SC Group Summary Nov 14, 2017






“It is okay; it really is. Even when it doesn’t feel okay, it’s okay.

Jeff Foster

When I read that the other day, well.. it was a lightbulb moment. An epiphany. Reading that was like hearing the voice within me that says that very thing. It’s okay Caer. It really is. (whew!)


Yup, I heard it again this week. Two group members who have been attending for a while shared some of their recent experiences and I heard some inner movement and change happening for them. A shift in their perspective that was giving them just a tiny bit more ease in their lives. That is so gratifying. Some of you when you share, well it’s so rich. You hit the nail right on the head when you describe your experiences – our experiences with these concepts.

I hear that it’s very hard work. It’s hard to stay present with whatever is going on but especially with our pain. However, I also hear that the hard work is not stopping you. That is both gratifying and inspiring to hear. If you can do it, then so can I. We are providing proof for each other that there are things that work, that move us toward a little more ease in our lives, a little less suffering.

I’m also grateful to newcomers. You remind the rest of us of the beginning again. You remind us that sometimes we have to begin all over again because it feels like we have lost ground somehow. We were doing so well it seemed then we got derailed. However, it doesn’t have to be viewed as a problem but rather a reminder to start at the beginning again. The beginning? Now. Noticing. Being aware. Remembering the Self-Compassion model and everything it says. To be kind, to remember that all humans feel inadequate at times, all humans suffer, and to be aware, as often as possible, non-judgmentally of what’s going on.

We have been focused on compassion for the self-critic for the past 4 weeks and I think this is always a good place to begin when we notice we are suffering. Is this my self-critic telling me I don’t feel safe? Is there something I’m worried about right now, something I fear? What can I do to support myself in this midst of this pain, without condemnation?

This journey we are on together is also very much about connection. When we understand that our suffering happens to all of us (common humanity) and it is normal, maybe we can then feel connected to everyone else. This is common ground for all of us and it’s what this group is about – connecting with others in the midst of all of our experiences and especially our pain. I think connection also happens when there is acceptance from others. When we feel like there is nothing wrong with us – nothing. That allows us to truly connect, without fear.


The subject came up about being ‘thrown off’ when we can’t stick to our routines. Routines are so important to many of us. They give us structure and boundaries, a sense of purpose, sometimes even deep meaning (such as meditating every day). Some of us are very dependent on those routines to help us feel okay in the world. So, what do we do when our routines, which we depend on, are interrupted? How do we cope then?

“When something is wrong …. we don’t have to limit the ability with which we can care for ourselves and accept ourselves. Instead, that’s where the greatest shift can be – we can go from frustration and lack of self-acceptance to, ‘Okay, what’s the very best thing I can do to support myself in this very moment?’” [What If There Is Nothing Wrong? By Raphael Cushnir. From the SELF-ACCEPTANCE PROJECT book, edited by Tami Simon]

I feel that sense of disorientation when the power goes out, disrupting my routines and I’m usually triggered into PANIC MODE. What Cushnir suggests is to be in the body with the feelings. What does it feel like? Where is it in my body? When I think about doing this I see a door called PANIC. It’s a black, ugly, hard and cold door. However, … if I can find the courage to open it and see what is behind it, I find emotions that I do not want to feel – such as helplessness, no sense of autonomy, no sense of control over the situation and yes … powerlessness (funny enough). I feel as if someone has taken away my security blanket and it feels just awful. Yet I think the best thing for me to do is feel that helplessness, that loss and know that I can bear the feelings. They will not destroy me or cause me harm. So, if our routine is upset then maybe we can see it as an opportunity to pay attention to what we are feeling without that routine. Explore the experience if we are able and see what we might learn about ourselves in this situation.


