Developing Trust and Your Sense of Belonging

Tara Brach in a video presentation on Basic Trust highlights the importance of trust and a sense of belonging in our lives. She stresses the role of trust in shaping our view of ourselves, the quality of our relationships and our perception of the world around us. Tara contrasts this positive sense with the distrust and sense of separation that can pervade our view of ourselves, others we encounter and the world at large.

The sense of separation versus the sense of belonging

Tara suggests that our sense of separation is part of our evolutionary condition – we develop a sense of our separate self very early on. However, our culture and our parental influences can potentially drive a wedge between ourselves and our sense of belonging. If in our early stage of development, our needs are not recognised or met, we begin to sense that we are “not good enough” – we begin to feel separation and distrust. Our culture stresses the importance of “making it” – whether in terms of economic status, job role, relationship status or intelligence levels. If we have not made it in terms of cultural expectations, then we feel we are not a genuine part of our group or community.

If we are different at school – failing to fall into the narrow band of children gifted with left-brain intelligence – we can feel less than others, even though we may excel at other forms of intelligence, such as spatial intelligene or musical intelligence. If our personality is different from the dominant personality type in our work organisation, we can feel less than others or even a “misfit”.

There are many ways we can receive messages about our separateness or not being good enough to belong. Many religions reinforce our “sinfulness” or unworthiness, highlighting what is deficient in us rather than what is good and kind in our nature. As we feel a sense of separateness, we tend to build up our defences to protect our fragile ego and this can lead to a tendency to only see the defects in others, to become blinded to what is good in them.

A sense of belonging builds trust

Much of what we hear about ourselves and reinforce in our own narratives, is that we do not belong. However, if we can develop a sense of our own goodness and that of others we can learn to trust ourselves and those around us and be less ego-driven and self-protective. Tara suggests a brief meditation to highlight our sense of belonging that involves several core questions:

  • To what extent do we belong to our bodies (accepting them as they are)?
  • How much are we in touch with our own heart and kind feelings?
  • How strong is our feeling of belonging in our significant relationship?
  • Do we experience a sense of belonging in our family?
  • How much are we connected to the people around us, in our work or our community?
Developing a sense of trust and belonging

The absence of trust impacts our sense of belonging.  However, we can build our sense of trust in ourselves and others by meditating on (1) our inherent goodness and (2) the goodness in others.  We can become aware of our inherent goodness by focusing on our appreciation of beauty in nature, in music, or in art; by a sense of gratitude for kindnesses extended to ourselves or others; by experiencing a collective sense of joy when someone overcomes adversity; or by valuing the connection with family or friends.

Our sense of our own goodness can be realised through the experience of positive emotions through music or musical performances.  We can perceive our own thoughtfulness when we go out of our way to help someone in need.  Our essential goodness is evident when we appreciate when someone else has a achieved mastery of some skill or activity.  It is at times like these that we feel “at home” with ourselves and who we are.

Tara provides a brief guided meditation (at the 31.55min. mark) that helps us to feel good about ourselves and identify the goodness in others around us.  She strongly suggests that we share our appreciation of others with them directly – we all need reinforcement of our essential goodness to build our trust and sense of belonging. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on the inherent goodness of ourselves and others, we experience a freedom from the binds of negative self-evaluation and become more open to acts of kindness and creative use of our core skills and knowledge in the service of others.  Meditation helps us to “lift the veil” on our goodness and to see ourselves as we really are in our essence.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Being Present to the Power of the Now

Jon Kabat-Zinn, international expert in mindfulness and its positive effects on mental health, provides some important insights about being present in-the-moment.  Jon, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are,  presented on Mindfulness Monthly, and focused on mindfulness for living each day.  His emphasis was on the fact that mindfulness meditation is not an end in itself but a preparation for, or conditioning for, everyday living.

