SC Group Summary of Oct 17 2017

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SELF-CARE, SELF-COMPASSION

DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP

SUMMARY OF OCT 17, 2017

This is exactly where I need to be

(new group member 😊)

 

SUPPORTING YOUR PRACTICE

A very full group this week and rich discussions. Some painful stuff arose and it is hard to bear but I think necessary for all of us to heal and grow. We need to face our pain, know it and even understand it if possible. From there it can be released and we can move on with our lives. The metta phrases – May I be safe… can be really helpful when we’re hurting so much.

One member shared that she is feeling really good right now, a lot of things in her life have fallen into place. However, she was afraid to say it out loud, as if it would jinx her good feelings. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. When we have been suffering for a long time, and we finally get a break and feel good, it is scary to just relax into it and fully enjoy the moment because there’s the knowledge that things always change. The painful stuff could come back. Unpleasant and painful things do happen and will probably happen again.

One way I look at this is to try to understand how I grasp and attach myself to the pleasant things in my life and reject the things that I find unpleasant. However, what I really need to come to terms with is not that bad things happen but that everything is temporary. The impermanence of all things, constant change, is something we can always count on. And as human beings, we definitely change, from day to day. If we are living with a mood disorder then we can count on our mood being unstable at times. Darn. It would be so nice if the ‘good’ things just stayed, just lasted.

I don’t think saying aloud that we are feeling pretty good these days will jinx anything. I don’t think there is any jinx but simply life itself that is unpredictable in many ways. When we experience unpleasant things I think it’s because something requires our attention. Something needs adjusting. Some need is not being met. I think we are supposed to feel those unpleasant things so that we pay attention. On the other hand, pleasant feelings may be telling us that we have succeeded at something, we have accomplished something, and now we can take a bit of a break and relish that feeling. That is the sound of a need being met.

A Healing Spiral

This leads me to the concept I learned years ago. We can look at our healing process, which can go on for many years, as if we are walking slowly up a spiral staircase. From any point on the staircase we can look down and see all the landmarks of our own unique journey. As we spiral around we see them again and again, perhaps revisit them and re-experience them, but always from a different perspective. Whatever our issues are, we may visit and experience them many times in our lifetime. But we, ourselves, are never the same twice. We have grown in some way. We have learned something along the way – what not to do or what we can do to change things. I think we never go back down the staircase unless we have some kind of brain trauma and we can’t remember anything from our past.

I’m thinking that we humans are here on earth to learn and raise our consciousness, step by spiral step. I have changed since yesterday. Whatever experiences I had yesterday has influenced how I feel today. And if I’m feeling crappy again today, after a great day yesterday, then maybe it’s because I’m not finished with this issue. I haven’t resolved it yet. I haven’t fully learned my lesson here. The good news is that yesterday I may have acquired more tools for understanding that gives me a new perspective of this issue. This is how I grow.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

One member shared her feelings about conversations she’s had with people that triggered painful emotions for her. If we are in any kind of conflict with someone then we can look to how we communicate with each other as one place to start. It’s important to remember that what a person intended by their words and how we interpreted their words may be very different. It’s also very important to remember that the real reason for our upset is our own thoughts about what was said, not actually what was said. Ultimately, if we can find compassion for ourselves when upset by someone’s words (“Oh I really felt hurt by those words. They must have brought up something very painful for me”) we may be able to calm and soothe ourselves. Later, we may be able to clarify with the other person what they meant and even let them know how we interpreted what they said. It may be that they made a poor choice of words and did not mean to hurt us.

READING: RICK HANSON – the neuroscience of self-acceptance

A conversation with Tami Simon, founder of Sounds True, (an organization that has a lot of audio and video talks as well as courses and books about such topics as self-compassion and self-acceptance) and Rick Hanson, a psychologist who wrote Hardwiring Happiness. It comes highly recommended, including one of our group members, and endorsed by many of the prominent people in the field.

Tami Simon: Rick, the neuroscience of self-acceptance. That’s what I’d love to talk with you about. I’d love to know, what do we now know about our brains and how our brains work that might shed some light onto why it’s so challenging for so many of us to be consistently kind and compassionate towards ourselves, especially when difficult things happen?

Rick Hanson: Right. Well, my own brain is twirling quickly just to come up to speed with that very profound question. I think like most profound questions, there’s not yet a lot of good science about it, so it’s in that frame that I’ll improv a little here. I’m reminded of the traditional saying from Buddhism that, “The mind takes its shape from whatever it rests upon.” The updated version of that, based on 20 years of good work in neuroscience, is that your brain takes its shape from whatever you rest your mind upon, because in the classic saying, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, repeated patterns of neural activity—which mysteriously map to mental activity—repeated patterns of neural activity leave lasting traces on neural structure.

