Depression, Loneliness and the Loss of Connection to Other People

In my previous post, I discussed the loss of connection to meaningful work as one social factor impacting the rise of depression and anxiety.  Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression, found through his research, and that of his colleagues, that another major contributor to depression is the growing disconnection from other people being experienced in Western societies today.  This disconnection from others has led to an epidemic of loneliness in Britain, America and Australia.  The U.K. Government, in recognition of this growing social problem, has appointed a Minister for Loneliness.

Social change and the rise of loneliness

Robert Putnam, through research over more than 25 years covering almost 500,00 interviewees, provided evidence that people are becoming increasing disconnected from family, social groups, the wider community and neighbours.  The title of his landmark book incorporating this social research, Bowling Alone, captures the essence of his findings – people are now bowling on their own in a dedicated lane instead of bowling in a group as was the practice previously.  The level of volunteering has dropped dramatically as has active participation in what Robert terms “democratic structures”.

Johann suggests that this increasing tendency to “go it alone” is compounded by the often-repeated advice that change begins with you and that no one can help you but yourself – you have to fix yourself unaided.  He points out that this advice is contrary to the history of humanity which evidences our tribal nature and co-dependence.  Our forebears had to cooperate to survive – going it alone led to extinction.

The physical health costs of loneliness

Johann draws on the results of a range of research projects to demonstrate that loneliness dramatically increases the risk of catching infection and of dying from a serious health problem such as heart attack or cancer (risks like those of a person who is obese). The research highlights the fact that loneliness leads to an increased heart rate and production of stress-related cortisol (similar to what happens when a person is attacked physically).

The link between loneliness and depression

In his Lost Connections book, Johann draws heavily on the extensive research conducted by John Cacioppo into the link between depression and loneliness and the essential nature of the experience of loneliness.  John established that loneliness preceded the emergence of depressive symptoms in one of his many studies.  In another study he found that people who revisited a period of intense loneliness became “radically more depressed”, whereas people who recaptured a period of real connection to another person became “radically less depressed”.

These findings led John to ask the question, “What is loneliness?”  He established several key points through this basic inquiry:

  • loneliness is not the same as “being alone” – you can be alone and live alone and not feel lonely or depressed
  • you can feel lonely in a crowded place or even within your own family – the presence alone of others does not ward off a sense of loneliness
  • loneliness arises in the absence of connection with someone or a group of people with whom you can readily share experiences of joy or distress.

John argues that people need a “two-way” relationship where things that matter are shared for mutual benefit – the sharing needs to be “meaningful” for both people. He suggests that this element of exchange and mutual assistance is the “missing ingredient” needed to overcome loneliness.

Sarah Silverman (comedian, actor, singer and writer) in conversation with Amanda De Cadenet described her own experience of depression as “desperately homesick but home”. Being at home physically does not guarantee protection against depression – from feeling sad, anxious and negative; experiencing low self-esteem; and being fearful that people will dislike you. Johann suggests that Sarah’s allusion to “homesickness at home” highlights the fact that our conception of “home” has “shrivelled” from our sense of community as “home” to the four walls of our house.

The “snowball effect” of loneliness

Sarah, in her interview, also makes the point that self-deprecation, which is the hallmark of a lot of stand-up comedy, has its downside in that it leads to actual self-deprecation and depression, which becomes self-obsessive, shutting out other people. She argues that “if you can be okay with yourself, you can have a lot more room to have other people in your life”. If you feel lonely and depressed you will have low self-esteem and avoid social contact – leading to a “snowball effect” compounding your loneliness.

Johann discusses the “snowball effect” of loneliness in terms of both perception of threat and accelerated response time to potential threat. People who are lonely tend to exhibit “micro-awakenings”, a trait common amongst people who are anxious because they don’t feel protected when asleep. This state of “hypervigilance” leads to the perception of threat even when it does not exist (or experience of a slight when none is intended). The research quoted by Johann shows too that people who are experiencing loneliness tend to react twice as quickly to perceived threat as those who are not lonely.

Breaking out of loneliness

Johann argues that people experiencing loneliness are forever scanning their environment for threats because they do not feel as if anyone is looking after them – they perceive that no one “has their back”. He maintains that what they need is more love and kindness together with reassurance.

Dr. Hilarie Cash, who has extensively researched addiction to gaming and the internet, maintains that these addictions are often an attempt to escape from the sense of loneliness. She argues that what is needed is “connection with one another in a safe, caring way” – a face-to-face connection not a remote, superficial interaction mediated by a screen.

