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
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?”
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.
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)