SC Group Summary Oct 24 2017

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SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

SUMMARY OF OCT 24, 2017

 

You have only moments to live

[Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living]

 

SUPPORTING YOUR PRACTICE

In this segment of our group meeting, usually at the beginning, we want to emphasize that this time is for us to focus on three basic concepts:

  • GOOD SELF-CARE – to meet our needs we try to use strategies that have beneficial/positive outcomes for everyone involved; we focus on our needs and put them as a priority;
  • SELF-ACCEPTANCE – we are free of shame about ourselves and have the sense we are okay just as we are; if our actions cause negative or harmful impact on ourselves and/or others we are able to accept that we are human and don’t always choose wisely; we are able to accept our mistakes and our ‘failures’ and see them as ways of learning how to live well;
  • SELF-COMPASSION – following the three components –
    • self-kindness rather than self-judgment – trying to use kind rather than critical self-talk; trying to treat ourselves the way we would a good friend;
    • having the perspective of common human experience (common humanity) rather than feeling isolated and ashamed of our suffering; knowing that all humans suffer at times in their lives; accepting that suffering is a part of life (but definitely not the only part);
    • mindful attention and acceptance of what is happening right now, in this moment; by bringing ourselves into the here and now as often as we can we create an awareness of being; we create a space between our ‘story’ and simply living a human life, we don’t get over-identified with our situations; we gain a grounded perspective on things

I’d like to suggest that you try to think about these concepts in your daily life whenever you have a moment. I use these things as my daily guides, my spiritual practice, my structure and my foundation. The metta phrases are my daily prayers. When I do this there is so much meaning in my life which in turn gives me many moments, even small ones, of joy.

Then when we meet each week think about how you might have tried to apply these concepts over the past week or so, and if you are willing, to share these struggles as well as these successes with us. When we hear about your struggles it helps us all feel more comfortable because we have had the same or similar experiences, and we are often ashamed of them. When you tell us you have had the same feelings we feel a relief that we are not so strange and abnormal. Your successes are equally as important. When we hear about your successes it gives us hope for ourselves that we too can succeed and find moments of accomplishment and joy even amidst our suffering

‘FAILURE’

What a label! One of our group members spoke about feeling like a failure in their life. It made me feel sad. The word is a label that simply makes us feel badly about ourselves. What does failing actually mean? I think failure simply means we haven’t succeeded at obtaining the outcome we wanted. Life is made up of trial and error (failure to meet an objective). We learn by making mistakes. It’s one of the best ways to learn. Like Alanis Morissette, the singer, said “You live you learn”. When you first learn to ride a bike you make many mistakes along the way. Does that mean you are a failure?

Besides, what stood out for me was that this group member has not given up, and is going to try to do something they have not been able to complete several times earlier. Wow! That impresses me a lot more than if was a done deed. It was not accomplishment that stood out for me but character – courage and determination and persistence. The label ‘failure’ does not fit as far as I’m concerned.

TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

My co-facilitator talked about this coin and its two sides…

  • one side – the need to be loved and accepted for who we are
  • other side – the shame and embarrassment of who we are; the fear of who we are; the fear of being rejected

READING: Compassion for the Self-Critic by Dr. Kristen Neff (in The Self-Acceptance Project edited by Tami Simon (of Sounds True)

Neff begins by talking about the self-esteem movement in the 70s and 80s. It had good intentions but backfired on us. People ended up feeling entitled, special and above average and came to be called the ‘Me Generation’. And if you didn’t feel special and above average then you were not okay. Neff says instead we need to shift from judging ourselves (even) positively to relating to ourselves kindly. Self-compassion is a good answer to this.

Neff “One of the key ways to relate to ourselves positively is by letting go of our view of self-criticism as the problem. This belief causes a lot of suffering. What we’ve found in our teaching of self-compassion is that we need to have a lot of compassion for our inner critic. That nagging voice that says, “You’re not good enough. You need to do more of this; you need to do more of that” – although painful – actually has good intentions. It comes from a desire to maintain social relationships, to keep ourselves from being rejected, to keep ourselves safe. It originates from a place of care, but it’s been twisted – we think that if we criticize ourselves, we’ll be in control and able to force ourselves to be the person we want to be so that we will be accepted, loved, and safe.