Excerpts from Compassion for the Self-Critic by Dr. Kristen Neff (in the Self-Acceptance Project edited by Tami Simon of Sounds True)


  • Letting go of thinking the self-critic is the problem. Listen to what it’s telling you. Give it air time. Ask it what it’s afraid of, worried about. We need to have compassion for our self-critic. It’s trying to keep us safe from rejection, not being accepted for who we really are.
  • Most of us have a default state of mind – that of threat. It’s part of our ‘old’ brain, the reptilian brain. We used to need to be constantly aware in order to survive but we don’t have the same threats anymore (unless we live in a war zone). We can use our mammalian caregiving system (the Soothing/Affiliation System) to help us feel safe as well without having to criticize and condemn ourselves.
  • People are often afraid of letting go of their self-critic because they believe they will no longer be motivated to do anything, or they will not care about anyone else. They won’t be a ‘good’ person or the person everyone expects them to be.
  • We can use mindfulness to help us notice when we are being self-critical. “It can help us develop a refined ear for the self-critical voice.” With recognition and awareness, we can begin to create a new response – self-compassion. Awareness and practice are the way to change habits.
  • “When we criticize ourselves, we reinforce the illusion of control – that we should have been able to do it perfectly” It’s scary to admit that we are not in control.

READING – The importance of recognizing our common humanity

“One important way to soften our inner criticism and have compassion for our imperfection is by recognizing our common humanity – everyone feels inadequate, flawed, and imperfect. It is part of the human experience to fail, to blow it sometimes; you are not alone in this. When we make mistakes, however, we tend to feel that something has gone wrong – that the baseline should be ‘everything is going swimmingly.’ When it’s not, we feel that we’re somehow abnormal, that it’s only me that is going through this right now. That feeling of loss of connection is incredibly frightening, because evolutionarily, if we were rejected from the group, we were at the mercy of the lions. So an important way you can soften your self-criticism and create a kinder approach to yourself is by remembering common humanity. When we do this, every moment of feeling inadequate actually becomes an opportunity for connection.”

READINGOn-the-spot interventions

“If you practice self-compassion in your life, you’ll see it’s really just a series of on-the-spot interventions. We can start with the tiny little moments throughout the day. ‘Oh, I spilled the milk!’ Catch yourself before you judge yourself and say, ‘What a klutz.’ Just remember, ‘Wait a minute; I spilled the milk. It’s okay.’ ‘Everyone spills milk sometimes.’ ‘It’s just spilled milk.’ ‘Don’t cry over …’ It has to be in-the-moment practice in order to be effective, and integrated into actual life so that it’s a habit in place ready to help handle the big stuff. If you are just self-compassionate on the meditation cushion and not in your daily life, it’s not going to be that effective.”

 READING From interview with Oprah and Pema Chodron

About Pema Chodron:

“Beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother, Pema Chodron has inspired millions of people from around the world who have been touched by her example and message of practicing peace in these turbulent times. The Pema Chodron Foundation is dedicated to preserving and sharing Pema’s inspiration and teachings in order that they might help us all awaken wisdom and compassion in ourselves and the world around us.”

OPRAH: Is that what you advise we do when things fall apart—stay with it?

PEMA: Yes. The problem is that we have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings. I’m not even talking about unpleasant outer circumstances, but that feeling in your stomach of “I don’t want this to be happening.” You try to escape it in some way, but if somehow you could stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, you can really learn something.

OPRAH: When you tell people to touch the rawness and feel it, what should they do? They’re already feeling pain.

PEMA: Go to your body and connect with the physical sensation. It always feels really bad; it’s usually a tightening in the throat or the heart or the solar plexus. Stay with that and say to yourself, “Millions of people all over the world have this kind of discomfort, fear—I don’t even have to call it anything—this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity.” Connect with the idea that this moment is a shared experience all over the world.

OPRAH: What happens if you choose not to sit with the feeling?

PEMA: It cuts you off from your compassion and empathy for others. That gives birth to a chain reaction that causes people to self-destruct or strike out and hurt other people. It’s the source of a lot of the pain and destruction that we see in the world today.

OPRAH: So what do you do to stay with it?

PEMA: I think the most straightforward way is to breathe in very deeply and connect with the feeling, and breathe it out on the exhalation. I call it compassionate abiding. It means staying with yourself when, probably for your whole lifetime, you’ve always run away at that point.

OPRAH: For me, that’s getting a bag of chips.