In a brief video about overcoming isolation, John Cacioppo explains how people have successfully overcome extreme isolation and loneliness. He maintains that breaking out of loneliness requires a change in cognition (the way we think about ourselves and others) as well as approaching others “in a way that is positive, in a way that is engaging and that is mutually enjoyable”.

How mindfulness can help to overcome loneliness and depression

One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is that meditation can assist us to overcome feelings of hurt and resentment. It can help us to find ways of forgiving ourselves and others. Through mindfulness practices, we can achieve calm, clarity and self-regulation (of our thoughts, emotions and actions).

Mindfulness can help us savour what we have – our work, our children, our friendships and the present moment. It can help us to slow down and express genuine gratitude which generates positive energy and builds relationships. Overall, mindfulness can help us to cultivate awareness of others, overcome self-absorption and engage in “compassion in action“. As we grow in mindfulness, we can move beyond loneliness and depression, learn to value ourselves, appreciate the present moment and reach out to others through reflective listening and compassionate action.

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Image by dima_goroziya from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Carers Need Self-Care

Much of the focus in the resources on mindfulness is on ways to help people who are suffering from conditions that are debilitating such as mental illness or chronic pain.  Very little of the resources focus on ways to help carers in their role – ways to manage the physical and psychological toll of caring for someone else on a constant and extended basis.  Carers are the overlooked group – forgotten by others and themselves.

Carers: people who care and support others

Carers come in all shapes and sizes  – adults looking after ageing parents who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; siblings caring for a family member who has a mental health condition such as schizophrenia, anxiety or depression; or anyone caring for someone suffering from a physical condition such as paraplegia, chronic pain or cancer.  According to Carers Australia, carers are people who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged.

The toll of caring

The “burden of care” can be felt both physically and psychologically.  The physical toll for carers can be excessive – they can become exhausted and/or accident-prone, suffer from sleep disorders or experience bodily symptoms of stress such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue or related conditions like fibromyalgia. The physical toll of caring can be experienced as cumulative stress and lead to chronic conditions that adversely affect the carer’s long-term health.

The psychological toll of caring can also be cumulative in nature and extremely variable in its impact.  Carers can experience negative emotions such as resentment or anger, despite their compassion towards the person who is being cared for.  They can become extremely frustrated over the paucity of time available for themselves, the opportunity cost in terms of inability to travel or to be away for any length of time, the lack of freedom (feeling tied down), the lack of improvement in the condition of the person being cared for or the financial impost of caring (preventing desired savings/purchases or home improvements). 

Carers do not have inexhaustible personal resources – physical, psychological and financial.  They can suffer from compassion fatigue which can be hastened by emotional contagion resulting from close observation of, and identification with, the pain of a loved one.  Hence, carers can experience depression, anxiety or grief – reflecting the emotional state of their loved ones who are suffering.

The toll on carers has been the subject of extensive research.  For example, Emma Stein studied the psychological impact on older female carers engaged in informal aged care.  Sally Savage and Susan Bailey reviewed the literature on the mental health impact on the carer of their caregiving role and found that the impact was highly variable and moderated by factors such as the relationship between caregiver and receiver and the level of social support for the carer.

Being mindful of your needs as a carer

The fundamental problem is that carers become so other-focused that they overlook their own needs – their need for rest, time away, relaxation and enjoyment.  Normal needs can become intensified by the burden of care and the associated physical and psychological stressors.  Carers tend to neglect their own needs in the service of others.  However, in the process, they endanger their own mental and physical health and, potentially, inhibit their capacity to sustain quality care.

Carers can inform themselves of the inherent physical and psychological consequences of being a caregiver, particularly if this involves intensive, long-term caring of a close loved one (where feelings are heightened, and the personal costs intensified).  Mental Health Carers Australia highlights the fact that people who care for someone with a mental health illness are increasingly at risk of “developing a mental illness themselves”.

Self-care for the carer

One of the more effective ways that carers can look after themselves is to draw on support networks – whether they involve family, colleagues or friends; broad social networks; or specific networks designed for carers.  Arafmi, for example, provides carer support for caregivers of people with a mental illness and their services include a 24-hour carer helpline, carers forum, blog, educational resources, workshops and carer support groups. Carers Queensland provides broader-based carer resources and support groups.

Carers tend to go it alone, not wanting to burden others with “their” problem(s).  They are inclined to refuse help from others when it is offered because of embarrassment, fear of dependency, concern for the other person offering help, inability to “let go” or any other inhibiting emotion or thought pattern – in the process, they may stop themselves from sharing the load.