“Typically, we judge the self-judge. “Oh, there she goes again,” that “inner bitch,” or whatever we want to call her. This judgment just adds more fuel to the fire. To be compassionate means to ask: Why is that critical voice there? How is it actually trying to help me? Can I understand where it comes from beyond my early childhood experience? How is it trying to keep me safe?

EMOTIONAL SYSTEMS

Before continuing with more of Neff I talked about a model that Paul Gilbert, in Mindful Compassion, writes about. The model breaks our emotions down into three categories or systems. Whatever system is engaged, whatever system we are engaged in, will direct our attention, our thinking and our behaviour. The three systems are:

  • THREAT & SELF-PROTECTION SYSTEM – this is when we are trying to detect and respond to any threat to ourselves, or even to those about whom we care the most. This is when we feel fear, anger, jealousy or envy, and disgust.
  • DRIVE & RESOURCE-SEEKING SYSTEM – this is when we are trying to detect and take pleasure in obtaining things that help us survive and prosper – food, money, career, partner. We tend to feel excitement, pleasure, anticipation when engaged by this system
  • SOOTHING/AFFILIATION SYSTEM – this is to slow and calm us down, to soothe us, to help us to reason and reflect in positive and gentle ways. When this system is engaged we feel contentment, connectedness and safeness; rest.

Looking at my emotions in this way can sometimes help me to ask the right questions? Why am I angry right now? What do I feel threatened by? Can I kick into my Soothing system and calm down and think more clearly about things? Also, I tend to be very aware of my Drive system when I’m meditating, especially in the mornings. I start to think about the things I want to do today and get excited. Makes it hard to meditate.

This connects to Neff’s next bit.

BACK TO KRISTEN NEFF

“If we look at self-criticism physiologically, it taps into the threat defense system: it triggers the amygdala; it releases cortisol; and it gears us up for the fight-or-flight response. This system evolved to deal with physical threats, like a lion chasing us, but the threat nowadays is to our self-concept. So, when we see a flaw in ourselves, or we fail in some way, we feel endangered and that there is a big problem. There is a problem, but the problem is us. When we attack the problem, we attack ourselves. We release cortisol and adrenaline – causing us a lot of stress – all in an unconscious attempt to keep ourselves safe.

“Both self-criticism and self-compassion are systems designed to help us feel safe. The problem with self-criticism is we’re tapping into a system that is effective when we are running away from lions but terrible when we gain five pounds or disappoint our mother because it makes us depressed – it makes things worse.

“What self-compassion does is move our sense of safety from the reptilian threat defense system to the mammalian caregiving system – the other system designed to help keep us safe. Mammals are born very immature, so in order for a mammal to feel safe when they’re young, they respond to close connection, soft touch, and especially physical warmth from the mother. That releases things like oxytocin and opiates that lower cortisol, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, calming us down.

“The reason I like to talk about physiology is that one of the quickest and easiest ways to switch from self-criticism to self-compassion is with a physical gesture of affection. In our workshops, we teach people to put their hands on their hearts, because we mammals are designed to respond to warm, soothing touch, to gentle pressure with the intent to soothe. Then we feel safe. We need to learn to connect our feeling of safety to this feeling of compassion, of care, and ‘I love you just the way you are.’ Maybe we need to make some changes – not because we are inadequate, but because we love ourselves and don’t want to suffer. Once we do that, everything shifts.”

BEING MINDFUL IN OUR BUSY WORLD

One of our new members experimented with being mindful in their car and shared this experience with us. I get especially excited talking about mindfulness because I find it the hardest thing to do. So, sitting in your car amidst all the traffic and whatever is going on inside your head as well – now that’s a challenge. And this member did it and sounded like they were rewarded for the experience.

I shared with the group that I have just acquired my first cell phone. Yes folks believe it or not. As someone said ‘Welcome to the 21st century’. How right you are. I have resisted partly because cell phones seem to be particularly mesmerizing and distracting to us all. Already I’m pulled to check my messages, take photos and play music. Oh check my health data as well. How many steps yesterday, etc. etc.

I am trying very hard not to get too distracted by it especially when I’m outside. I want to stay connected to my environment and the people in it and when I put my earphones in and listen to music I feel cut off. Yet being able to listen to music while I’m walking is simply wonderful. How do we stay mindful in this increasingly fast-paced and technology-loaded culture, that seems to drive many of us? These are such lovely trinkets and jewels to be playing with. How do we possibly resist and stay true to our own values?

Let me know if you find out.

