SC Group (Aug 15, 2017)

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This is a recap of some of the things we discussed this session.

Curiosity rather than Judgment

We talked about replacing judgment of ourselves, especially when we fail or make a mistake, with curiosity instead – as a first step toward acceptance. Here we can use the FIRST THOUGHT, SECOND THOUGHT that was suggested in one of our earlier meetings. We can’t stop the first thought that comes to mind and many times it’s a judgment about ourselves, some kind of label – I’m bad, I’m stupid, I’m wrong, I’m a failure, I’m a loser. However, what we can do, is have a second thought – one of noticing. Aha – judgment is happening. Criticism is happening. It even helps to say it this way rather than say I’m judging, I’m criticizing. It gives us a little space to step back and really observe and see what our mind is doing. Just observing it.

Some people talked about how they have been hurt by others making them feel sad and/or angry. It is so very difficult for us when our family criticizes us, and browbeats us, puts pressure on us to do certain things, to succeed. How are we to respond to this? How are we to cope? Some people do cope and live up to their family’s expectations. But I think many more of us suffer instead and end up hating ourselves for not meeting expectations.

I talked about need, in terms of this issue. Everyone has needs they want to meet. Often parents need their children to live out a certain life, and that is often because they could not. It’s important to notice that their expectations of us are their needs, belong to them and not to us. Their agendas for us. What is most helpful is to determine what we need to feel happy. If it’s to please our family then so be it. But if it is do something else, then the best thing we can do is listen to ourselves. If we try to go against the grain of who we truly are we tend to suffer greatly.

Programming

We talked about the importance of understanding that we have all been ‘programmed’ since childhood, even before birth. The genes we inherit are the beginning of the ‘programming’. Those genes will dictate to some extent what our personality will be like, what our physical body will be like. Then when we are born whoever cares for us will ‘program’ us in different ways. When we go to school the system will ‘program’ us in certain ways, our teachers will also ‘program’ us depending on their personality and teaching style, and our peers, our playmates will have a strong influence as well. And our culture, our society will ‘program’ us in certain ways as well.

By the time we are a full grown adult we have inherited a wealth of information about life, and we have integrated certain values and beliefs into our very being. We have adopted certain perspectives and certain attitudes towards others, towards ourselves and towards life itself. We will have come to many conclusions and some of them can cause us harm.

My co-facilitator, A., shared with us a story about the Dalai Lama. He was asked by someone how to deal with self-loathing. He and his translator talked for quite a while together about this question because they didn’t quite understand it. Tibetan people are not taught to loathe themselves, to put high expectations on themselves and then beat themselves up when they fail. A. made the very clear point that our self-hatred comes from this culture, it is not a basic human characteristic. It is created in our culture. This means it is learned behaviour and also means that it is possible to ‘unlearn’ it. We can choose another way of looking at ourselves.

Anger and rage

To revisit the subject – that some of us have been hurt so much in our life, particularly by our parents or caregivers. Our deep disappointment with this situation fills us with anger and rage. Understandable. I put out that possibly anger and rage are a form of aversion, a denial of sorts that we didn’t get what every child needs – unconditional positive regard. For me, it has been hard to accept that my mother was not able to listen to me very often so I felt I could not confide in her or turn to her for comfort. I was angry for a very long time. Eventually I was able, for the most part, to accept that she was taking care of her needs and to accept that she could not take care of mine. She needed herself too much.

One person pointed out that acceptance does not mean condoning someone’s actions. A very important point. It is not about letting someone else abuse, or continue to abuse us. Acceptance is more about accepting what we feel about the situation, what our own emotions are — our anger, an expression of our pain. It is also accepting, coming to terms with the fact that we cannot always get our needs met by others, particularly our parents. We may need to look elsewhere.

Weekly meetings

A. and I will be confirming with MDABC about a room so we can have our group every week, instead of every two weeks. We are aiming for starting the second week of September. I will let everyone know when we are sure.

LINKS

http://www.soundstrue.com/store/weeklywisdom?page=single&category=IATE&episode=12405&utm_source=bronto&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=N170806-WW&utm_content=This+Week:+Featuring+Chris+Germer+and+Elena+Brower

This is the Sounds True website. This particular page has a 62-minute podcast with Christopher Germer on self-compassion.

https://chrisgermer.com/

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

Brene Brown — http://brenebrown.com/

She is well known for her talks and books on the subjects of vulnerability and shame (as well as other topics). There is a TED talk on her website on shame. When we have a hard time feeling self-compassion for ourselves it’s often because we feel so much shame for being who we are. I hope her site might help with this.

 

Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: http://self-compassion.org/about/

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

The Self-Acceptance Project: http://live.soundstrue.com/selfacceptance/

This is an amazing website. It’s all for free. You can watch about 30 short videos on self-compassion and related topics. The first video is Dr. Kristin Neff speaking and she touched my heart profoundly. After listening to her I committed myself to learning how to be self-compassionate 100% of the time. And it worked!!

 

 

May you be safe.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you live with ease.