Carers could seek professional help from qualified professionals such as medical doctors or psychologists if they notice that they are experiencing physical or psychological symptoms resulting from carer stress.

Mindfulness for carers

Carers can use mindfulness practices, reflection and meditation to help them cope with the physical and emotional stresses of caregiving.  Specific meditations can address negative feelings, especially those of resentment and the associated guilt.  Mindfulness practices can introduce processes that enable the carer to wind down and relax – such as mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating or using awareness as the default when caught up with “waiting” (a constant companion of the carer role).

Carers can employ techniques such as body scan to relax their bodies and release physical tension.  Deep, conscious breathing can also help in times of intense stress such as when experiencing panic. For people who are religious, prayer can help to provide calm and hope.

Dr. Chris Walsh (mindfulness.org.au), offers a simple mindfulness exercise for self-care by carers in his website article, Caring for CarersThe exercise involves focusing, re-centering, imagining and noticing (thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations).

As carers grow in mindfulness, they can become more aware of the stress they are under and the physical and psychological toll involved. This growing awareness can lead to effective self-care through social and professional support and meditation and/or mindfulness practices. Mindfulness can help carers develop resilience and calmness in the face of their stressful caregiver role.

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Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

The Lifelong Journey into Inner and Outer Awareness

Diana Winston in her book , The Little Book of Being, suggests that if we let our meditation and mindfulness practices slip, our achievement of natural awareness will diminish and the change in this direction will become “dormant”.  She argues for “lifelong practice” to keep “our meditation vibrant and interesting” (p.206).

The lifelong journey into inner awareness

There are times when we gain insight into who we really are and how we respond to various stimuli.  We may surprise ourselves when we discover the level of resentment we still carry towards someone for an action that occurred many years ago; or we might gain insight into the ways we express anger covertly; or unconsciously seek the approval of others.  These insights gained throughout our journey into inner awareness through meditation and mindfulness practices can be translated progressively into behavioural change.

We might gain clarity about the factors influencing our responses – we come to an understanding of the influence of early parental criticism on our current behaviour; or time spent away from our parents when very young (e.g. under five); or loss of a sibling; or being a child of an alcoholic parent.  While our understanding grows of the impact of these influences, it takes a lifelong journey to break free of the hold of these influences and to translate these insights into new behaviours.

We might experience what Tara describes as a “waking up” and the associated deep shift inside ourselves which is difficult to explain but finds expression in increased tolerance of others, heightened sensitivity or a readily accessible stillness and calm in times of crisis. Despite these shifts, we might still be prone to anger when caught in traffic while rushing to get somewhere; still interrupt people’s conversation to divert the conversation to ourselves; still fail to express our real feelings; or still indulge in any other form of inadequate or inappropriate behaviour.  Despite the experience of a deep personal shift in inner awareness, we have not arrived at the end of the journey because meditation is not a “quick fix” – it’s a pathway to guide us on the journey into the unknown.

The lifelong journey into outer awareness

Through our meditation and mindfulness practices, we can increase our natural awareness – attain increasing awareness in the present moment of what and who is around us.  We can begin to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise as it occurs and bask in its unique configuration and colour; we can be increasingly cognisant of, and sensitive to, the pain of others; we can become aware of how grateful we are for the things that we have and/or can do in life – and yet, at other times, we may be oblivious of what is around us (the beauty of nature or the sounds of birds) and fail to notice, or act to relieve, someone’s suffering or pain because of self-preservation.

Outer awareness grows over time with regular practice but can become blurred by the intensity of our thoughts or feelings – the inner fog.  We need to continually pull back the screen of our self-preoccupation and self-projection to allow the light of natural awareness to shine on the world and people around us.  Outer awareness requires a lifelong journey into wonder through growing curiosity and openness (repressing the need to judge).

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practices, our natural awareness grows so that we can be more in-the -moment.  We can gain progressive insight into ourselves; the influences shaping our behaviour and responses; and attain ever increasing inner awareness to the point of experiencing a major shift or “waking up”.  We can broaden our outer awareness and our attunement to, and connection with, other people. All the time, though, we will develop a deepening insight into how long the journey is to attain inner and outer awareness – the realisation of the need for a lifelong journey.

