SC GROUP Summary of Aug 29/17

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It was a good discussion group as usual. The first half was spent talking about Supporting Your Practice and how people responded to our offering this. In case you missed it, A. (my co-facilitator) and I would like to support any of you who want to practice self-compassion, self-acceptance and/or mindfulness on a regular basis. We want to offer you a space to talk about your efforts with it, your struggles and your successes. I WANT TO REPEAT that this is not a requirement of this group. It is perfectly alright to simply drop in and hear what we are talking about. This is meant for people who want to consciously and actively incorporate these ideas into their daily lives and get support doing so.

On putting this out there, a few people responded and in wonderful ways. We heard how much self-compassion has helped one member suffer less in her life. We also heard from 3 different people about how they have learned to accept themselves and be proud of who they are. It is so worthwhile to hear these stories and I hope that they can help those who don’t feel so strong in themselves … yet. Knowing this is possible can help.

We talked a bit about being judged by our family members and how devastating and hurtful this is. It is such a betrayal of our expectations, our utmost desire, as a human being, to be loved and cherished with unconditional positive regard (isn’t that a beautiful term?). I talked about being able to step back from those judgments and harsh words. If we can come to understand that these people are also wounded, and are attacking us in an effort to attack or deny their own pain. They want someone to blame for their own sense of shame but we don’t have to take their pain or their struggle on.

So we need to take space for ourselves, and hold strong in the thought that judging words from someone are not true words. They are not fact and they are not to be believed. (More later about this). We don’t have to believe what these people say. We don’t have to buy into their criticisms. It doesn’t mean we stop caring about these people, if we so desire (and some of us don’t. we have been hurt too much). We can still have room in our hearts for love for them and yet not buy into what they are saying.

 

Informal and formal meditation

After the break A. read a lot about mindful meditation both formal and informal. But first, subsequent to our earlier discussions, he read this …

“Any time a voice is talking to you that is not talking with love and compassion, DON’T BELIEVE IT! If the voice is not loving, don’t listen to it, don’t follow it, don’t believe it. NO EXCEPTIONS!” (Cheri Huber)

Then A. read about meditation from the book we are using as a basis for this group – the mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher Germer.

 Beginning Anew

The path to happiness and well-being never ends. Just when we think we’ve arrived, a new challenge presents itself and we begin again. This book was written to help dissolve the illusion that we can better ourselves to the point where emotional pain is a thing of the past. A more fruitful path is to cultivate uncommon kindness – kindness toward ourselves – as long as we live and breathe. In the words of meditation teacher Pema Chödrön: “… we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is … not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. (pps 243–244)

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Self-compassion practice is a special method for whittling away our stubborn tendencies to resist pain and grasp for pleasure. It’s mindfulness from the neck down, emphasizing qualities of heart – motivation and emotion – rather than awareness and wisdom. The common healing element in both mindfulness and self-compassion is a gradual shift toward friendship with emotional pain. Mindfulness says, “Feel the pain” and self-compassion says, “Cherish yourself in the midst of the pain”; two ways of embracing our lives more wholeheartedly. (pps 88-89)

Should I meditate?

There are two categories of mindfulness meditation: formal and informal. “Formal” mindfulness meditation is when we dedicate time – usually half an hour or longer – to being mindful of what we’re sensing, feeling, and thinking. “Informal” meditation is when we take a brief, mindful moment in the midst of our busy lives. Both approaches can be practiced while sitting down, standing, walking, eating – anywhere and any time. The difference between formal and informal meditation is mainly a matter of time and purpose.

‘Each person should decide for him- or herself whether it makes sense to establish a formal meditation practice. Formal practice is more intensive, which generally transforms the mind at a deeper level: it yields deeper insights into the nature of mind and our personal conditioning. If you wish to do formal meditation, it should be enjoyable and it should fit your temperament and lifestyle. Most people don’t want to squeeze yet another activity into their busy schedules. Nor should they. This book is not written for people who want to become meditators, although some readers might develop a taste for it. (pps 51-52)

‘Perhaps the most compelling explanation for why mindfulness works is that, over time, we acquire beneficial insights about life. We discover how everything changes, how we create our own suffering when we fight change, and how we unconsciously cobble together a sense of “self.” The latter insight is beneficial because most of our waking moments are spent vainly boosting or fearfully protecting our fragile egos from assault. … When these insights about life become deep and abiding, they help us receive success and failure with equanimity, tolerate emotional pain knowing “this too will pass,” and have the courage to seize each precious moment of our lives. In other words, intuitive insights derived from intensive meditation can help us establish a less defensive, more flexible, relationship to the world.