PEMA: Yeah, for a lot of people, it’s eating. But you could go down the list, everything from eating chips to doing some much more destructive things.

May you (and all beings) be safe

May you (and all beings) be happy

May you (and all beings) be healthy

May you (and all beings) live with ease















SC Group Summary Nov 7, 2017






Amidst the difficulties she listens to the lessons of inner love,

which, were then presented to her through the cracks of life.

Many would not see them but she did

because from what she learned inside is

its not to forget but to forgive till all the past that is made of anger is forgotten.

So the leash pulled by the devil loses its owner

and is untied by the hands of g-d and not freedom is tasted but something sweeter.

The ability to swim like in water in all directions of the divine

so in whatever path you take lies a divine opportunity

as you make amends with your demons

and make virtue out of what you do.

–          Group Member (thank you)


We got on the subject of letting go of ‘old’ relationships, ones that are clearly not working. A few of us shared our experiences with relationships that didn’t work and how we still clung to them, desperately hoping the person would love us. But alas, it never worked. I’m wondering if our attraction to others aren’t sometimes really about attraction to the qualities that person carries. We may paint that person in such a bright light that is far beyond what we really know about them. Also, I think sometimes we are drawn to someone because they remind us of someone from the past, someone we have unfinished business with.

One of our group members shared that they wanted to release an ‘old’ relationship, to finally let go of it, and move on in their life. I applaud such courage. It is not easy to let go of our deepest attachments, the people and things we cling to, hoping they will make us happy. However, I believe the reward is great. I think there’s a sense of freedom and peace when we can simply let go. There might even be sadness and grief following the release but that’s actually a good sign. I have come to learn and see that sadness is my way of letting go. My tears are the river that carries away my struggle. I am not left with emptiness but rather with peace. And all of this seems to be such a healthy process.


We also got into quite a discussion about mindfulness. We don’t talk about this third component of Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Model that often. Mindfulness means paying attention to what is happening right now – seeing, smelling, hearing,… and thoughts and feelings. It also means not getting attached to any of these things. Not getting so caught up in any of these things that we are overwhelmed and ‘out of control’. Mindfulness means letting all of the sensations and thoughts simply come, noticing them, and allowing them to move on, letting them go. It means coming back to this moment over and over again. Imagine we are standing and watching a train go by. Each car represents a sensation, an emotion or a thought. We simply observe those cars go by and watch them go.

It also means less multitasking. One member talked about how they are trying to slow down, and just do one thing at a time. I have been working on this as well. This may seem so trivial and unimportant but actually it brings an awareness of this moment in a tangible way. Doing one thing at a time. That’s contrary to what many people these days are impressed by – the ability to multitask well. It may be helpful in an emergency, but I think it only causes stress and a constant feeling of being in a hurry, the overwhelming sense that every minute must be filled with doing something and doing it fast. I feel compassion for people where it’s a mad rush in the mornings. A very stressful way to begin the day.

Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can cause some very subtle and wonderful effects. When I remember to be mindful and I have a day or two of being more aware than usual, I can feel something happening within me. It’s as if some kind of space has opened up within me, as if I can breathe a little easier. I also experience moments of wonder and awe at the smallest and simplest of things. A bunch of ants marching along a crack in the sidewalk is absolutely fantastic. To see how organized and connected these tiny creatures are. Wow.

I watch the tv show Big Bang Theory and one of the characters just realized he and his wife were going to have a baby soon. He had felt the baby kick. This was a wonderful moment of mindfulness and enlightenment. He sat bolt upright in bed and said, “My God, we are going to have a baby!” Interestingly, but a great example of the opposite, his wife said “Uh huh. Now go back to sleep”. She didn’t get it. But he was aware of the absolute wonder of human life on earth in that moment. An epiphany. It was a wonderful mindful moment.

According to the Buddha, life is available only in the here and now, the present moment. He said, “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.” If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. 

