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.

 

 

 

Is self-compassion natural?

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I want to add a bit more from Christopher Germer’s book.

“… we need to recognize that we deserve to feel better. When we feel really bad, most of us engage in self-punishment rather than self-compassion. We heap on self-criticism (‘This wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t so stupid’). We act as if suffering always points to a personal flaw rather than being a fact of the human condition. If we remind ourselves that wanting to feel better is a natural instinct, perhaps we’d be less likely to take ourselves to task when things go wrong. Wouldn’t you still clean and bandage a wound when you get injured? Why not do the same for yourself when you’re in emotional pain?

“… [a] group of people who might find self-compassion unnatural or difficult to practice are those who’ve been neglected or abused in childhood – suffered lots of stress in the formative years. The learning process for these folks may simply take a little longer. Many traumatized people feel they don’t deserve to feel good, or they haven’t had much practice feeling good. Furthermore, it may be hard for them to experience emotional pain in safe doses. Painful emotions recruit earlier pains. For example, a relationship breakup can trigger a tidal wave of loneliness and shame stored up from childhood, overwhelming one’s ability to focus and function.

“People with early childhood trauma, however, often demonstrate remarkable compassion and kindness toward other people or specifically toward pets or young children. Most everybody seems to have someone or something toward whom they experience natural compassion. … if it’s hard at first to feel compassion for yourself, you can use compassion for others as a vehicle to bring it to yourself.”

 

 

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)

 

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.

COMMON HUMANITY

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You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the ocean in one drop.” Rumi

I have been writing, lately, about the three components of the Self-Compassion model (see menu at top). The first component is self-kindness rather than self-judgment. I broke self-kindness down into three parts as well – the Self-Critic, self-talk and gestures.

https://afriendtome.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/self-kindness-the-self-critic/

https://afriendtome.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/self-kindness-self-talk/

https://afriendtome.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/self-kindness-gestures/

Today I want to talk about the second component – common humanity.

I think the core issue here is our sense of shame and how it makes us feel outcast and separate from everyone else. We have all grown up with people expecting certain things of us. Often we adopt those same expectations. However, the problem with expectations is 1) when we fail to meet them and 2) what we are left with in the aftermath.

Most of us are not taught how to deal with our failures and mistakes. Many of us have learned to simply beat ourselves up as a consequence. Yet here is where self-compassion is needed most. We need to be convinced that we are not inadequate or of less worth as a human being when we fail or make mistakes. We need to learn and know it deeply that it is simply human to make mistakes and fail at things. As one comedian put it – I don’t fail. I simply succeed at finding out what doesn’t work. It’s funny and … it’s true. if we could look at our mistakes and failures as the means of figuring out how to make something work. That’s all.

The second part is the aftermath of our failures and mistakes. Shame. Deep, horrible shame. The feeling that we are the only one who is a ‘loser’. Everyone else is fine. It’s only me that is ‘wrong’. That is what many of us believe because that’s what we were told growing up. And we have come to believe it. I am different. I am a reject, an outcast, socially unacceptable. I have no right to exist along with all these other fine people. I am a defect.

When we feel ashamed, we not only fear that people will lack understanding of and kindness toward us, but we also start criticizing and attacking ourselves. What happens then is that our sense of self becomes focused around a shamed identity and feelings of shame with oneself.” Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert, PhD and Choden

So, common humanity is about putting aside that shame, not accepting it is as reality and seeing ourselves, instead, as human beings having common human experiences. So many human beings feel inadequate and ashamed of who they are. It is a worldwide epidemic and creates all kinds of problems. When we can let go of some of that shame and recognize that right now I am having a similar experience that is felt world-wide it can be liberating. It might be a sense of loss or grief. It might be sadness or elation. It might be excitement or even mania. But it is human and it is worldwide. We are part of this whole ‘thing’ called humanity.

When we can connect with and accept our humanity we are connecting deep within ourselves. And that always helps us connect more deeply with others as well.

 

SELF-KINDNESS: GESTURES

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I have been talking about self-kindness in my last few posts. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment is the first component of the Self-Compassion Model (see menu at top). I have broken it down into 3 topics – Self-Kindness and the Self-Critic, Self-Kindness and Self-Talk and now Self-Kindness and Gestures.

