tv or in deep absorbing conversation with someone (such as in our group). Choosing something to focus on can help us not be so overwhelmed and may help refresh our minds, give it a break from our worrying. So I guess finding the right balance and mix for ourselves is what’s needed most.



Speaking of groundedness and calmness … there is another event happening at Sounds True. Often this organization puts on summits and events. This one is called Mindfulness Monthly. (It’s free the first month, and right now you can subscribe to it for $27, regularly $55 per month).

Its complete title is “A Global Online Meditation Training and Practice Community”. It’s described as “a way to stay on track with your mindfulness and meditation practice in a global community dedicated to mindful living.” New themes with different teachers each month. Online events with teachers. Weekly guided meditations to download. You can register at the link above. I’m going to spend this free month checking it out and seeing if I want to subscribe.



There was a comment by a member after our guided meditation. He talked about the challenge of having a very active mind while meditating. What I appreciated hearing was that he understood that recognizing his busy mind was the practice of being mindful. So often you do hear people say they can’t meditate because they think that meditation is about ‘emptying’ your mind. Thupten Jinpa says that it’s more a matter of how quickly you can recognize (not that it’s a competition right?) your mind wandering and how KINDLY you bring it back. Mindful meditation practice is about awareness of what your mind is doing and gently teaching it to go back to its focus. It’s a practice and not a performance.



One member handed out to each of us a word on a piece of paper – words such as Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness. Her idea was that these are the seeds we can sow to a more whole and fulfilling life. Thank you so much for your gift.

If you temper your heart with loving-kindness and prepare it like a fertile soil, and then plant the seed of compassion, it will greatly flourish. Kamalashila (Eighth Century)



READING: INTERVIEW WITH DR. KRISTIN NEFF, with Tami Simon of Sounds True. Part of the Self-Acceptance Summit September 2017.

In many ways, Kristin Neff put the research behind self-compassion on the map. Kristin is currently an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She’s a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion over a decade ago. In addition to writing numerous academic articles on the topic, she’s the author of the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and also the six-session audio series, Self-Compassion Step by Step released by Sounds True.


I kind of like to start out talking about self-esteem and some of the problems with self-esteem before launching into self-compassion.

So, we start here. First of all, as most of us know, there was huge movement in this country to raise self-esteem, especially the self-esteem of children. There are thousands of books written on the topic—and yes, that does say The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Your Self-Esteem. A bit of an oxymoron, but there were tons of books like this, trying to help people raise their self-esteem so they could have better psychological well-being. There is a very large research literature that shows [that] having higher self-esteem leads to better mental health outcome, less depression, less anxiety, more motivation, et cetera. So, there’s a reason people were so interested.

In terms of defining what’s self-esteem is, I really define it—or the field defines it, I should say—as a global evaluation of self-worth. In other words, self-esteem is a judgment. It’s a judgment that [says] “I’m a good person. I’m a bad person. I’m somewhere in-between.” It basically involves taking all your qualities and traits and summing yourself up in a box labeled “good” or “bad.”

Now, there’s really no problems with having high self-esteem. It’s important to have high self-esteem if you want psychological well-being. The problem is that whether or not you have it, really the problem is how you get it. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to have this positive sense of self-worth. To my mind, one of the biggest problems with self-esteem is this fact here—that is, to have high self-esteem, we need to feel special and above average. I mean, think about it, Tami, if I said, “You know, you work with Sounds True? Yeah, it’s average.” I know you’re going to be devastated. If you said, “Hey, Kristin, your work with self-compassion is average.” I’d be devastated.

It’s not OK in our society to be average. But there’s a slight problem with the idea that we all have to be above average at the same time to feel good about ourselves. I mean, does the word “logical impossibilities” spring to mind, right? So if you think about it, at some level, our self-esteem is predicated on a logical impossibility: the need to be special and above average and better than other people.

And this idea that we need to feel better than others to feel good about ourselves leads to some pretty nasty consequences. One, for instance, is social comparison. What we do to judge our own self-worth is we’re always comparing ourselves to others. Maybe we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves if we’re outperforming someone else, but the second someone outperforms us or looks more attractive or is more popular, whatever the criteria is, we tend to feel diminished in comparison. So, this can lead to some pretty nasty consequences, like I said.