He argues that through mindfulness we develop the capacity to cope with everyday life and its challenges and demands – whether emotional, physical, economic or relationship-based.  He urges mindfulness practitioners to avoid the temptation to pursue the ideal meditation practice or the achievement of a particular level of awareness as a goal in itself.  He argues that the “Now” is the practice ground for mindfulness – being open to, and fully alive to, the reality of what is.  Being-in-the-moment can make us aware of the inherent beauty of the present and the creative possibilities that are open to us.

Dropping in on the now

Jon suggests that we “drop in on the now” as a regular practice to keep us in touch with what is happening to us and around us.  This involves being willing to accept whatever comes our way – whether good fortune or adversity, joy or pain.  

He maintains that being present entails embracing the “full catastrophe of human living”- the theme of his book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  This means accepting whatever is unfolding in the moment, whether “challenging, intoxicating or painful”.  It also means not seeing the present through the prism of our expectations, but through an open-heartedness.  As we have previously discussed, so much of what we see is conditioned by our beliefs, unless we build awareness of our unconscious biases through meditation and reflection.  Being mindful at work through short mindfulness practices can assist us to drop in on the now.

Taking our practice into the real world

Jon challenges us to take our practice of mindfulness into the real world of work, family and community.  He expresses concern about the hatred and delusion that is evident in so much of our world today – a state of intoxication flowing from a complete disconnection with, and avoidance of, the human mind and heart.

Jon urges us to do whatever we are able, within our own realms of activity, to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion and extend this orientation to everyone we interact with – whether in an official/work capacity or in a personal role interacting with people such as the Uber driver, the waiter/waitress, checkout person or our neighbour.  We are all interconnected in so many ways and on so many levels – as an embodied part of the universal energy field

Jon reminds us that increasingly science is recognising the positive benefits of mindfulness for individuals and the community at large. He stressed that neuroscience research shows that mindfulness affects many aspects of the brain – level of brain activity, structure of the brain and the adaptability of the brain (neuroplasticity).  Mindfulness also builds what is termed “functional connectivity” – the creation of new neural pathways that build new links to enable parts of the brain to communicate with each other.  Without mindfulness practice much of this connectivity remains dormant.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more present to what is happening now in various spheres of our lives, become more aware of latent opportunities and creative possibilities and more willing and able to extend compassion, forgiveness and kindness to others we interact with.  We can progressively shed the belief blinkers that blind us to the needs of others and the ways that we could serve our communities and help to develop wellness and happiness in others.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Developing Kindness through Meditation and Imagery

Diana Winston in one of her weekly meditation podcasts introduces a kindness meditation that employs guided imagery.  The key approach is to create a positive image and mentally invite others in to join you in that place.  This immersion in the present moment not only reduces stress and anxiety but develops a kindness orientation that can flow into your daily life.

Paying attention with kindness – cultivating a kindness orientation

Fundamental to this approach is paying attention with kindness – a form of mindfulness that envelops others through our care and concern.  Often, we are unaware of others, even those close to us, because we are absorbed in planning the future to reduce anxiety or ruminating about what might have been in the past.  We can become absorbed in disappointment over unrealised expectations

Guided imagery meditation proposed by Diana can take us outside of our self-absorption and open ourselves to kindness towards others.  Neuroscience, through discovery of the neuroplasticity of the brain, has reinforced the fact that what we actively cultivate in our minds will shape our future thoughts, emotions and actions.  Regular practice of kindness meditation creates new neural pathways so that we will find that we become more thoughtful and kinder – we become what we cultivate.  This principle is embedded in the story of The Grinch.

The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, cultivated meanness through his thoughts, words and actions and became progressively meaner to the point that he stole everyone’s Christmas presents and trees.  He was ultimately undone by the kindness of little Cindy Lou and her community who invited him to a Christmas meal despite his meanness to them.  At the meal, he shared his realisation of the value of kindness by making a toast, To kindness and love, the things we need most.  Kindness meditation practice shapes our orientation and is contagious, infecting those around us.

Developing kindness through meditation and imagery

In her guided meditation podcast, Diana leads us in an approach to meditation that incorporates guided imagery.  First, however, she guides us to become grounded through posture, focus and bodily awareness.  This state of being in the present moment can be anchored by focusing on our breathing or sounds around us (without interpretation, being-with-the-sound).  