What I mean by gestures is two-fold. Let me give you an example. I often don’t like getting up in the morning and facing last night’s dishes. However, I don’t really like doing my dishes in the evening either. (Okay, okay, when exactly do I enjoy doing dishes, if ever? Somewhere in between those times of course. However, that’s not really important here). I have decided that if some evenings I could see my way to doing those dishes that I would be making a kind gesture towards my ‘Morning Self’. Now I have a new reason for doing dishes at night. But … I don’t put any pressure on myself to do them in the evening so I can later beat myself up because I didn’t do the dishes. I have built into this practice that it is only when I feel so inclined to do the dishes. There is no expectation whatsoever to do them the night before. After all my “Evening Self” is usually kinda pooped and just wants to relax.

So when I feel I can do those evening dishes, and I do think about it knowing that it will be easier on my poor Morning Self, I do them. And if I don’t feel like it my Morning Self says ‘Hey, I get it. When you don’t feel like it you don’t feel like it. Don’t worry about it. I am fine about doing them in the morning.” Overall, this makes doing dishes change from being a chore to one of a possible gesture of kindness towards myself. And even identifying these two parts of me – the Morning Self and the Evening Self – I create a dialogue within. As well, it’s not a conflict between these two parts but rather them working together for the benefit of all of me.

The point is we can create gestures of kindness for ourselves. We do them already every day but don’t recognize them as gestures of kindness. Whenever we take care of a need that we have we are being kind to ourselves. Taking a bath, relaxing and reading a really good book, making a wonderful cup of tea. These are the simple gestures we can do everyday. Also, when we are more conscious of them as gestures, when we think of them in terms of a conscious act of kindness towards ourselves we might begin to recognize the self-compassion that does already exist in us. We don’t need to go looking for it.

Soothing ourselves is another type of gesture we can do especially when we are in emotional pain. Putting our hand on our heart and speaking soothing words to ourselves can be soothing and comforting. “Caer, I know you are in a lot of pain right now. I’m right here with you. I am sorry you are hurting so much now.” We can also hug ourselves. We can do this in private of course but just wrapping our arms around ourselves when we are hurting can be quite soothing as well. And we can say the same comforting words then.

Crying can also be a gesture – one of compassion for the sufferer. In our SC group when someone cries and yet tells me they feel no compassion for themselves I wonder who the tears are for then? Who are they sad for? Crying seems to be a release of something held within for too long. It’s absolutely an act of kindness towards ourselves to feel our sorrows.

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T PUSH THE RIVER

 

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The other day I had two disappointments, both hurt for a while, and yet I did not drop into a funk of ‘unnecessary suffering’ after either of them like I usually do. I am in the process of learning how, and practicing, to be more emotionally resilient, to go with the flow, to not push the river. I am beginning to recognize more clearly within myself how often I shrink from experiences especially if they involve uncomfortable emotions like anger, fear, betrayal or disappointment.

I am learning to give my painful feelings names and to visualize them. This helps give me a bit of distance from them making it easier to cope with the feelings. For example, I was all set to go to my favourite Gulf Island. My best friend has a place there and we have been visiting it for about 20 years, mostly in the warmer months. I hadn’t been there since last September and I was really missing it so I was anxious to get there. We had already tried two weeks ago and when we got there, there was a power outage and there was no hot water, no phone, no internet and it was pouring rain. We returned to the city the same day leaving me very sad (I cried) and disappointed. So this week was another try. However .. the ferry broke down and sailings were cancelled for a few days. Which meant I didn’t get to go. Big disappointment again!

Okay. I was hurting a lot at this point. So I acknowledged I was in pain and I wanted to do something about it. That is what compassion is all about – acknowledging the pain and trying to alleviate any suffering. So I pictured what this pain looked like and I saw a wooden stake (don’t ask my why) piercing my solar plexus. I felt the acute pain of disappointment. I then recognized that I felt angry. At who? At the universe actually. At all the powers that be that have conspired against me to keep me from getting to the island. I shook my fist at the heavens and then laughed. I just suddenly saw myself and it was funny. That helped a lot.

Later that same day I experienced another disappointment. I won’t go into the details but I did visualize the wooden stake again, felt the acute pain of the disappointment, then just sat with it for a bit. Eventually it began to shift and I was able to think clearly about what to do next.

At the end of the day, I felt amazed and impressed with the whole process. I felt like I had been on a surfboard riding out the waves of my emotions. I hit some hard waves that day but I did not crash. I stayed ‘on board’. That is emotional resilience. When we can ‘bend’ with whatever is happening, with whatever we are feeling, and allow it to happen. Naming the pain and even visualizing it helps give some space from it.

I think that emotional resilience is the thing that can give us the most sense of control in our lives. Rather than trying to force things and ‘push the river’, we settle into acceptance and ‘going with the flow’. It’s easier in the long run and it’s powerful. It’s like mastering that surfboard and riding those huge waves of life.