One, for instance, being narcissism. There’s actually, believe it or not—maybe this won’t surprise the viewers—there’s an epidemic of narcissism in our culture. And two researchers, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, have been tracking the narcissism levels of college undergraduates for about the past 25 years now and they’ve actually found that they are the highest levels ever recorded. And as a college professor, you can see it; students are becoming more and more entitled. And these researchers directly tight the rise in narcissism to the self-esteem movement in the schools.

So, in other words, very well-meaning teachers and parents who wanted to raise their kid’s self-esteem, they said, “You know, you’re special. You’re great. You’re wonderful.” But unfortunately, by giving all that indiscriminate praise, they created a culture of narcissism. I don’t think I need to let you know the problems with being narcissistic—it’s bad for relationships, it’s bad for self-clarity. There is a lot of reasons why narcissism is a problem.

Another big problem with self-esteem—big problem—that it tends to be contingent. In other words, our self-esteem is there when we succeed, but it deserts us exactly when we need it most and that’s when we fail. The researcher, Susan Harter and others, shows that the three most common life domains in which we invest our sense of self-worth is …

  • first of all, popularity. … we base our sense of self-worth on what other people think about us. Now, the problem with that is, first of all, how do we really know what other people think about us? And how well do they really know us, right? They don’t know us well.
  • [The second life domain is] successful performance—whether it’s in athletics or business, whatever your work domain is, it’s contingent on that.
  • [And finally,] but this may not surprise you, the number one domain in which we invest our self-worth is our perceived appearance. And for women, this is even more true than for men. I hate to say this, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a PhD, and it starts very young.

So what’s the alternative? It was while I was finding out about all these problems with self-esteem that I was practicing self-compassion in my personal life, and I realized self-compassion is a perfect alternative to self-esteem because it involves being kind to yourself, supporting yourself exactly when self-esteem deserts you, and that’s when you’ve failed or made a mistake or are feeling bad about yourself.


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





























This week

Shame and guilt and all of that

I have a confession to make. I think I got sidetracked by the concepts of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) created by Marshall Rosenberg and I think I have been zealously promoting it in our group for the last few weeks. So, my co-facilitator tells me and as I look back I say “Oh yah, so I have. Wow. I hadn’t really noticed”. Okay from this point I begin to feel terrible, a deep sense of shame and wrongness. My thoughts tell me “I have failed as a facilitator and a co-facilitator. I have failed the group and failed my co-facilitator.”

So, here’s my opportunity to really feel my feelings and understand what my thoughts about this are. I allowed myself to feel that deeply uncomfortable feeling of shame and wrongness. Yes, I feel as if I royally screwed up. Yet … the group and what we talk about is helping me. Time for a self-compassion break – “This is a moment of suffering. I am in pain right now. This is really hard and uncomfortable”; a view of common humanity – most of us have been told at some point in our lives that what we are doing is not okay with someone and we end up feeling badly about it; and some really kind words, the kindest I can think of because this hurts so much. “I’m so sorry Caer that you are feeling so badly about this.” It helps. It really does.

What I have just written about is quite relevant to our discussions this week. A lot of focus on self-judgment and self-evaluation and the pain these things can cause us. One member shared that she had spent quite a bit of time evaluating herself and it was a dark place indeed. Yes, that makes sense. When we start trying to figure out what kind of person we are, we can run into trouble. Especially if we are adding labels such as good, bad, right, wrong, smart or stupid. It’s hard to refrain from evaluating ourselves and deciding whether we measure up or not but the harm it can cause us is tremendous.

Maybe if we focus more on right now and rather than who I am, what do I want right now, what is most important to me right now, what are my dreams and what are my needs? I know, I know, easier said than done. Many of us growing up were constantly evaluated and judged harshly and we learned well. It is very hard work to change those deeply ingrained thoughts, but I think that’s what we must do in order to not feel so badly about ourselves.