― Thich Nhat HanhThe Art of Mindfulness


Self-acceptance in the group

I am noticing that some group members are clearly moving towards more acceptance of their lives and their selves. I am beginning to hear, particularly from people who have been coming for a while, people talk about their move towards more compassion and acceptance of themselves. When we first started this group back in June I noticed we heard a lot of the struggles and pain that people have in their lives. I’m thinking this shift may mean that the group is helping, at least somewhat, and that’s really good news. It also means that you have tremendous courage to do this, to work with the self-criticism and condemnation and try to change it bit by bit. That is what this group is about. Thank you everyone for all your work on yourselves, even if it’s only in the tiniest steps.



Excerpts from Compassion for the Self-Critic by Dr. Kristen Neff (in the Self-Acceptance Project edited by Tami Simon of Sounds True)


  • Letting go of thinking the self-critic is the problem. Listen to what it’s telling you. Give it air time. Ask it what it’s afraid of, worried about. We need to have compassion for our self-critic. It’s trying to keep us safe from rejection, not being accepted for who you really are.
  • Most of us have a default state of mind – that of threat. It’s part of our ‘old’ brain, the reptilian brain. We used to need to be constantly aware in order to survive but we don’t have the same threats anymore (unless we live in a war zone). We can use our mammalian caregiving system (the Soothing/Affiliation System) to help us feel safe as well without having to criticize and condemn ourselves.
  • People are often afraid of letting go of their self-critic because they believe they will no longer be motivated to do anything, or they will not care about anyone else. They won’t be a ‘good’ person or the person everyone expects them to be.

READING – Using mindfulness to spot self-criticism

“That’s why the mindfulness piece, the awareness piece, is so important. The absolute starting point has to be noticing when self-criticism is happening. Mindfulness can help us develop a refined ear for the self-critical voice. Even when it is very subtle, we can still hear, ‘Oh, my tone when I talked to myself was kind of harsh.’ We need to learn to notice the self-critical voice and the suffering associated with it, practice building a new response, and then receive the positive reinforcement of the good effect it has on us.

“Awareness and practice are the way to change habits, including compassion for what’s driving the habit. The more I get into this, the more I am realizing how important it is to have compassion for what is driving the habit. Because otherwise, if the self-critic doesn’t feel heard and validated – honored, really – for the work it’s doing, it’s going to keep trying to shout out to you, ‘Hey. Hey, listen to me. listen to me.’ By saying to the self-critic, ‘Thank you for trying to help me. I think I may try another way of moving forward, try to motivate myself with some kindness this time, but I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me. Thanks for your efforts.’ …. You give that voice what it needs – and what it needs is to be heard – and then it doesn’t have to assert itself so strongly.”

READING – The illusion of control

“When we criticize ourselves, we reinforce the illusion of control – that we should have been able to do it perfectly. It’s almost scarier to acknowledge the reality that we aren’t perfect, aren’t in control, and we can’t always do it right than it is to acknowledge the pain of our own vulnerability. It’s quite scary to admit that we are limited human beings with very little control. If we are willing to accept how not in control we are, we would have to totally re-examine what the ‘self’ is. Who is in charge? What is this ‘self’ that I think is in control of my life? We must examine the whole question of identity.

“It’s another reason why we need self-compassion. If we are going to let go of self-criticism, including the sense of safety it provides us (even though it is an illusionary safety, it still provides you some sense of safety), we need to replace it with something. We need to be able to catch ourselves and say, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not a separate self who’s in control, but I’m a part of an interconnected whole, and I love myself, and I care about myself. That’s why it’s okay.’ More than that, we need to say, ‘I’m here to support myself in those difficult times.’

“… you … have access to an amazing resource – the ability to be a supportive, encouraging friend to yourself. Once you start to trust that, and trust that you can give you what you need in difficult times, then you start to build a new and more reliable sense of safety.”


Since Kristin Neff brought up the issue of control I wanted to add my own take on control. I think that ultimately we all wish we had a lot more control of things than we do. For many of us control is an especially big issue and something we think about a lot. We often feel powerless and helpless in the face of circumstances and other people’s needs and expectations of us. We feel overwhelmed by all the things that are expected of us and we feel out of control of it all. So how do we deal with these feelings, ones that are quite scary at times?