Diana uses the imagery of a pond as a metaphor for kindness (starting at the 20.44mins point of the podcast).  The pond contains “kindness waters” that surround anyone who enters the pond.  The meditation involves progressively picturing people entering the pond and being embraced by the waters that spread happiness, protection, well-being and contentment.

As we grow in mindfulness through the practice of kindness meditation aided by imagery, we can become more kind and caring through cultivating a kindness orientation.  Our words and actions, in turn, influence others so that kindness grows around us. 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Loving-Kindness Meditation: A Form of Gratitude

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an extended loving-kindness meditation that incorporates gratitude for the love of the people in your life who are close to you.  It also involves self-love and kindness towards others who may have hurt you in the past.

Jon makes the point that engaging in loving-kindness meditation on a regular basis equips us to deal with the ups and downs of life.  It especially enables us to tone down our anger or rage towards another person who may have hurt us.  Our expression of gratitude and kindness helps us to restore equanimity in our lives.

Feeling the love

The loving-kindness meditation offered by Jon begins with capturing the essence of the love that a really close person in our lives shows toward us.  It involves basking in the ways that this unconditional love is expressed towards us while appreciating what it means to be loved for who we are.  Once we have captured these feelings of being loved, we can express kindness towards this person by repeating Jon’s words in a conscious, meaningful and personal way:

May they be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm. May they be happy and contented. May they be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible. May they experience ease of well-being.

Loving-kindness towards yourself

Jon’s meditation moves onto expressing loving-kindness towards yourself. This involves moving beyond any negative thoughts, self-criticism or self-loathing and being open to loving yourself as you are, taking your cue from those who love you unconditionally.

It is often difficult to embrace self-love and kindness towards yourself but the practice develops a healthy self-regard that enables you to rise above the thoughts that would otherwise drag you down.  The meditation involves recognition of your basic humanity.  By using the above-mentioned kindness phrases towards yourself, you are wishing yourself safety, happiness, good health and overall well-being.  In other words, you are  being kind to yourself.

Loving-kindness towards someone who has hurt you

In the meditation that Jon provides, he progresses to having us think about someone who has actually hurt us in some way.  He is not asking us to forgive that person but to acknowledge their basic humanity, just as we have done for our self.  This entails moving beyond the hurt to expressing kindness to the person involved through using the kindness phrases provided above.  This loving-kindness meditation helps to dissolve our hurt and anger and to see the person as connected to us through our universal humanity.

Expanding the field of loving-kindness

Jon suggests that the field of loving-kindness can be limitless.  We can expand our focus in the meditation to include people in the immediate world around us or in the broader world – focusing on individuals or groups, e.g. expressing loving-kindness to people who are experiencing the trauma of a hurricane or to volunteers helping to fight poverty.

You do not have to extend your field of awareness during this form of meditation – you can choose to restrict your focus at any point.  You may find, particularly with an extended meditation, that you become easily distracted.  In this case, as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, you can notice your distracting thoughts and imagine them as bubbles that burst as they reach the surface of boiling water or burst as a result of you popping them.

Loving-kindness meditation helps you grow in awareness of, and gratitude towards, those around with whom you come into contact on a daily basis.  It opens you up to appreciating the significant others in your life and to extending positive thoughts to the broader community, so that your awareness of your connectedness expands.  This form of meditation can also help to reduce anger towards others who may have hurt you – it enables you to expand your response ability in the process.  As you grow in mindfulness through loving-kindness  meditation you increase your awareness of others and empathy towards them.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Self-Forgiveness

We have all hurt ourselves and other people during our lives – it’s part of being human.  Unfortunately, we can carry around the associated guilt, negative self-evaluation, and sense of unworthiness that act as a dead weight holding us back and weighing us down.

Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are essential for our mental health and wellbeing and for the development of wisdom.  Sometimes, the accumulated guilt for the hurts we have caused seems too great for us to tackle it.  The sense of guilt and shame becomes buried deeply in our psyche as we avoid confronting the hurt we have created by our words, actions or omissions.  Self-forgiveness is the way forward and the means to release ourselves from the tyranny of guilt.

However, we can often be held back by the misconceptions and unfounded beliefs we hold about forgiveness meditation Jack Kornfield identifies three myths that get in the road of our practising self-forgiveness:

  • Myth 1: Forgiveness is a sign of weakness – in reality, forgiveness requires considerable courage to “confront our demons” and deal with the pain of self-discovery.  The demand for courage is especially pertinent when addiction is involved.
  • Myth 2: Forgiveness means we are condoning the hurtful action – in fact, we often resolve never to do that hurtful action again or to avoid the situation where we are tempted to react inappropriately.  If we fail to address the guilt and shame, we are held captive and are more likely to take that hurtful action again
  • Myth 3: Forgiveness is a quick fix – it can be far from this.  Jack Kornfield recalled a mindfulness teacher that requested that he do a 5-minute forgiveness exercise 300 times over a number of months.  If we undertake forgiveness meditation, we can procrastinate or fall into the trap of the opposite of forgiveness (blame, self-loathing).  Sometimes self-forgiveness will involve a lot of pain, regression, diversion and ongoing effort to avoid falling back into a lack of loving kindness.

Self-forgiveness is something we have to keep working at as we go deeper into our feelings of shame and guilt and their hidden sources.  Jack Kornfield suggests that self-forgiveness releases us from the burden of the past and allows us to open to our heartfelt sense of our own goodness.

As we grow in mindfulness through self-forgiveness meditation, we can gain a sense of freedom to be ourselves, a newfound self-respect and energy for kindness and compassion towards others.  We will become less self-absorbed and weighed down and feel free to open up to others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Loving Kindness Meditation Towards Others

In the previous post, I focused on loving kindness meditation for ourselves.  In this post, I will discuss extending loving kindness to others.  Often, though, these two approaches to loving kindness meditation are combined so that you can extend loving kindness to others and yourself in the one meditation.

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) at the University of California, Los Angeles, provides an extended podcast for a loving kindness meditation that incorporates both approaches.  This is one of a series of weekly meditation podcasts provided by MARC.

Guidelines for a loving kindness meditation focused on others

Diana suggests that in the first place you need to approach the meditation with a sense of curiosity, openness to whatever arises and a willingness to be with “what is” – whatever that may be, positive or negative emotions.  She points out that whenever you try to cultivate a new meditation practice invariably obstacles will arise.  So, we need to be open and present to these potential blockages because they will increase our self-awareness and dealing with them will improve our self-management.

Preparation for this form of meditation requires that you adopt a comfortable position or yoga pose. As Jack Kornfield reminds us, it is very difficult to extend loving kindness to others when you have a sore back because of a lack of back support.

Being grounded at the outset is important as with other forms of meditation.  If you are sitting on a chair, this involves initially ensuring your feet are flat on the ground, you are sitting upright, your hands are in a comfortable position and you either close your eyes or look down to avoid distractions and centre your focus.  A couple of deep breaths, followed by mindful breathing, can help to clear your mind and relax your body.

Loving Kindness Meditation Process

Typically, you will focus on someone who you love or appreciate – your partner, family member, close friend or supportive colleague.  Ideally, it should be someone for whom you can readily develop kind thoughts and words of appreciation.

It is important to do two things – verbalise your kind thoughts and notice your bodily sensations.  Verbalising involves stating what you wish for the other person, e.g. strength, resilience, happiness, joy, peace or calmness.  It will help to envisage what you appreciate in the other person or what you love most about them, e.g. their generosity, sense of equity, courage, kindness to disadvantaged people, open heartedness, emotional support, balance or wisdom.

As you express kind thoughts in your meditation, you could notice your accompanying bodily sensations.  These will become more pronounced as you progress with your loving kindness meditation because you will start to experience feelings of wellness, peace and happiness.  These feelings can manifest in the slowing of your breath, a sense of calm or a slight vibration in your hands or feet as positive energy flows through you.