THANK YOU

I want to thank each and everyone of you who share something, even the smallest of things, to the biggest and most vulnerable of things. What you say is so helpful to all of us and what stands out for me is your courage and your insights. You are all so amazing to me!! Thank you. (Caer)

 

 

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SC Group Summary of Oct 10 2017

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SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

SUMMARY OF OCT 10, 2017

 

SUPPORTING YOUR PRACTICE

I was delighted to hear on Tuesday two of our members say they have noticed a difference in their lives using some of the concepts we talk about such as mindfulness and loving kindness meditation. One person said she now feels more of a sense of herself when she does the metta meditation. This is awesome! If we often get caught up in pleasing others, in taking care of others’ needs, we lose ourselves in the process. We need to find ways to get back to connecting with our innermost feelings and needs, connecting with ourselves. I think it’s progress, a moving towards health when we are truly in touch with ourselves.

Another member shared a time when she was most upset, angry about something and she was able to step back from the experience and see it from a more objective point of view. Again I see this as progress towards a healthier life, towards wisdom, when we can step back from our dramas and see them as simply that – as ‘dramas’. It doesn’t mean they are of no value. They are our life stories, how we define and express ourselves in the world and each one of us has a unique life story. It’s when we get so caught up in that story that we lose sight of what’s really going on. In other words, understanding when our thoughts are tricking us into thinking something is real and true (e.g., I’m a born loser) when it’s actually something that’s very tainted by the ‘programming’ we received growing up. When we buy into these stories in this manner we tend to become very upset, distressed and freak out. We catastrophize or believe ourselves incapable of dealing with what is going on. We are totally overwhelmed.

However, we have a choice – always – to step back. It’s not easy to do when emotion takes over control of things. And sometimes we may have to simply let it happen (freaking out I mean) and then evaluate afterward. “Hmm I’m not happy about how I behaved back there. I just let myself get so upset over a little thing. I’d like to change that.” We can revisit the scene afterwards and try to figure out what to do the next time. Even though the next time and the next time and the next time may be the same thing, the same catastrophizing, the same hysterics, at some point we may get tired of it all and say “It’s time to do something different”. And then we do.

I hear from people in the group that although the thought of compassion for themselves has been a really huge and painful hurdle that some members are slowly getting past these hurdles. They are finding that the Loving Kindness meditation is working in some way, not always explainable, but it’s happening. So I’m particularly pleased this week to hear this. (Keep in mind it’s not a competition. We all have to go at a pace that is gentle and kind towards ourselves. It’s not about pushing.)

Trying to figure out what caused a symptom

The group got into a discussion about trying to figure out what makes you dip into depression or mania or anxiety for example. What triggers a mood change and into symptoms of our illness? As was pointed out by one member we are made up of many ‘moving parts’. In other words there may not be only one cause but multiple factors contributing to a spiral into illness (or even out of it and into a feeling of well-being). If we suddenly feel very depressed, manic or anxious it could be several things that have contributed to this episode. Looking for one cause may only frustrate us.

Not all of us question our mood change, or even want to ask why. Some of us simply want to let it happen and not to think too hard about it. But others of us want to understand what triggered the change so that we might adjust some things in our lives in order to prevent future triggers. One of our disadvantages as humans are our thoughts. We can’t always trust them to be accurate, to be the ‘truth’ of a situation. If we find ourselves merely spiralling down in frustration trying to figure out what’s wrong, this may be the worst thing we can do for ourselves. This may be a time to simply be aware, pay kind attention and take care of our needs (e.g., I need soothing and comfort right now. I need to talk to someone. I need to go to sleep, or have a cup of tea, or distract myself with tv).

Which leads me to….

LIVING IN THE MOMENT: R.A.I.N.

Like the three-part Self-Compassion model, this is another model we can use in the moment. Following these steps might help us understand more clearly what causes our triggers. Although there’s no guarantee. We humans can be very complicated and our thought processes very complex and difficult to understand with any clarity. We may have to come to terms with simply allowing our emotions without understanding what has triggered them.

RECOGNIZING

This is when we simply RECOGNIZE that something is going on with us. I’m upset, I’m angry, I feel threatened, etc. We can even come to RECOGNIZE that we are simply having a human experience (the Common Humanity component of the Self-Compassion model).

It also helps to RECOGNIZE our resistance to these feelings. For example, if we feel “I don’t want this to be happening right now. I don’t like this feeling.”