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Image: Sunrise at Wynnum, Queensland 10 July 2019

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Curiosity and Compassion Towards a Family Member

Mitra Manesh, meditation teacher and founder of the mindfulness app Innermap, offers a guided meditation titled Curiosity and Compassion in the Family.  The focus of this meditation is as much about self-compassion as it is about compassion towards family members.  Like other guided meditations offered through the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Mitra’s meditation has a brief input but the 30-minute meditation podcast is primarily a meditation practice.  It progresses from a grounding exercise, through to an input on the challenge presented by family members, followed by two compassion exercises – one towards yourself, the other towards a family member.

Mitra defines mindfulness as “kind acceptance and awareness of our present moment experience”.  Underlying this approach is compassion (self-compassion and compassion towards others) and curiosity (the catalyst for awareness).

Becoming grounded – arriving at the meditation

Mitra encourages you to first find a position and posture that is comfortable and that will enable you to become grounded.  By bringing your attention to your intention for the meditation, you can physically and mentally arrive at the meditation.   You can start with some deep breaths followed by resting in your breathing.  Mitra suggests that you then scan your body to locate points where you experience comfort – allowing yourself to pay attention to the warmth, tingling or other pleasant sensation.  Invariably your mind will notice points of pain or discomfort – again bring your attention to each of these points and release the tension at that point, allowing yourself a sense of ease and relaxation.

At this stage, focusing on an anchor will help to maintain your groundedness as distracting thoughts will invariably intrude into your process of releasing and relaxing – bringing new tensions such as a sense of time urgency or the need to plan for tasks to be done.  Mitra suggests that you tell yourself that you don’t have to be anywhere else or to do anything else during the 30 minutes of this guided meditation.  The anchor can be a sound – internal such as the air conditioning or external such as the sound of birds.  It can be your breathing – returning to rest in the interval between your in-breath and your out-breath.  Whatever you do, don’t beat up on yourself for these distractions.

Family – a challenging environment

Mitra reminds us that meditation practice is designed to assist us to lead our day-to-day lives mindfully.  One of the most challenging arenas for mindful practice is the family – individual family members can be particularly challenging because of their personality, mental illness, life stresses or a multitude of other factors.  Even very experienced meditators find some family members to be particularly challenging.

One of the problems is that family members become too familiar – we have seen them often and we think we know them, understand them and can predict their behaviour.  However, the presumption of knowledge can result in a lack of curiosity and desire to understand – it can lead to hasty judgments and a lack of compassion. 

Curiosity, on the other hand, will lead us to understand the nature of the mental illness suffered by a family member.  We might presume we know about depression and how it plays out in their lives and yet we can judge them as lazy when they spend most of their day sleeping and continuously leave their room and surrounds in an absolute mess.  If we explore the nature of their illness we might discover, for example, that they are suffering from the complexity of schizoaffective disorder which may involve the symptoms of schizophrenia along with manic depression – a complex mix of disabling conditions that can lead to compulsive shopping, impulsive action, constant depression and the inability to communicate about their depression or hallucinatory episodes.  So, not only are they disabled by depression, but they are also incapacitated by the inability to seek social support.  We might think we know and understand about the mental illness of a family member but the complexity of the arena of mental health would suggest that we have little insight.  If you have never experienced the black dog of depression, you are unlikely to have a real sense of the depth and breadth of its disabling character. 

Mitra encourages us to become “unfamiliar” with our family members and to become instead curious about them – “but compassionately so”.  This includes “showing them who you are” while encouraging them to show themselves.

A self-compassion meditation

Mitra provides a self-compassion meditation (at the 11th minute mark) following the discussion of the family as the “most charged” arena of our lives.  Accordingly, she suggests beginning with a deep breath to release any tensions that may have accumulated during the discussion of family challenges.

She asks you to consider how your posture and breathing would be different if you were adopting a “compassionate curiosity” towards yourself. This compassionate curiosity, a sense of wonder, can be extended to curiosity about your bodily tensions and your feelings.  Are you feeling anxiety about a family member’s depression? Is your body tense, or your mind agitated or are you carrying feelings of resentment along with the bodily manifestations of this abiding anger?

What happens to your mind’s chatter and your body’s sensations when you extend forgiveness and compassion towards yourself for your self-absorption, hasty judgements, lack of understanding and self-satisfaction with “knowing” the other person.  Can you let go of all your self-stories and beliefs that block this self-compassion?  Compassionate curiosity enables you, ultimately, to rest in self-acceptance

You can ask yourself what you are needing and feeling at this point in the meditation and ask for the fulfillment of your needs as you touch your heart and feel the warmth therein. Mitra identifies some needs that you may have, including the need to forgive yourself for all the mistakes that you have made in your interactions with family members.