You can move onto other people who form part of your “field of love“.  As you extend loving kindness to different cohorts, others will come to mind and you can incorporate them in your focus.

The more difficult thing to do is to extend loving kindness to people you find difficult for one reason or another.  You soon learn what emotional blockages are getting in the road of your expressing positive feelings towards them.  Again, it is important to stay with these feelings and work through them.

What usually helps is incorporating loving kindness towards yourself.  This can be done by envisaging what someone in your “field of love” would extend to you.  It can also be strengthened by picturing a recent hug received from them – so that the positive emotions of feeling valued, appreciated and loved can be revisited.  Images, memories and sensations can heighten your positive feelings.

As you grow in mindfulness through loving kindness meditation, it will become easier and more natural to extend positive thoughts towards others.  Jack Kornfield and Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us that we become what we pay attention to.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Loving Kindness Meditation Towards Our Self

In previous posts, I explored mindful self-compassion,  the challenges in extending compassion to yourself and the power of self-compassion to transform yourself.   I also discussed compassion meditation where we are extending compassion to others.

In these discussion about compassion, we focused on pain and suffering experienced by ourselves and/or others.  In contrast, in the loving kindness meditation, we are exploring what is good and lovable in ourselves and others.

Loving kindness meditation can focus on ourselves or others.  In this post, I will focus on extending loving kindness to ourselves; in a subsequent post, I will explore how to undertake loving kindness meditation towards others.

The basic approach to loving kindness meditation

Diana Winston describes loving kindness meditation as the explicit cultivation of “open heartedness”.  She explains that this is a natural human process and is not false or artificial.   Diana contrasts loving kindness meditation with basic mindfulness meditation in that in the latter, it is essential to stay in the moment, while in loving kindness meditation it is okay and important to be creative in exploring images and loving memories about ourselves or another.

Jack Kornfield, in the online Power of Awareness Course, suggests that there are three elements that traditionally form the framework for a loving kindness meditation:

  1. Intention to express loving kindness towards ourselves or someone else
  2. Envisaging love for oneself or for another
  3. Cultivating the art of loving kindness – developing our open heartedness.

The benefits of loving kindness are numerous and can impact every facet of our lives – our interpersonal relationships, our sense of presence and the way we view every living thing.  Loving kindness meditation towards our self can be difficult because our culture cultivates the opposite – a sense of unworthiness or negative self-evaluation.  Regular meditation practice can overcome these cultural barriers.

If we experience thoughts or feelings other than loving kindness towards ourselves, we can accept them and make them the focus of our meditation too.  When we name our unkind feelings, we can learn to tame them so that they do not prevent us from extending loving kindness towards our self.  Diana Winston suggests that, in this way, these obstacles can become a cleansing process to free ourselves for self-love.

The process of loving kindness meditation towards our self

Jack Kornfield suggests that after becoming grounded and focused on our breath, we can think of two people separately for whom we have an uncomplicated love and appreciation.   Once we have each person in focus, we can extend kind thoughts to each of them in turn  – wishing them health and wellbeing, hoping that they will be safe and strong, wanting them to be happy.

We can then envisage these people individually extending similar loving kindness towards our self.   We can imagine them saying similar words or expressing kind thoughts towards us – wishing for our happiness, wellness, safety and strength.   We can then rest in the warmth of love and appreciation – something that is often below our level of conscious awareness, but which we act on in our daily lives.

As we grow in mindfulness through loving kindness meditation towards ourselves, we make explicit what we know implicitly, silence the negative self-evaluations that otherwise persist in our thoughts and open ourselves to extending loving kindness to others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Facing the Fear Within

We have explored the R.A.I.N. meditation process in a preliminary manner.  Now we will look at how R.A.I.N. can help us deal with those deep-seated fears that take control of us, reduce our capacity to live life fully and prevent us from showing others loving kindness.