Also, who we are might change from moment to moment. How we feel one moment may not be how we feel in an hour or two. All kinds of external things stimulate our thoughts and our feelings and some of us are more sensitive to those stimuli and we may change drastically and quickly. One moment we feel fine and the next moment we are terribly upset. So, how can we even begin to say who we are overall when we can change from moment to moment? One moment I’m a ‘good’ facilitator, the next moment I have ‘screwed up’ and now am thinking “No. that’s no longer true. I am no longer a ‘good’ facilitator.” Which statement is right? Neither because neither matter. What does matter is what I’m striving for at this moment and what’s important to me. What do I value and what do I dream? What do I most want in this life? And how can I also give to others as well as myself?

I think when we get stuck in evaluations of ourselves we need to push a RESTART button, like on our computers. Let’s start over and rethink this thing. Who I am is changeable from moment to moment depending on external stimuli. Who I want to be is where I can put my focus. I want to be someone who cares about myself and about others. I want to be the kind of facilitator and co-facilitator that helps things to run smoothly and according to everyone’s expectations. When I tell myself this, my shame and feelings of wrongness dissipate. I can let go of those feelings that really aren’t helpful and instead focus on what to do from this point on.


When do we not deserve to feel good?

There was also mention of deserving to feel good this week. How did we end up having to figure out whether we deserve something or not? Why are we so attached to reward and punishment? Again, I think it’s because we were well taught to think this way. But at such a cost. One member in the group said she’s beginning to feel good and she has to really emphasize to herself that she deserves to feel good – because she had worked hard for this. I am truly happy for her that she is feeling better and it does sound like she has really worked hard to get to this place. But is there really a time when we don’t deserve to feel good? When would that be? Would it be when we are ‘lazy’, ‘unmotivated’, staying in bed all day because we feel so awful? Yup, that might be when. We have such negative views of certain activities and when we are ill we sometimes need to be ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’. Of course, we could reframe those activities and call them ‘rest’, ‘processing’, ‘healing’ and ‘rethinking’ things instead. It all depends how we label the things we do and the things we are.

What I see is that this woman has figured out what she wants and needs for herself, what is important to her to achieve, to change. This I think is the process of healing. Digging deep into it and understanding what those good self-care needs are. It’s as if healing requires us to do certain things for ourselves and part of that is understanding our illness and its symptoms, figuring out our limitations, and determining what we need and can do to help ourselves feel better. In my view, that’s what this member did and that’s why she feels good. And in one sense, of course she deserves it. We all do. Just because we are sentient beings with feelings and we all want to feel good. Maybe the best recognition here is of accomplishment. A congratulation to this woman for what she has achieved because it is not easy to really give ourselves good self-care especially when we are ill.

One other member mentioned that his problem with feeling good is that it may not last. I think he’s right about that. Everyday we have to tend to our needs, wants, desires, responsibilities, etc. and some days those things don’t make us feel so good. However, if we can figure out, like the woman above has done, what does work for us then our chances of feeling good can happen many times. Also, my co-facilitator read about resilience and that can be part of the equation as well. The ability to bounce back from setbacks. The ability to see and understand what is going on within, not judge, not evaluate, but go on from this point in the best possible way.

I must admit that this confession has worked for me. (Thanks for hearing me out folks). Acknowledging the fast train I have been on, because this NVC stuff is just blowing me away, I can now slow down and get grounded again. I will regularly mention needs of course, because that is what good self-care is all about but I will also try to be more aware of what I am promoting in this group. Above all, my intention is to ensure that this group and everyone in it is satisfied with what we do together.


Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones by Jane E. Brody

Most mornings as I leave the Y after my swim and shower, I cross paths with a coterie of toddlers entering with their caregivers for a kid-oriented activity. I can’t resist saying hello, requesting a high-five, and wishing them a fun time. I leave the Y grinning from ear to ear, uplifted not just by my own workout but even more so by my interaction with these darling representatives of the next generation.

What a great way to start the day!

When I told a fellow swimmer about this experience and mentioned that I was writing a column on the health benefits of positive emotions, she asked, “What do you do about people who are always negative?” She was referring to her parents, whose chronic negativity seems to drag everyone down and make family visits extremely unpleasant.