Well, here’s a perspective that I find really useful. I know, and we all understand, that we cannot control others and we can’t control circumstances and events. We can only influence. However, we can get a sense of control more easily and it’s amazing how much it helps to think in this way. When we feel a sense of control it affects our emotions in a positive way. We tend to feel calmer, more confident and competent because we know we can rely on a few things – always.

If we have these four things in our lives, we may begin to feel more of a sense of control, a sense of steering ourselves in the right direction (in sync with our values, priorities and goals).

  • Predictability,
  • Consistency,
  • Understanding and
  • A sense of accomplishment.

If we have these things we can feel more of a sense of control. Predictability? Really? What can we predict? If we are our own best friend, always, we can predict that we will continue to be there for ourselves, no matter what happens. “I will always be here for you, Caer. I will always do my best to take care of you.” That is reassurance and it’s predictable – if I’m committed to it.

Consistency. We can get this in a number of ways. I come back to being our own best friend. When I am consistently there for myself, supporting whatever I do, comforting me when I am in pain, then I have consistency. Many people in our MDA groups complain about not having a routine to their days and this depresses them. If we can find some ways to be consistent every day, even if it’s getting out of bed and making a cup of coffee for myself (that’s still good self-care in my definition) and I am able to do this every day then I am providing myself some consistency. And of course, this adds to the predictability element too.

Predictability and consistency in our lives are underrated in my opinion 😊. These are ‘structures’ we can build for ourselves, foundations that we can live on in our daily lives. It doesn’t mean things have to be boring. We can also have some variety and spontaneity if that’s what we desire. I think most humans like to have daily routines and social structures. It helps us all feel safer, like there are boundaries around things.

Understanding is the next piece. When we understand why we behave the way we do and we treat ourselves with compassion then we can get a clearer sense of who we are in the world. It helps us get clearer about our values and all the things that are really important to us. And again this feeds into predictability and consistency as well. I can more easily imagine how I will react in a certain situation when I understand myself better and decide whether that’s what I want or whether I want to change that behaviour in some way. Understanding myself feels a little more like my hands are on the wheel. The more I understand who I have been, who I am now and who I might be in the future the more confident I am in myself, the more I trust myself.

The final piece is a sense of accomplishment. Through my work as an MDA facilitator I have heard so many people with mental illness say they don’t feel a sense of accomplishment or purpose to their lives. So many of us simply drifting in a sea, feeling so lost and disconnected from everything. When I was that ill, my psychiatrist helped me immensely. She helped me to see that the smallest things I did were accomplishments. I learned that I was comparing myself with someone who does not have an illness, does not have to work with the limitations of illness. I had to acknowledge that I had less energy and less motivation to carry on a normal life (i.e., work). I was in too much pain to function at that level. I needed all my time for me and my healing.

I learned to accept that my world had shrunk to an intense focus on my own self-care. And the better I cared for myself, the better I felt. That in itself was an accomplishment and it still is. When I was in a lot of emotional pain, I would ask myself “What do you need today Caer? What do you need to do, or not do?” I could get clear that I needed to watch tv and drink buckets of tea, and maybe go to the library and get a really good book. And at the end of the day I asked myself “How did you do today?” I could answer that I indeed watched lots of tv, and drank buckets of tea. And I went to the library and brought home 5 novels. And all of that made me feel so good and so cared for. My depression often lifted after days like this.

The days I did that, have paid off so much. I healed doing that. I understood quite well that my accomplishments may have seemed small to someone who was not ill, but those who are ill would understand how difficult it is to function ‘normally’. To accept those limitations and work well within them, to find pride in caring for myself, has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

[There may be other ways as well to feeling a sense of control. These are the ones I read about and work with.]

May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease













EXTRA NOV 6 2017





EXTRA NOV 6, 2017


Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl


That’s the quote my co-facilitator and I were looking for. It was in relation to us talking about knee-jerk reactions vs wise and compassionate responses to situations. It’s definitely something I’m working on as sometimes I get triggered and I’m angry before I can even think about being angry. I’d like to learn how to stop in that space, that gap, and take a moment to think about what is most important to say.