The disabling effects of fear and anxiety

Jaak Panksepp, author of Affective Neuroscience, discovered that young rats who had played and frolicked together became totally inhibited when a piece of cat’s hair was introduced into their cage – creating an immediate fear response and disabling anxiety.  Jaak believed that in-depth insight into the behaviour of animals helped us to better understand human emotions.

Anna Steinhenge explored whether fear and the associated anxiety induced a similar inhibiting effect in humans.  She found that in competitive situations where people viewed the outcome with positive anticipation, they were readily able to access clear thinking and creativity; in contrast, where people were anxious about the outcome, their creativity and critical faculties were impeded, and they tended to engage in cheating or unethical behaviour to win.  One only has to look at the behaviour of the leadership group in the Australian Cricket team during the third test in South Africa to confirm this perspective – they were anxious that they could not win the third test, when the score was tied at one test each, so they engaged in ball tampering.

Using the R.A.I.N. meditation process to face and conquer the fear within
Recognise the fear

The first step is to recognise the fear for what it is – to face it fully, understand how it impacts our body and impedes our mind.  Avoiding facing the fear only makes it stronger and weakens our capacity to manage the fear and its disabling effects.

Kayakers, for example, have shown that when caught up in a whirlpool that is sucking them deeper into the water, they need to relax and go with the direction of the sucking force, rather than fighting the whirlpool which only saps their strength.  They need to go to the bottom of the whirlpool to survive.  So too with fear, we need to access the depths of the fear itself before we can be freed from its inhibiting effects.

Accepting the existence of fear

We need to accept that the fear is part of our life but learn how to gradually disassociate from it so that we are not identified with it.  Tara Brach tells the story of a woman suffering from PTSD who, while sitting on a park bench, envisaged her fear beside her while she continued to explore her connectedness to nature – to the birds, flowers and trees surrounding her.

Investigating our fear

Tara suggests that we explore the nature of our fear and even question what it is like, where it lies within us, how deep and dense it is.  She suggests that we explore our relationship with fear and determine what fear is expecting of us and how we want to relate to our fear.  We could question where fear resides in our body and how it manifests itself through pain and physical disturbance – headaches, muscle soreness, cramps, twitching or shaking.

Nurturing ourselves through fear

Trying to discount fear by purely rational processes will not remove the fear but only make it go underground, away from our consciousness.  We need to see the fear for what it is in all its manifestations but treat ourselves with kindness.  This may mean pulling away temporarily from facing our fear and its intensity to rebuild our resources and strengthen our resolve.  This is a gentle way to treat ourselves if we become overwhelmed when facing the depth of our fear.  After rebuilding our resources, we can resume the P.A.I.N. meditation process by again grounding our body and mind through mindful breathing.

Plumbing the depths

Tara Brach suggests that the P.A.I.N. meditation process can be employed to handle any deeply-felt, negative emotion such as grief, anguish or self-disgust, as well as fear.  In the course on the Power of Awareness, Tara discussed Leaning into Fear and highlighted the process of facing fear by quoting David Whyte’s poem, The Well of Grief, which also uses the analogy of “plumbing the depths”:

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

     the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

As we grow in mindfulness through the P.A.I.N. meditation process, we develop the courage to plumb the depths of our fear and enable ourselves to be free of its inhibitions and disabling effects.  This process of inner exploration will gradually unearth the depths of our internal resources and capacity to handle deeply-felt emotions such as fear and grief.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Self-Compassion Can Transform You

Over the last couple of posts I discussed how self-compassion can free us from the bonds of self-judging and explored some of the challenges involved in self-compassion meditation, including breaking through our defences and denial.

In this post, I want to share two stories told by Tara Brach of how self-compassion can transform our lives.

From prison bully to freedom

Tara Brach has worked extensively in prisons teaching mindfulness to prisoners.  In the course on the Power of Awareness,  she tells the story of a woman in prison who was a tough bully and very mean but who came to one of her 6 weeks courses.  During the course she heard the words of the poem, Please Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh.