At this stage we can simply be as non-judgmental as possible about what we are experiencing. We are simply feeling this or thinking that.

ALLOWING

Now we can work with ALLOWING these feelings and thoughts to be here. I like the word ‘allow’ as it suggests that we have a choice here. And if we can’t get to ALLOWING things, maybe we can simply acknowledge that these uncomfortable/painful thoughts and feelings are happening right now.

Again we can notice our resistance to these things and ALLOW it to be as well. ALLOWING can lead us to acceptance eventually.

INVESTIGATING

This is the point where we can be curious about our thoughts and feelings. What’s going on that’s causing me to feel so upset? Is there something specific I’m thinking right now that could be causing my feelings? Is there something I’m needing right now?

If we notice our resistance to this moment, to how we are feeling, we might ask ourselves what is it I’d rather be doing? We might also look at cause & effect, triggers. What was it that upset me? What was I thinking at the time? What emotions did I, or do I feel, about those thoughts? All of this needs to be done with gentleness and nonjudgmental. As often as possible.

Non-identification

Imagine that your life is like a tornado. You can get swept up in those savage winds and feel out of control and overwhelmed, or you can stand in the eye of the storm and simply see what is happening around you. As I mentioned earlier, the group member who said she could step back and see her anger – that’s what I’m talking about. Stepping away from that whirlwind of events and emotions, and yet still involved, still living our lives fully. It’s not about detaching ourselves from our life, from ourselves but it’s more about being involved, embracing it all without being overwhelmed. I know. I know. Much easier said than done.

The point is – it’s possible.

 

BYRON KATIE

http://thework.com/en

She works with thoughts and ask important questions that help people rethink the stories they tell themselves. Such questions as

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?

 

 

May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

THE SC GROUP – MINDFULNESS

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Mindfulness has to be experienced to be known. It can’t be expressed adequately in words. A moment of mindfulness is a kind of awareness that comes before words, such as the twinkling of stars before we call them the Big Dipper or a dash of red at the door before we recognize it as a friend wearing a new red dress. Our brains go through this preverbal level of awareness all the time, but we’re normally too caught up in the drama of everyday life to notice.” Christopher K. Germer “the mindful path to self-compassion”

Our focus this week was on the third component of the Self-Compassion model (see menu at top), mindfulness. This is my favourite because I find that practicing mindfulness on a daily basis gives me such good ground to walk on. A more solid foundation in an ever-changing world. It anchors me to my experiences.

Being kind to myself and remembering that I am simply having a human experience, the first two components in the Self-Compassion model, help me in times of trouble. But mindfulness is something that is available all the time and adds to any experience I am having. It’s amazing that we humans don’t spend more time being mindful but somehow we strayed and got caught up in our thoughts. The worst part is that we believe those thoughts to be real – THIS IS REALITY. ABSOLUTELY.

But it’s not. Our thoughts can confine us and imprison us so well and do great damage to everyone. However, when we are mindful it’s as if we are stepping back a little and looking at things from a bit of an outside perspective. It’s the opposite of taking things for granted.

A great way to practice mindfulness is in the shower. We are using a lot of our senses then. We can

  • Listen to the water hitting the tiles and the tub and our skin;
  • Smell the soap and the shampoo and feel the extra oxygen in the air;
  • Feel the water on our skin, the temperature of the water (I love it hot, hot, hot), the sensation of water hitting our skin
  • Look at our body and see – hey this is me. all me. no one else

I practice mindfulness whenever I walk down the street. Sometimes I focus on my feet meeting the pavement or even the tiredness I feel on my soles, or I focus on my breath, or on sounds around me. That is one of my favourites. Listening to a car go by, the sound of a lawn mower a block away, children playing, birds. At those moments nothing is being taken for granted. I am able to appreciate and feel grateful for these sounds of life.

There’s a very important thing to remember about mindfulness or we will put ourselves in a lot of pain. We need to be as nonjudgmental of our experiences as possible. Whatever we are feeling or thinking, whatever is happening needs a voice that says “It is what it is. This is what is happening right now and that’s all. There’s no good or bad, right or wrong to it. It simply is.”

Definitions of mindfulness

the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment-by-moment” Jon Kabat-Zinn, very well-known mindfulness teacher

awareness of present experience with acceptance” Ronald Siegel, mindfulness teacher

Mindfulness is knowing what is happening while it is happening no matter what it is” Rob Nairn