One of our members is not able to attend at this time but sent in a note to the group which I found to be absolutely beautiful. The member gave me permission to share it with you all. Here it is….

Here’s something that … you might share with [the group], something I would share if I could be there.

I have dropped the dosage of the drug I’m withdrawing from, and so I’ve been experiencing some hell over the past few days. Yesterday was a bit brighter in the morning but as I got out of bed to get dressed, I found myself in a maelstrom of horrible self-hatred, fear, isolation, discouragement, etc. I sank back on the bed and closed my eyes, recognizing the need for some immediate self-compassion, but first I had to figure out what this deluge of bad feeling was. I was too upset to do more than piece together approaches we’ve learned. Soften-soothe-allow really helps me. I wasn’t able to do more than just say, “what are the feelings,” “what are the feelings?” This I was able to do much more readily than I thought I would. Not only was I able to name them, but I found several emotions, and the more I stayed with myself, the more I was able to identify. In the end there were five or six dominant emotions.

The rub, though, was that although I wasn’t able to soothe myself as easily as I might have liked, I realized later on in the day how relatively quickly, I was able to move on from those emotions. I know they’ll be back, and they offer me so much to learn from. I didn’t know that yesterday morning, but on reflection later in the day I saw this small but significant thing had happened, and I think it had something to do with being able to stand back from my emotions instead of getting lost in them and experiencing excruciating pain that I have a tendency to think is designed specially by the universe just to torture me.

This experience is just one that encourages me on this journey to compassionate self-acceptance. I can learn to lessen the grip of strong negative emotions and their hold on me.

My comments …

This was very much my intention when I had the idea for this group – to help others and myself find the courage to be aware of what’s going on inside of us, especially emotionally. I think it’s the hardest work any human being can do and can be the most painful. However, this member shows what I believe to be true, that if we acknowledge and honour our deepest feelings they will not stick around. In my mind, it’s like opening the flood gates and letting everything flow through us. The less we dam up our feelings I believe we will live that life of (greater) ease.


From time to time a member talks about being overwhelmed with their emotions and thoughts, especially if they are intrusive and condemning. One group member sent me this on how they cope with intense feelings and thoughts.

Here are some approaches to self-compassion that I’ve learned from you and my fellow group members. I use them frequently:

  • I can get extremely anxious, flustered and upset. The trigger can be something in the present, or it can out of control thinking about things that aren’t in the here and now. I can become overwhelmed with strong emotion, and I need an immediate intervention to bring me back to the here and now, I turn to a practice—dead simple—that Alex suggested to me. In the middle of the distress, I turn my attention to my body and where it is and what’s supporting it right in the minute. I spend a few seconds or even a couple of minutes on this to really ground myself: I feel my feet on the ground, or my back on my bed, or my behind in the chair. It’s enough to break the vortex.
  • Sometimes, I switch channels. When I feel myself veering towards upsetting, even destructive, thinking, again I intervene by simply moving my mind away from the triggering thoughts to myself and my needs. I talk to myself like I’m a kid. It works. “This is painful, really painful. What am I feeling? What’s underneath that feeling? Why has this upset you?” I go to town on this little person, giving her lots and lots of tenderness and love. Part of that is thinking about people who have been kind to me, who are there for me, or something else that’s been positive. By then the triggers have been replaced, and I can always reflect on them and my reactions to them when I journal.
  • I have started to use nonviolent language thanks to Caer’s suggestion in group. I know I have to find more constructive and compassionate ways of working with distressing interpersonal conversations. I can dissolve all too easily into unhelpful and often very hurtful fight or flight behaviours. I couldn’t believe what happened when I tried non-violent with my husband. Of course I need loads and loads of practice, but what astounded me was that working out what I wanted to say non-violently helped me feel more compassion towards the person I’m having the difficulty with. Wow! All of a sudden I have the means to speak of my needs or objections in a non-attacking/distressed/blaming way. And, even more astounding is that in working out what the issues are, what I need, what I have at stake, etc., I become aware that the other “difficult” person also has a real and heartfelt stake in this fraught communication too! It has worked for me, and I am so excited!!! And I know I’m going to get better at it. My tendency to anger and blame in difficult conversations, is one of the most challenging areas for me because I can get totally defensive. And I’m hopeless at keeping a dry eye. I want so much to change this reactive behaviour of mine. Something to work on. So much to work on!


