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.
CONVERSATION WITH TAMI SIMON (Sounds True), DR. KRISTIN NEFF & DR. CHRISTOPHER GERMER
My co-facilitator recommends this.
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