Compassion towards a family member

At the 28-minute mark of the guided meditation, Mitra suggests you focus on a family member, following your self-compassion meditation.  You could bring your attention to a family member with whom you have had a disturbing interaction.  Its important to bring that chosen person fully into focus.

You can request that you change your relationship to them, for, example, “May I be curious about you to understand you and to prevent myself from forming hasty judgments about you?”; “May I be genuinely compassionate towards you?”

Mitra suggests that you frame your request in terms of a single word that you can revisit from time to time, e.g. “understanding”.  The request could be framed as, “May I understand you and you understand me”.  Your compassionate curiosity will enable you to show yourself and your genuineness.

As we grow in mindfulness, through self-compassion meditation and extending compassion towards a family member, we can develop our compassionate curiosity towards ourselves and them and deepen our understanding and acceptance of them and ourselves.

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Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Finding the Well of Ease in Times of Anxiety

Diana Winston, in a guided meditation on anxiety provides a way to tap into the well of ease and peace that lies within each of us. Her meditation is titled Leaving Anxiety Street because we often feel at home in our anxiety – we tend to see anxiety as our residence, our natural habitat, and become blind to the ease of wellness within us that we can access at any time. Diana suggests that we can become lost in our own life dramas, our narratives and anticipations that feed our anxiety. The meditation she offers enables us to locate a new home that is built on the ease of wellness.

The well of ease

We have a natural tendency to a negative bias and often “fear the worst”, rather than anticipate the best. This bias serves to ingrain our anxiety so that we become stuck in the groove of negativity. However, deep within us lies the well of ease that we can access, a stillness and peace that is deep and boundless.

Diana likens this well of ease to the stillness and calm that lies deep below the turbulence of the waves. We can access this ease by looking below the surface of the waves that create turbulence in our lives. She suggests that the deeper you go, the vaster and more peaceful is the place that you will find. The more frequently you visit the well of ease through meditation, the more it will feel like home, and anxiety will begin to feel like a foreign place.

Accessing the well of ease and peace through meditation

Diana’s guided meditation for finding ease and peace involves a number of steps that progressively move us deeper into the well of ease:

  1. As usual the meditation begins with becoming physically grounded, beginning with a number of deep, conscious breaths. This is followed by adopting a posture that is supportive and upright on the chair, with your feet flat on the surface of the floor. Closing your eyes and placing your hands on your lap can facilitate focus on the meditation.
  2. Once grounded physically, the next step is a progressive body scan, moving from the feet to the jaw and forehead, at each point releasing the tension and softening the focal part of the body. This releases the bodily tension that accompanies anxiety – reflected in the tightness in your calves, the frown on your forehead, the stiff shoulders, the tight stomach muscles, the grinding of teeth and/or the soreness in your neck.
  3. As you relax and soften the muscles in your body, you can begin to focus on your breath wherever you experience the sensation of breathing – the rise and fall of your stomach, the flow of air in and out through your nose or the lift and fall of your chest. This process involves noticing your breath, not attempting to control it – letting go just like you need to do with the grip of your anxiety.
  4. You will invariably experience distractions as your memories and stories begin to play again, dragging your attention away from your breath. The process here involves sitting with and naming your feelings, not denying them because you should not be experiencing negative emotions such as sadness or resentment. Even anger can be a “powerful and healthy force in your life”, if you manage it rather than let it control you. Naming your feelings and experiencing their intensity can help you tame them.
  5. After you have accepted what is, your feelings and their intensity, you can move your focus back to your breath and the calmness that resides there, including the space between breaths.
  6. Next shift your focus to the sounds around you – sounds coming and going such as that of the birds or the wind. You might even be conscious of the stillness and silence that surrounds you wherever you are. This process of focusing on sounds can intensify your physical and mental grounding and create its own form of peace.
  7. Recall a time when you experienced a deep sense ease and peace and capture what it felt like – experience the sensations again as well as the calmness and sense of wellbeing you achieved.
  8. You can then repeat a desire such as, “May I continue to experience deep peace, joy and ease”.