That means, that in other words, if you routinely rest your mind upon self-criticism, self-scorn, self-scolding, very high standards, perfectionism, getting caught up in ruminating about what you think are the negative judgments, let’s say, of other people toward you—in other words, all the stuff that’s not self-acceptance—well, your brain, over time, will take a certain shape. That brain will become increasingly sensitized to negative experiences and increasingly reactive to them. It will become depleted of reservoirs of important neurotransmitters like serotonin, which help regulate mood. Your brain will also take the shape over time of building up structures inside of internalized self-criticism, self-scolding, self-shaming.

On the other hand, hopefully through listening to this series and to Tami and other guests, if you routinely rest your mind in a different way upon, let’s say, realistic standards, recognizing your own accomplishments as you progress toward them, the gradual internalization of feeling loved and cared for by other people—which is an important way to build up internal resources of self-nurturance that can stand up to the internal critic—well, over time, your brain will take a different shape. It will take a shape of increased positive emotions, improved mood, greater management of your own stress and greater resilience.

For me to summarize here, the choice is before us. You know, you cannot do anything about the brain you have in this moment and all the things that happened behind us. From this moment going forward, from now on—three wonderfully optimistic words, from now on—you can use your mind to gradually change your brain for the better.

WHERE WE’RE AT

While we have been essentially following Christopher Germer’s book the mindful path to self-compassion we are taking a bit of a break from it in order to dig deeper into self-criticism, self-loathing, and self-hate. It feels like this is the place where some of us really get stuck. I have heard a number of you say that it’s not difficult to feel compassion for others but when it comes to me… forget it. So we rest here for a while on our journey together to explore more deeply why we are so hard on ourselves.

At some point, we would like to return to Germer’s book and the chapter that follows ‘caring for ourselves’ is ‘caring for others’. I think that when we can accept and feel compassion for our own pain, our ability to care for others will grow, expand and deepen. I think we can be wiser in our care for others as well, where we don’t take on other people’s problems and feel compelled to solve them, but we learn how to just be with someone in their moment of suffering. And allow. Let be. No fixing required. But first we need to learn how to do this with ourselves.

LINKS, etc.

CONVERSATION WITH TAMI SIMON (Sounds True), DR. KRISTIN NEFF & DR. CHRISTOPHER GERMER

https://www.soundstrue.com/store/power-of-self-compassion/how-self-compassion-changes-everything

My co-facilitator recommends this.

MARY O’MALLEY

Alex and I have read her book called What’s in the Way is the Way. I really liked it a lot. Very down to earth. I used some of her material for my Self-Care, Self-Compassion workshops. It’s a book very much about mindfulness without ever using the word (I think).

 

May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease

Caer

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The Power of Words

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This is an addition to the Group Summary September 26. We read a bit from Christopher Germer’s book on the Loving-Kindness (Metta) meditation and the use of words and phrases to send compassion towards ourselves. Here is what Germer says…

“Words can be more powerful than actions. A broken bone can heal in a few months, but a harsh word can create a wound that doesn’t heal in an entire lifetime. Most of the words we hear are actually going on inside us. Even if you’re not generally a talkative person, your mind is constantly chattering away. If you say unkind things to yourself (‘You’re a worthless piece of s—t’), you’ll suffer. If you say nice things (‘That was good!’), you’ll be happy. Words shape our experience. That’s the rationale behind using words as the focus of attention in loving-kindness meditation.

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease

“Taken together, the four loving-kindness phrases comprise a kindly attitude toward a broad range of life experience. For example, if you’re in danger, you’ll wish for safety; if you’re emotionally upset, you’ll want contentment; if you’re physically sick, you’ll wish for health; and if you’re struggling to meet everyday needs, you’ll hope for fewer problems and greater ease. The metta phrases cover all this territory.”

Germer also says

“The phrases are neither exhaustive nor etched in stone. … As you understand more about the practice, you’ll want to create your own phrases. Here are some examples:

“May I love myself just as I am.

May I find peace in this uncertain world.

May I live in peace, without too much attachment and too much aversion.

May I be free from sorrow.

May I love and be loved.

“The idea is to find words that evoke tender, warm feelings inside you. They can be sublime, like poetry, or mundane. It’s best to keep the phrases simple and easy to repeat.

“You can tailor the phrases for everyday challenges in your own life. For example, if you’re caught up in shame, you can repeat, ‘May I accept myself just as I am.’ If you feel angry, try ‘May I be safe and free from anger.’ Avoid being too specific about your wishes, such as ‘May I get into the college of my choice!’ lest your wish become a demand for a particular outcome. Loving-kindness is an inclination of heart, not an attempt to manipulate the environment with our thoughts.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Turning Toward the Pain – part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Toward the Pain – part 2

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turning Toward the Pain – part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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