May you be safe, free from danger, from inner or outer harm

May you be happy, at peace

May you be healthy

May you live with ease







SC Group Summary Oct 31 2017







When we are no longer able to change a situation,

we are challenged to change ourselves.” ―

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning



Reacting vs responding

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:

the last of the human freedoms—

to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,

to choose one’s own way.” ―

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

One of the topics we got into early in this segment of our meeting was about (emotionally) reacting to something someone has said without really thinking about it. I have lived in a housing co-op for 33 years and have had some of the same neighbours. Inevitably we have conflict every once in a while and I can be a real hothead sometimes. I hang onto an issue like a dog with a bone. However, over the years I have learned to drop that bone sooner and sooner. I still have a ways to go though.

Choosing to pause, think and then respond is what I’m aiming for. (Victor Frankl said something about that. I can’t find the quote so I will paraphrase it. Between the stimulus and the response is a gap, and that gap is freedom. The freedom to choose.) This means that when my neighbours send out an email or say something to me that I feel strongly opposed to, I need to pause and embrace that gap, that moment before I make a choice. ”Okay Caer how do you want to respond to this? Do you want to be right or do you want to be kind and compassionate?” I have to admit that sometimes I want to be right at first, but as soon as I can feel the pain this causes me and possibly my neighbour I deescalate and try to repair things – apologizing for my part in things. It’s so hard when we are triggered into anger. And it’s challenging to pause and stop ourselves from speaking those angry words, and instead finding out what the other person is needing. Why did they say what they said? What is bothering them?


Self-criticism really was the hot topic for today. Some of you just hate that self-critic and desperately want it gone. I hear that some of you are very tired of it. Fortunately, our reading continued with the compassion for the self-critic .. so see below.


Excerpts from Compassion for the Self-Critic by Dr. Kristen Neff (in the Self-Acceptance Project edited by Tami Simon of Sounds True)

Just to revisit the concepts from the last time…

We need to have compassion for our self-critic. That voice wants to keep us safe especially from rejection. That voice says “I am scared to be who I am because I don’t think I will be loved and accepted then. I need to make sure I behave in certain ways, I need to control my behaviour, so that I will be loved and accepted. I can’t trust myself to do the ‘right’ things, the things that will bring me love and acceptance.” The self-critic comes from a place of worry as well as caring for us. However, and unfortunately, its methods are not effective in the long-run, not helpful, and not healthy.

It’s hard not to be angry back at that voice. We want it to stop nagging and hounding us, day in and day out. But the reason it is doing this is because it’s trying to tell us something and we keep disregarding it and trying to push it away. One of the things we can do is have a dialogue with it, maybe even in writing, to get the thoughts clear in our mind. We can ask our self-critic “What is it that is so frightening to you? What are you so worried about?” From there we might have to evaluate and determine whether that fear is realistic. I once thought I would be evicted from my co-op because of some angry emails I sent out. However, when I talked to that self-critic and found out its fear I was able to think clearly and know that wouldn’t happen.

It’s also important to understand that having this self-critic does not mean that there is anything wrong with us. In fact, the opposite is true for many of us in this culture, in this society. This is normal. We have been trained and programmed as children to be self-critical, to crack the whip behind us in order to keep us going on the ‘right’ path. Other cultures do not experience self-criticism. The Dalai Lama was astounded that we think this way. Your self-critic is not your fault.

READINGWhy people are afraid of letting go of their self-critic

“..people are often not self-compassionate because they really believe they need their self-criticism to motivate themselves. In parenting, we used to have the idea of ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ We used to think that children needed harsh discipline, and we really thought that we had to use critical methods with children to get them to work hard and try hard. Our parenting styles have changed, and we now know that harsh criticism or corporal punishment makes children depressed and actually isn’t effective at all. … self-criticism makes us anxious, stressed, afraid of failure, and puts us in the worst possible mindset to do our best.”