 

 

 

SELF-COMPASSION SUPPORT GROUP (August 1, 2017)

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SMOKY SUNSETS – Caer

 

Thank you to all of you who attended Tuesday August 1 and participated in some really good discussions. In case you missed all or part of it, we revisited having self-compassion for ourselves. A. (my co-facilitator) read from Christopher Germer’s book the mindful path to self-compassion. Below are some highlights of what he read. I will put more of it on my blog.

“IS SELF-COMPASSION NATURAL?

“Although our personal experience may tell us otherwise, self-compassion is the most natural thing in the world. Deep within all beings is the wish to be happy and free from suffering. … Everything we do, even the good feelings we derive from helping others, seems to derive from the wish to make ourselves feel better. Self-compassion practice is therefore not adding anything special to our behavioral repertoire – it’s just fanning the flames of our innate desire to be safe, happy and healthy and to live with ease, but in a more helpful way than our tendencies to grasp for short-term pleasure and to avoid pain at all cost.

“… when bad things happen to us, we tend to have three unfortunate reactions: self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption. [Dr. Kristen] Neff’s three components of self-compassion direct us exactly in the opposite direction: self-kindness, recognizing the common humanity in our experience, and a balanced approach to negative emotions.

“Why do we react like this? I look at it this way: the instinctive response to danger – the stress response – consists of fight, flight, or freeze. These three strategies help us survive physically, but when they’re applied to our mental and emotional function, we get into trouble. When there’s no enemy to defend against, we turn on ourselves. ‘Fight’ becomes self-criticism, ‘flight’ becomes self-isolation, and ‘freeze’ becomes self-absorption, getting locked into our own thoughts.”

I want to comment on this idea of linking the fight, flight or freeze responses with the three components of the Self-Compassion model. I think this is a wonderful way to be in the moment especially when we feel uncomfortable or we are in pain. We can stop and ask ourselves:

  • am I fighting with myself by being judgmental, critical and condemning? Am I fighting against what I am feeling? Am I trying to push away these emotions?
  • Am I taking flight by withdrawing from the world, into my own cocoon? Am I feeling ashamed and embarrassed because I feel bad about myself? Do I feel like this is only happening to me and no one else has any idea what this is like? Do I feel completely alone with this?
  • Am I ‘freezing’ and drowning in my own drama and story? Am I so caught up with my own issues and problems that I can’t think about anything else? Do I feel totally absorbed and stuck here, paralyzed like a deer in the headlights?

A wonderful image was shared by one of our members of the three components of the Self-Compassion model being like a net beneath us. Holding us. Maybe one net for each component – self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness. Thank you for that.

 

OTHER NEWS

We had a lengthy discussion on using the Talking Stick as one member expressed minor frustration with it. As facilitators, we want to make sure everyone is as comfortable as possible. It’s helpful to know if anyone is uncomfortable with something we are doing in group time. The group didn’t make any decision to use it or not but we simply continued to use it. A. and I are very much in favour of continuing to use it. However, if there is more discomfort with using it we can talk about it again.

Here are some of the reasons the Talking Stick is helpful:

  • Helps us be more mindful about what we say and when we say it;
  • Slows the discussion down and gives us all time to digest what people share;
  • Helps keep us on topic (though tangents do happen – which is fine once in a while);
  • Creates a sense of boundaries and safety;
  • Gives a sense of a ‘sacred’ space – one that is held with respect and attention;
  • Gives us some silence between sharing.

INCREASING THE FREQUENCY OF GROUP

We talked about the possibility of running this group every week, starting in the fall. We put it out to the group to see if that would be something that people want. Everyone who responded seemed to be in favour of more frequent meetings. A. and I will discuss booking the room. We will let everyone know when the change happens. In case you miss a week, I will try to send out a brief summary of what we talked about. My blog will often have more on the topics if you want further information.

ENDING ‘PRAYER’

We have decided to end our meetings with these few words.

May I be safe.

     May I be happy.

                                                                      May I be healthy.

May I live with ease

Though I would love to change the last line to “May I be free of unnecessary suffering”. We have talked in the group about Resistance vs Acceptance and that Resistance to what is tends to lead us to ‘unnecessary suffering’ and Acceptance can lead us to experiencing deep joy.

WHY SHOULD I?

Most of us often tell ourselves things we should or shouldn’t do and I think this gets us into trouble. Should is such a word of force, of pushing ourselves to do something or be something rather than accept who we are and where we are at in life. I think the part of me that tells me I should do something is a part that was created when I was a child. This part has all the things that people said to me and that I believed to be true. “You should be a good girl. You should clean up your room, not talk back, not speak up, not protest, etc.” Now I recognize that this should part is only one part of me and it’s only a small part now. I recognize that I have a much bigger part that is true to myself and my needs, not someone else’s.

I think should always begins with an external source and we internalize it. These shoulds become our bible for living. They are hard and solid facts about us and what we should do. And they are to be believed. But I have learned over the years that these voices from the past, these shoulds are not about truth but about meeting someone else’s needs – usually our parents and close family, our teachers, and other community ‘authorities’.