‘Informal practice means we choose to pay attention, on purpose, to what’s occurring in the present moment. Any moment-to-moment experience is a suitable object of mindfulness. That could mean listening to birds, tasting your food, feeling the earth beneath your feet as you walk, noticing the grip of your hands on the steering wheel, scanning your body for physical sensations, or noticing your breathing. It could be as simple as wiggling your toes. The present moment liberates us from our preoccupations, never judges us, and is endlessly entertaining.’ (pps 55-56)

 

Self-acceptance Summit

Here is the link to Sounds True’s Self-Acceptance Summit beginning Monday September 11 through to Wednesday September 20. That’s ten days of videos. It’s free to register. You can either watch the recordings live or within 24 hours of the live broadcast. After that you will have to buy the upgrade ($200 USD). So if you enjoy watching and listening to people talk about the things we have been talking about here’s the link to register…

http://www.soundstrue.com/store/self-acceptance-summit/free-access

 

This is for The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion and has the online course run by Dr. Christopher Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff. It’s quite expensive but if you can afford it …

https://centerformsc.org/learn-msc/

 

 

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T.O.’s

Okay. Here goes. I’m going to confess something to you. This is something about me that I don’t tell a lot of people. After all, in some way, some perspective I hold, I see this as childish and immature. So it’s a little embarrassing to admit to. (But only a little. I mostly accept that this is who I am). Therefore, when I have visitors I’m very aware that now they will know this thing about me and I wonder what they will think. So .. like I said … here goes.

I have over 80 stuffed animals and dolls. (Does that make me a hoarder? I wonder where you draw the line). What do you think of me now huh? Well, now that it’s out there let me tell you how wonderful it is to have all these ‘beings’. I call them the Beans. There are three groups of them – The Bed Group, The Bedroom Floor Gang and The Living Room Bunch. And one bear is actually called T.O. which stands for Transitional Object in psychology or psychiatric terms. It is an object that carries comfort and love for the person. My psychiatrist gave him to me so it was very right to call him T.O. Actually the letters should stand for ‘Transferable Object (of love)’ which is what my psychiatrist really gave me. All the care my psychiatrist gave me went into that little bear so I could comfort myself when I wasn’t with her.

Before I fell apart back in 1990, (I think they used to call those ‘nervous breakdowns’. Sheesh!), I think I a had 3 or 4 stuffed animals. But once I did ‘break down’ and start to uncover my past I discovered many different parts of me who had been created in response to childhood abuse. And many of those parts were very wounded and frightened and needed lots of comfort. Fortunately, I also had (and still have) some other very caring and nurturing parts who started buying stuffed animals for the more wounded ones. And continued buying them over and over for many years until the collection I have now. It’s crowded in my apartment because of them but they are so important to me (and to all my parts).

This is what I really wanted to tell you. These animals and dolls are all happy and healthy. They get every need met. In other words, for me, they live a perfect human life. My ideal. Some of them I give voice to – as in out loud. They speak to me. They are like children who are extremely happy and well cared for. And in return, they care for me. They comfort me when I am sad and celebrate with me when I feel good. They always say the thing I need the most to hear.

I have often wondered, if I had to evacuate my home rather quickly, what I would grab first. My dear cat Panda Bear is always first. She is my greatest treasure, my beautiful companion. Then the Beans. They are second – that’s how important they are to me. When I could not have compassion for myself they could express it. One step removed but it worked.

So having these many stuffed animals … does it mean immaturity or does it mean a creative solution to the need for comfort and care? I see these beings as extensions of my inner parts and a celebration of each and every one of them. I love all my inner parts now. We are a community, and we care deeply for one another. It wasn’t always like that, of course, but I want everyone to know that it’s entirely possible to change that. And stuffed animals and dolls have helped me so much.

 

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T.O. Mackie and Baby Annie – some of my best friends

LETTING GO

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I want to post an excerpt here from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are. This is a book about mindfulness practice and it has been so helpful to me with my own practice. He acknowledges the cliché-ness of the phrase yet “it is such a powerful inward maneuver that it merits looking into, cliché or no.” (Kabat-Zinn)

Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything – whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in our attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.

Letting go is only possible if we can bring awareness and acceptance to the nitty-gritty of just how stuck we can get, if we allow ourselves to recognize the lenses we slip so unconsciously between observer and observed that then filter and color, bend and shape our view. We can open in those sticky moments, especially if we are able to capture them in awareness and recognize it when we get caught up in either pursuing and clinging or condemning and rejecting in seeking our own gain.”

 

 

 

 

Turning Toward the Pain – part 3

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I want to talk briefly about some issues that came up in our SC group yesterday while talking about pain.

First of all I want to recommend Brene Brown, an ‘expert’ on vulnerability. Here is a link.     https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

We were talking about the need to be ‘vulnerable’ with people and it makes me ask what that really means. I think, I think, that people often mean authenticity in relationship and communication with others. When we are suffering illness how do we remain with ourselves and yet still participate in the larger world? How do we communicate truthfully when someone asks “How are you”? So many of us feel compelled to say “Oh fine” when inside we are not fine.

Of course, one way to meet this need is by coming to a support group like this where we can talk about these real things going on inside of us. We feel a sense of being understood and sometimes even find shared experiences. This can be so gratifying and it can really help validate us. When I hear someone speak of an experience that is very similar to mine, and I hear them talk about how they felt during that experience, I feel validated without having said anything. I can feel a sense of – oh. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me. Other people feel the same way.