Kristen Neff gives an example:

“..there is a mother, and her teenage daughter has a failing grade in math. This is a problem because the girl wants to go on to college; she has goals and aspirations. There are two ways to motivate that child. The first would be through criticism. The mother could say to the child when she comes home with her failing grade, ‘I’m so ashamed of you. You disgust me. You’re a failure. You’ll never amount to anything. Go to your room.’ Those words make you cringe, don’t they? But isn’t that exactly what we often say to ourselves? Do you think it’s going to motivate the daughter? It might for a short time – she might do her homework because she’s afraid of her mother’s criticism, but she’s going to lose faith in herself, she might drop math, and it’s going to put her in a terrible mind state the next time she takes a test, worrying, ‘Oh my god, what if I fail again?’”

“What if the mother takes a compassionate approach, and first says, ‘Oh, I’m sorry you’ve failed. You must be feeling bad about yourself. It’s okay. I love you anyway. It happens to all of us. It happened to me when I was your age. But I know you want to go to college. I know how important it is to you. I know you need to get your math grades up to do so. How can I support you? Let me know how to help you reach your goals.’

“An encouraging, supportive approach with the message that ‘I believe in you and I know you can do it,’ is going to be so much more effective with a child. It’s the same with ourselves. We can use encouragement and support to meet our goals. And the thing about self-compassion is, it is concerned with the alleviation of suffering, and if we are not reaching a goal that is important to us, a goal that may be possible for us, whatever the goal happens to be, we are going to suffer. So if we love ourselves and we care about ourselves, we are going to want to do everything we can to reach our full potential, just like a mother wants her daughter to reach her full potential. That’s how compassion, support, love, and kindness become a resource for motivation. We just need to catch ourselves when we’re trying to motivate ourselves with harsh self-judgment, and adopt this new habit.”


What is your experience with self-criticism? Do you think it helps or hinders you? What if you stopped criticizing yourself? What effect do you think that would have on you?


Often group members talk about their anger towards someone who they feel has betrayed them. Many of us have been betrayed during childhood by those who were supposed to love us, protect us and accept us exactly as we were. Some of us use anger to motivate us towards self-respect, courage and determination. One of our members often shares their experience with family betrayal and their courage speaks loudly. They are learning that it wasn’t their fault. They do not want to carry this blame and shame anymore. I think this is a wonderful and healthy response to betrayal and I believe this member will be able to let go of that anger and that deep hurt at some point.

However, this may not be the way others of us work with our anger. My own way is to see my anger as a form of non-acceptance. I was angry at my neighbour last week (and I lost it a bit) because I could not accept what she was thinking about a situation in our co-op. I couldn’t accept that at that moment she felt defeated by events and my non-acceptance triggered my anger towards her. I was able to apologize and explain myself afterwards and the relationship is fine again. Fortunately, I was able to clearly see that it wasn’t her behaviour that was the problem, but that I couldn’t accept her behaviour/thinking.

Maybe we have to slowly work our way towards acceptance of ways that we have been hurt. Bit by bit. Most important is that we understand acceptance is not condoning someone’s behaviour, does not mean we will let someone do this again to us. This acceptance is the kind that holds that we are all human. We all take care of our most pressing needs and sometimes to the exclusion of others. It hurts and it happens. We cannot control anyone else. We can’t even make them say they are sorry. We can come to accept that this has happened and acknowledge that it hurts. We did not get what we needed as a child and that feels so unfair. Acknowledging and accepting our pain may be the first step towards freedom.


The mindful path to self-compassion: freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD (2009)


There are about 30 short videos online at this site. All for free. Just need your email address. Each video features someone speaking on aspects of self-acceptance. The first video is by Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering self-compassion researcher and is so inspiring.

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.

Dr. Kristin Neff’s website:

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.


May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease













SC Group Summary Oct 24 2017






You have only moments to live

[Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living]



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.


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.


“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.”


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)



SC Group Summary of Oct 17 2017






This is exactly where I need to be

(new group member 😊)



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.


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.


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.


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