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


SC Group Summary of Oct 10 2017






I was delighted to hear on Tuesday two of our members say they have noticed a difference in their lives using some of the concepts we talk about such as mindfulness and loving kindness meditation. One person said she now feels more of a sense of herself when she does the metta meditation. This is awesome! If we often get caught up in pleasing others, in taking care of others’ needs, we lose ourselves in the process. We need to find ways to get back to connecting with our innermost feelings and needs, connecting with ourselves. I think it’s progress, a moving towards health when we are truly in touch with ourselves.

Another member shared a time when she was most upset, angry about something and she was able to step back from the experience and see it from a more objective point of view. Again I see this as progress towards a healthier life, towards wisdom, when we can step back from our dramas and see them as simply that – as ‘dramas’. It doesn’t mean they are of no value. They are our life stories, how we define and express ourselves in the world and each one of us has a unique life story. It’s when we get so caught up in that story that we lose sight of what’s really going on. In other words, understanding when our thoughts are tricking us into thinking something is real and true (e.g., I’m a born loser) when it’s actually something that’s very tainted by the ‘programming’ we received growing up. When we buy into these stories in this manner we tend to become very upset, distressed and freak out. We catastrophize or believe ourselves incapable of dealing with what is going on. We are totally overwhelmed.

However, we have a choice – always – to step back. It’s not easy to do when emotion takes over control of things. And sometimes we may have to simply let it happen (freaking out I mean) and then evaluate afterward. “Hmm I’m not happy about how I behaved back there. I just let myself get so upset over a little thing. I’d like to change that.” We can revisit the scene afterwards and try to figure out what to do the next time. Even though the next time and the next time and the next time may be the same thing, the same catastrophizing, the same hysterics, at some point we may get tired of it all and say “It’s time to do something different”. And then we do.

I hear from people in the group that although the thought of compassion for themselves has been a really huge and painful hurdle that some members are slowly getting past these hurdles. They are finding that the Loving Kindness meditation is working in some way, not always explainable, but it’s happening. So I’m particularly pleased this week to hear this. (Keep in mind it’s not a competition. We all have to go at a pace that is gentle and kind towards ourselves. It’s not about pushing.)

Trying to figure out what caused a symptom

The group got into a discussion about trying to figure out what makes you dip into depression or mania or anxiety for example. What triggers a mood change and into symptoms of our illness? As was pointed out by one member we are made up of many ‘moving parts’. In other words there may not be only one cause but multiple factors contributing to a spiral into illness (or even out of it and into a feeling of well-being). If we suddenly feel very depressed, manic or anxious it could be several things that have contributed to this episode. Looking for one cause may only frustrate us.

Not all of us question our mood change, or even want to ask why. Some of us simply want to let it happen and not to think too hard about it. But others of us want to understand what triggered the change so that we might adjust some things in our lives in order to prevent future triggers. One of our disadvantages as humans are our thoughts. We can’t always trust them to be accurate, to be the ‘truth’ of a situation. If we find ourselves merely spiralling down in frustration trying to figure out what’s wrong, this may be the worst thing we can do for ourselves. This may be a time to simply be aware, pay kind attention and take care of our needs (e.g., I need soothing and comfort right now. I need to talk to someone. I need to go to sleep, or have a cup of tea, or distract myself with tv).

Which leads me to….


Like the three-part Self-Compassion model, this is another model we can use in the moment. Following these steps might help us understand more clearly what causes our triggers. Although there’s no guarantee. We humans can be very complicated and our thought processes very complex and difficult to understand with any clarity. We may have to come to terms with simply allowing our emotions without understanding what has triggered them.


This is when we simply RECOGNIZE that something is going on with us. I’m upset, I’m angry, I feel threatened, etc. We can even come to RECOGNIZE that we are simply having a human experience (the Common Humanity component of the Self-Compassion model).

It also helps to RECOGNIZE our resistance to these feelings. For example, if we feel “I don’t want this to be happening right now. I don’t like this feeling.”

At this stage we can simply be as non-judgmental as possible about what we are experiencing. We are simply feeling this or thinking that.


Now we can work with ALLOWING these feelings and thoughts to be here. I like the word ‘allow’ as it suggests that we have a choice here. And if we can’t get to ALLOWING things, maybe we can simply acknowledge that these uncomfortable/painful thoughts and feelings are happening right now.

Again we can notice our resistance to these things and ALLOW it to be as well. ALLOWING can lead us to acceptance eventually.


This is the point where we can be curious about our thoughts and feelings. What’s going on that’s causing me to feel so upset? Is there something specific I’m thinking right now that could be causing my feelings? Is there something I’m needing right now?

If we notice our resistance to this moment, to how we are feeling, we might ask ourselves what is it I’d rather be doing? We might also look at cause & effect, triggers. What was it that upset me? What was I thinking at the time? What emotions did I, or do I feel, about those thoughts? All of this needs to be done with gentleness and nonjudgmental. As often as possible.


Imagine that your life is like a tornado. You can get swept up in those savage winds and feel out of control and overwhelmed, or you can stand in the eye of the storm and simply see what is happening around you. As I mentioned earlier, the group member who said she could step back and see her anger – that’s what I’m talking about. Stepping away from that whirlwind of events and emotions, and yet still involved, still living our lives fully. It’s not about detaching ourselves from our life, from ourselves but it’s more about being involved, embracing it all without being overwhelmed. I know. I know. Much easier said than done.

The point is – it’s possible.



She works with thoughts and ask important questions that help people rethink the stories they tell themselves. Such questions as

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?



May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease









SC Group Summary of Oct 3 2017




Riddle: When a person has a bee in one hand, what is in his/her eye?