I think the most important thing though is that we are authentic and honest with ourselves first of all. If we can acknowledge our pain and decide how best to deal with it we may find less frustration overall. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves about our emotions, our wants and needs. Not easy though because it can bring up a lot of shame. Brene Brown also talks about shame.

If we want to be vulnerable with others, we need to find the right people who will respect our boundaries. We need to work through to a level of trust. That means we have to start with the chit-chat, the superficial, and sometimes very boring, conversations then make our way down to the deeper more meaningful levels after both of us are satisfied that we can trust each other – so far. It’s a kind of dance. I say something then wait for your response. My trust will either go up or down with your response and the same with you.

Wanting to be vulnerable with others, to be authentic and to truly connect is all about satisfying a need that every human being has. So when we have a need, we figure out where we can get it met and where we can’t. I know I can’t really talk about my mental health with some friends and I can with others as well as in the support group. And this satisfies my need so that I can go and have ‘lighter’ relationships with others. The important thing is that I get the need met in some way.

A final word – about ‘sadness’. Sadness comes up a lot for many people and often we don’t like it. I have learned however, that sadness can be seen as the act of letting go of something that no longer works. Sadness seems to be a mourning process of something we feel we have lost. I now look at sadness as a sign of movement and moving on and I feel good about it. ‘Oh look I’m sad about that. I must be letting it go. Cool.’ This helps me deal with sadness in a really positive way which means I don’t block it. I allow it to be.

Turning Toward the Pain – part 2

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We had our fourth meeting of the SC group yesterday and talked about dealing with pain. I read out an excerpt from Christopher Germer’s book, the mindful path to self-compassion, and I want to print it here again.

From the moment of our birth, we’re on a quest for happiness. It may take no more than mother’s milk to satisfy us in the first days of our lives, but our needs and desires multiply as we age. By adulthood, most of us don’t expect to be happy unless we have a nice family, a good job, excellent health, lots of money, and the love and admiration of others.

But pain still strikes even under the best of circumstances. Billionaire Howard Hughes found himself desperate and alone at the moment of his death. And our circumstances inevitably change; one person’s marriage may fall apart, another may have a child with a developmental disability, and yet another may lose everything in a flood. People differ from one another in the amount of suffering they endure over a lifetime, or in the type of suffering, but none of us gets off without any. Pain and suffering are common threads that unite all of humanity.

Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. For example, if a car accident lands someone in a wheelchair for life, the first year is usually the toughest. As we learn to adapt, we typically return to our former level of happiness. We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.

A new approach is to change our relationship to pain and pleasure. We can step back and learn to be calm in the midst of pain; we can let pleasure naturally come and go. That’s serenity. We can even learn to embrace pain as well as pleasure, and every nuance in between, thereby living each moment to the fullest. That’s joy. Learning how to spend some time with pain is essential to achieving personal happiness. It may sound paradoxical, but in order to be happy we must embrace unhappiness.”

 

Turning Toward the Pain – part 1

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I am writing once again about pain. I talked about it a bit in the “SC Group Session 2” post. When we begin to think about the concept of self-compassion and then think about how it applies to us, we often meet some pain that has been buried. When we wake up to the fact that we lack compassion for ourselves it often seems to bring up a painful sadness.

Compassion has two parts to it. The first is to acknowledge that there is pain. Here it is. Right now. It requires us to sit with how we are feeling even though it is not all that comfortable.

Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. … We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.” (Christopher Germer, the mindful path of self-compassion)

I have been practicing for a while now, to sit with my pain. When I can. Sometimes I know I’m not able and that’s okay. I think then that I’m not ready to face whatever truth is there. Not yet. But when I am ready I just let myself feel the feeling. I like to try to describe it. Where is it in my body? What does it look like? Does it have a colour? Does it have a form? Does it have a temperature? Does it move, have a pulse or rhythm to it? Does it have a sound?

Doing this helps me step back from the pain and not feel so absorbed and overwhelmed by it. It makes me feel less afraid of my pain as well. I am beginning to recognize specific types of pain in specific parts of my body. When I need to cry a lot and deeply, my upper chest, just below my shoulders grows tight and aches. When I feel anxious that’s usually in my stomach, and very deep fear resides lower in my gut.

Holding emotions back I can feel in my throat as it tightens. As if afraid I might blurt out something that I don’t really want to hear. It’s quite amazing when we look at pain in this way. Pain as information about something. Something that needs fixing or healing, that needs attention, that needs me to do something with it. Transform it.

Really, pain is simply a sensation of a certain intensity. Boredom is painful to me. And it has quite an intensity. Fortunately it happens rarely. But from boredom all the way to deep excruciating grief and loss it is all pain that we must live with. The more we can turn towards our pain, accept it and even embrace it if possible, the more we are liberated from it, the less stuck we are, the more we can move on with our lives.