I have changed my shoulds to coulds. When I catch myself saying I should do this, I correct myself and say I could do this. It depends on my needs in the moment. If I want to please others, to meet their expectations (and sometimes it’s totally appropriate) then I am choosing to do this. If I place more value on something else that I’m needing then I can decline meeting someone else’s expectations.

Possibly a good question to ask ourselves when we say ‘I really should do …’ is ‘Why exactly should I? What am I getting out of this? Are my needs being met here or am I meeting someone else’s?’

Also if we want to channel our energies towards something, rather than forcing ourselves using shoulds, we can direct ourselves, as if steering a canoe. You’ve got to go with the current to some extent but you’ve also got to steer the boat to where you want to go. Gently.

LINKS

https://chrisgermer.com/

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

 

Brene Brown — http://brenebrown.com/

She is well known for her talks and books on the subjects of vulnerability and shame (as well as other topics). There is a TED talk on her website on shame. When we have a hard time feeling self-compassion for ourselves it’s often because we feel so much shame for being who we are. I hope her site might help with this.

 

 

Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: http://self-compassion.org/about/

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

 

The Self-Acceptance Project: http://live.soundstrue.com/selfacceptance/

This is an amazing website. It’s all for free. You can watch about 30 short videos on self-compassion and related topics. The first video is Dr. Kristin Neff speaking and she touched my heart profoundly. After listening to her I committed myself to learning how to be self-compassionate 100% of the time. And it worked!!

 

 

                           May you be safe.

                                                                                May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you live with ease.

(May you be free of unnecessary suffering)

 

Five Minutes A Day

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A week ago I began trying something new with my meditation practice. My co-facilitator in the SC Group said to the group, ‘even if you only meditate for 5 minutes a day you will benefit’ and that made me think. So I went home and started sitting for 5 minutes. Only I did it 3 or 4 times in a day.

I usually meditate 15 to 20 minutes just before I go to bed. It works most of the time. Though sometimes it’s a bit of a chore as I just want to go to sleep. However, I began to think of my meditation as the ‘cultivation of stillness’. I have a hard time being still, as if I have too much energy and just gotta be doing something. So, as a challenge to myself – I decided to cultivate stillness and doing ‘nothing’.

My intention, as well, is to befriend however I am feeling at any given moment. To practice meeting my emotions head on. I realized recently that I am very afraid of some of my emotions – like anger, like depression (if you can call it an emotion), grief. So I asked myself what do I do with this fear. My answer was to meet it head-on, to feel it, to possibly even embrace all of my feelings. To enter fully into these feelings.

This is pretty scary territory. Yet I recognize that when I resist this scary place, I cause myself ‘unnecessary suffering’. In other words I make it worse than it really is. But if I can simply sit and feel this uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling maybe I can make friends with it. I think I said in an earlier post that I will sometimes try and name the unpleasant feeling. Then even give it colour, form, sound, location in my body. This helps me step back from the feeling and feel a little ease. I can more easily accept and even be curious about the feeling.

Five minutes a day, or several times a day, has proven to be enormously helpful this week. I have chosen to stop 3 or 4 times a day, to just sit with whatever is going on in that moment. I have chosen to ask – so how are you doing right now? I am able to say – hey look at that big tree out your window. Look how it catches the sunlight. How high and mighty and proud it looks. And I have been breathing – great big deep breaths that start in my belly. This tells me I am beginning to relax.

Five minutes a day I wake up. And wow is it amazing!

 

NO COMPARISON

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For the last two nights I have had dreams about participating in a contest. For the past month I have been doing rather deep work with my dreams, trying to understand what is going on in my unconscious mind. I have been using Robert A. Johnson’s book Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth (1986). It has helped me immensely.

Anyway …. looking at these two dreams I came to understand that there is a part of me, only a part, that compares myself with others – in other words, ‘holds a competition’. I imagine many of you hold competitions in your minds, comparing yourself to everyone else. Am I a winner or am I a loser?

I think in high school I felt a bit of a ‘loser’, more a failure. Eventually I simply gave up and quit. There were reasons why I was not doing well academically and they weren’t my fault. Still, I blamed myself for all of my failings. In my ‘competition’ I was definitely last.

I think that if our society, our culture had never thought about competition in any way, that many of us wouldn’t even be thinking about it. What I’m saying is that I think comparing ourselves, competing in the game of life, is a cultural thing. Competition is often the name of the game in this society. Unfortunately, when we apply it to ourselves, on a deep personal basis, we tend to come up very short. Just not good enough.

At the MDABC support group I attended for 5 years it was often said “Don’t play the comparison game. You always lose.” Comparing ourselves to others may be useful sometimes, if we want to simply understand ourselves. But when we want to rate ourselves in some kind of standing, then we tend to be in trouble – unless we’re playing a sport or game.

I think that people who don’t play the comparison game are already ‘winning’. They don’t feel the need to compare themselves, as if they are confident they are exactly where they need to be. No rating is necessary. In my dreams, I wanted to play the game in the best way possible, and in a way that I thoroughly understood what the game was all about. This is the way I want to live my life – that’s what I think my dreams are telling me. I want to understand life, not ‘get ahead’, not ‘succeed’, just play it thoroughly and well. And understand what the heck it’s all about.

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.”

 

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