These were the words of the poem that broke through the defences of the woman prisoner:

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

In the preamble to the poem, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that had he been born in the same place as the pirate and lived in the same demeaning conditions, he would have been the pirate.  He goes on to explain that this realisation releases our compassion towards ourselves and others.

The woman prisoner realised that she too was suffering through the circumstances of her life and this realisation enabled her to be kind and compassionate to herself, to stop viewing herself as “bad” and to refrain from acting out her hurt and suffering through meanness to other prisoners.

Tara Brach explained that often we block self-compassion by telling ourselves that others have had it worse, so we should not be acting out our own suffering and pain.

From self-loathing to self-compassion

Tara Brach tells the story of a woman who knew that her ex-husband abused her daughter.  She could not face the pain of this knowledge, so she turned to alcohol to hide her shame, anger and self-loathing.

Her transformation came when, in desperation, she sought the advice of a priest who showed her (by drawing as small circle on her hand), that she was living in a small destructive circle of anger and self-aversion.  She had cut herself off from truly living and experiencing the world around her because she could not face the pain within.  The priest placed his large hand over hers to symbolise that there was a larger field of kindness and forgiveness that she could access to free herself from the tyranny and blindness of self-loathing.

As she meditated thinking of the hand of mercy covering her narrow circle of life, she came to realise that kindness and self-compassion lay within – it is inborn and accessible if only we are open to it.

Through meditation we can grow in mindfulness and come to the realisation of our own pain and suffering that blocks our self-compassion.  If we persist with meditation practice, we can open our hearts to innate kindness towards ourselves and be more present to the beauty of the world around us.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness and Response Ability

Mitra Manesh, in her podcast on Mindfulness and Responsibility, noted that the word “responsibility” has two components – “response” and “ability”.  Her discussion and guided meditation are aimed at expanding our ability to respond rather than react.

Mitra maintains that mindfulness meditation, encompassing mindful breathing and body scan, can increase our response options so that our life is not governed by reactivity.  To this end, she leads us in a guided meditation on two occasions throughout the podcast.

During her podcast, Mitra Manesh defines mindfulness as ‘kind awareness and acceptance of our present moment”.  She notes that mindfulness has three essential elements – kindness, acceptance and the present moment. As we grow in mindfulness, we increase our response choices so that we are not held captive to our habituated, reactive responses.

We can more readily accept the present moment with kindness towards ourselves and others.  Kindness towards ourselves requires self-compassion and self-acceptance.  Kindness towards others involves consideration and compassion – being thoughtful and empathetic towards others and their needs.

Reactivity

Typically, in a wide range of situations, we react without thinking or being aware of the consequences of our words or actions for ourselves or others.  If someone “steels” our parking space during busy Christmas shopping, we may have some choice words to say and/or gestures to make.  If someone’s behaviour sets off a trigger for us, we will often react in an inappropriate way, usually with a response whose intensity does not match the seemingly, insignificant word or action that triggered the response – we are in a heightened reactive mode.

Reactivity taps into habituated behaviour that we have developed over time in response to various stimuli in our lives – stimuli such as disturbing situations, annoying  people or frustrated expectations.

Mindfulness and response ability

Mindfulness enables us to identify the negative triggers, isolate our reactive response, name our feelings and provide us with a choice space between stimulus and response.  We are able to expand our choice of responses and maintain calmness and clarity despite the disturbing nature of the situation.

Mindfulness helps us to show up differently in our relationships.  Instead of reacting to conflict with our life partner or colleague by our habit of withdrawal, sullenness or hurtful words, we can have the presence of mind to avoid inflaming the situation and, instead, show consideration and kindness.  Habituated reactivity fractures relationships, mindful responsiveness enriches them.

Our response ability develops with meditation practice because it helps us to grow in self-awareness and self-management.   Mindfulness practice expands our response choices as we “walk the streets of life”.

Note: Mitra Manesh’s podcast is provided as one of the weekly mindfulness podcasts provided by the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Curriculum_Photografia on Pixabay

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