(Answer below)


Talking about TRUE NEEDS

We talked more about needs on Tuesday, understanding our true needs and the best way to get them met without harming anyone. The massacre at Las Vegas brings to the surface a man who probably did not have his emotional needs met. He may have been deeply wounded in his childhood to the point of rage and a desire for revenge. However, the desire, the ‘need’ for revenge is not a true need. By true needs I mean the kind of needs which are at the core of every human being – for example, the need for autonomy and choice, the need for connection with others, the need for meaning and a sense of purpose in our lives, the need for peace and rest from struggle and hard work, the need for physical well-being and the need for play. These can be broken down even further. See the NEEDS LIST handout below for many more of these kinds of needs – I call them the true needs

This man in Las Vegas probably interpreted his desire for revenge (if that’s what it was) as a need that had to be met. However, from my point of view his true needs were probably more like the needs for affection, recognition, validation, encouragement, support and love as a child. If he was wounded along the way his true needs would have been the need to grieve what he lost or did not get, the need to feel sad and let go of the hurts from the past, the need to connect with others and get support in his pain. If this is the likely scenario of that man, and if he had met his need to heal in a loving way, Las Vegas would not have happened. However, many of us are caught up in confusion with what is really a desire or want vs what is a true need. If it’s likely to harm yourself or someone else then you are most likely not trying to satisfy your true need.

Finally, when we pay attention to our true needs and try our best to meet them with compassion and kindness we are so greatly rewarded for our efforts. When we get our needs met (or accept the ones we cannot meet right now), we live in a place of contentment, peace as well as a kind of expansion. We become much more available to the world. We feel more generous of heart and reach out to others more easily.

Relationship losses

We also talked about losing someone we feel close and connected to. I’m not talking necessarily about losing them because they die. We may feel a loss because they are moving away to another city, or they don’t seem interested in spending as much time with us as we want. They may not seem as interested in us as we are in them. These kinds of situations can hurt and create the desire to withdraw from all relationships in order to protect ourselves. There is another choice however – to acknowledge and feel the pain, accept it as part of relationships, as part of conflicting needs, as part of letting go and as part of life. If we choose to withdraw because of being hurt we are cutting ourselves off from things we humans truly need – close connection, affection, love, warmth. If we can’t get them from one person we can reach out to someone else.

Also, it’s important to understand that this person’s desires are not because something is wrong with us, but rather because of their needs. As well, if we feel hurt or angry about the ‘rejection’ we do not need to judge ourselves selfish or wrong for those feelings. They are quite appropriate. We do tend to feel hurt or angry when someone walks away from us, someone who is important to us. It’s a sense of caring for ourselves and our own needs. It’s a form of sympathy and compassion. “Yah, it hurts that my friend is too busy for me, or is moving away from me.”

READING: Finding Good Qualities

If we are having difficulty with self-compassion one of the things we can do, according to Germer, is to find some of our ‘good’ qualities, things we like about ourselves, things we are proud of.

“We’re naturally attracted to good qualities. For example, historical figures to whom we’re most drawn are the moral geniuses, not necessarily the military of political figures. Likewise, if we think of something good about ourselves, we enjoy keeping ourselves company. If we think ill of ourselves, our attention will flail around looking for distraction from these inner threats to our self-image. At the beginning of your meditation, remind yourself of one or two of your good qualities: loyalty to family, conscientiousness, kindness toward animals, perhaps a sense of humour? You’ll feel more worthy of your own attention.”

READING: What Metta is Not

“Now that you have a preliminary understanding of loving-kindness practice, let’s review what it’s not in order to keep the practice from becoming unnecessarily complicated. It’s not:

  • Selfish. The first step toward loving others is to love ourselves. The fault we find with ourselves will also be found in others. Metta teaches us to be kind to ourselves no matter what happens, even as we shape our behavior for the better.
  • Complacent. Metta is a force of will – good will – that can override the instinctive tendencies of fear and anger. Metta frees us from old habits. It allows us to learn from pain and respond skillfully.
  • Positive affirmation. Affirmations are an effort to encourage ourselves by saying things we may not believe, like ‘I’m getting stronger every day!’ Metta isn’t fooling ourselves that our situation is better than it is. The phrases must be intellectually credible to work smoothly.
  • Just a mantra. Although the metta phrases are repeated like a mantra, there’s more to it than that. In addition to using the power of attention, metta works with connection, intention, and emotion.. We’re doing whatever it takes to cultivate a loving attitude.
  • Sugarcoating. We’re not trying to make the reality of our lives less harsh by learning to think or speak in a sweet way. Rather, we want to open to the depth of human experience, including the tragedy of it, more fully. This is possible only if we have a compassionate response to pain.
  • A pity party. Opening to pain is not self-indulgent. We’re not wallowing in discomfort, complaining, or whining excessively. On the contrary, opening to pain through compassion allows us to unhook from the familiar story lines of our lives.
  • Good feelings. Metta is primarily cultivation of good will rather than good feelings. Feelings come and go, but the ground of our being is the universal wish to be happy and free from suffering. That’s where we put our trust.
  • Exhausting. Exhaustion is the result of attachment – wanting things to be one way and not the other. Loving-kindness and compassion stay away from the business of controlling reality so it’s more of a relief than a struggle.
  • Demanding. Metta is always on the wishing side of the equation rather than the outcome side. Positive outcomes will certainly come with time, but we’re primarily learning to cultivate a kind attitude no matter what happens to us or to others. sticking with the wish and remaining unattached to the outcome is unconditional love.





“Hardwiring Happiness lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new neural structures that stick to happiness, love, confidence, and peace. Dr. Hanson’s four steps build a brain strong enough to withstand its ancient negativity bias, allowing contentment and a powerful sense of well-being to become the new normal.”

Answer to Riddle: Beauty is in the eye of the bee holder. 😊 (Thanks to M for this)






The Power of Words



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.”