I lived for half a century with a man who suffered from periodic bouts of depression, so I understand how challenging negativism can be. I wish I had known years ago about the work Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, has done on fostering positive emotions, in particular her theory that accumulating “micro-moments of positivity,” like my daily interaction with children, can, over time, result in greater overall well-being.

The research that Dr. Fredrickson and others have done demonstrates that the extent to which we can generate positive emotions from even everyday activities can determine who flourishes and who doesn’t. More than a sudden bonanza of good fortune, repeated brief moments of positive feelings can provide a buffer against stress and depression and foster both physical and mental health, their studies show.

This is not to say that one must always be positive to be healthy and happy. Clearly, there are times and situations that naturally result in negative feelings in the most upbeat of individuals. Worry, sadness, anger and other such “downers” have their place in any normal life. But chronically viewing the glass as half-empty is detrimental both mentally and physically and inhibits one’s ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable stresses.

Negative feelings activate a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in processing fear and anxiety and other emotions. Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, has shown that people in whom the amygdala recovers slowly from a threat are at greater risk for a variety of health problems than those in whom it recovers quickly.

Both he and Dr. Fredrickson and their colleagues have demonstrated that the brain is “plastic,” or capable of generating new cells and pathways, and it is possible to train the circuitry in the brain to promote more positive responses. That is, a person can learn to be more positive by practicing certain skills that foster positivity.

For example, Dr. Fredrickson’s team found that six weeks of training in a form of meditation focused on compassion and kindness resulted in an increase in positive emotions and social connectedness and improved function of one of the main nerves that helps to control heart rate. The result is a more variable heart rate that, she said in an interview, is associated with objective health benefits like better control of blood glucose, less inflammation and faster recovery from a heart attack.

Dr. Davidson’s team showed that as little as two weeks’ training in compassion and kindness meditation generated changes in brain circuitry linked to an increase in positive social behaviors like generosity.

“The results suggest that taking time to learn the skills to self-generate positive emotions can help us become healthier, more social, more resilient versions of ourselves,” Dr. Fredrickson reported in the National Institutes of Health monthly newsletter in 2015.

In other words, Dr. Davidson said, “Well-being can be considered a life skill. If you practice, you can actually get better at it.” By learning and regularly practicing skills that promote positive emotions, you can become a happier and healthier person. Thus, there is hope for people like my friend’s parents should they choose to take steps to develop and reinforce positivity.

In her newest book, “Love 2.0,” Dr. Fredrickson reports that “shared positivity — having two people caught up in the same emotion — may have even a greater impact on health than something positive experienced by oneself.” Consider watching a funny play or movie or TV show with a friend of similar tastes, or sharing good news, a joke or amusing incidents with others. Dr. Fredrickson also teaches “loving-kindness meditation” focused on directing good-hearted wishes to others. This can result in people “feeling more in tune with other people at the end of the day,” she said.

Activities Dr. Fredrickson and others endorse to foster positive emotions include:

Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as helping someone carry heavy packages or providing directions for a stranger.

Appreciate the world around you. It could be a bird, a tree, a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even an article of clothing someone is wearing. I met a man recently who was reveling in the architectural details of the 19th-century houses in my neighborhood.

Develop and bolster relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and, long-term studies have shown, is associated with better health and a longer life.

Establish goals that can be accomplished. Perhaps you want to improve your tennis or read more books. But be realistic; a goal that is impractical or too challenging can create unnecessary stress.

Learn something new. It can be a sport, a language, an instrument or a game that instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence and resilience. But here, too, be realistic about how long this may take and be sure you have the time needed.

Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Rather than imperfections and failures, focus on your positive attributes and achievements. The loveliest people I know have none of the external features of loveliness but shine with the internal beauty of caring, compassion and consideration of others.

Practice resilience. Rather than let loss, stress, failure or trauma overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences and steppingstones to a better future. Remember the expression: When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

Practice mindfulness. Ruminating on past problems or future difficulties drains mental resources and steals attention from current pleasures. Let go of things you can’t control and focus on the here-and-now. Consider taking a course in insight meditation.

A version of this article appears in print on April 4, 2017, on Page D5 of the New York edition of The New York Times with the headline: Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones.




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