Repetition deepens the well of ease

The more often you can repeat this meditation, the deeper will be the well of ease that you experience. You can use an anchor to access this well by having some physical action such as joining your fingers together and feeling the tingling, warmth and energy that courses through them. It is important to choose your own anchor but incorporate it as often as possible in your meditation practice – in this way, employing the anchor outside the meditation practice will more readily enable you to recapture the sense of ease and peace.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, our inner awareness increases, and we are able to access the deep well of ease that lies within each of us. Sustaining the practice of meditation will deepen the well which can be readily accessed through our personal anchor when we are not engaged in meditation.

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Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Bringing an Open Heart to Work

Susan Piver, author of Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation, presented recently at the Mindfulness@Work Summit on the topic, Create Open Heart Connections at Work.  She explained that having an “open heart” means “softening towards self and our experiences” – accepting ourselves and our life experiences as they are.  In her view it does not mean only having positive thoughts, just being nice all the time or being overly kind to everybody.  While Susan stresses the “softening” aspect of an open heart, she asserts very strongly that there is nothing weak about having an open-hearted stance – in fact, it takes incredible courage to truly face the reality of ourselves and our experience, not hiding behind a mask.  This openheartedness develops rich workplace relations built on respect and a profound recognition of connectedness – thus enabling creativity and innovation to flourish.

Hiding behind a mask

As mentioned in my previous post, we are constantly projecting onto others by judging them by their actions while thinking positively about ourselves because of our good intentions.  Many times, our judgments are projections of what we do not like about our self rather than an innate feature of the character of the other person.  We are not open to our blind spots or unconscious bias. We can carry resentment that is based on false assumptions and a lack of understanding.

We have this tendency to hold onto a self-image that protects our sense of self-worth and, at the same time, creates distance from others.  In contrast, being open hearted enables “respectful relationships” that are essential for workplace productivity, creativity and innovation.  Susan argues that Western society is obsessed with self-improvement but that the starting position for an individual is often self-delusion, a figment of our imagination rather than facing what is real about ourselves.  Even being perfect at meditation becomes a goal in itself.

Meditation as a pathway to an open heart

Meditation enables us to be with ourselves as we are – our feelings, thoughts, disappointments, hopes, anxieties and fears.  It involves a “softening to self” – a path of curiosity and self-discovery.  We begin to notice what is really there not what we think is, or should be, there.  It helps us to surf the waves of life rather than ignore that they exist.  However, an open heart is not achieved easily – it requires a fierce commitment and the courage to “free fall” without the support of self-delusion.

The resultant openness to our real self is liberating – it can be truly transformative.  Part of this outcome is acknowledgement and acceptance of our vulnerability, rather than a pretence of our strength and invincibility.  Susan points out too that the things that are valued in the workplace such as innovation, creativity, insight, wisdom and compassion all require “receptivity” – an openness to receiving, the capacity to be truly present and the ability to connect constructively.  An open heart helps us to negotiate work and life challenges and to engage with others in the workplace in a helpful and creative way. 

The Open Heart Project

The Open Heart Project, led by Susan Piver, is an international, online community of over 20,000 people who engage in ongoing mindfulness meditation practice and sharing.  It is designed to bring peace and harmony to the world through true self-compassion and in-depth relationships and connection.  Susan also offers free information and guided meditations to individuals who subscribe to her weekly newsletter through her blog page.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation that facilitates an open heart, we begin to see our self and our experiences as they truly are, develop genuine self-compassion and build constructive, productive and creative workplace relationships.

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Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Reduce Resentment through Reflection

In previous posts I provided meditations to deal with the thoughts and judgments associated with resentment and the feelings precipitated by the words and actions that you are resentful about. Sometimes resentment runs so deep and is aggravated by other intense emotions and/or related events, that it is difficult to sustain your focus during a meditation. Some relatively isolated event could even surface resentment that has lain dormant for many years. You might find that your emotions are so stirred up and your related thoughts so rapid or random, that meditation is extremely difficult.

One way to overcome these difficulties is to combine reflection with journalling – in other words, writing or keying responses to a series of reflective questions. The very act of writing down or keying up your responses to these questions enables you to get your thoughts “out of your head”, understand what you are thinking and why, name your feelings and begin to view the conflicted situation from the perspective of the other person. There is nothing like empathy, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, to dissipate resentment.

In the following sections I offer a series of reflective questions covering a range of topic areas related to unearthing and reducing resentment. If a question or series of questions do not resonate with you at this point in time, do not worry about it or try to force a response – just move on. Sometimes it takes only one question to break down the wall of resentment.

Reflections about events that resurface your resentment

  • What was the catalyst for the re-emergence of your resentment? Was it a specific event, news report, social media comment or interaction with, or sighting of, the other person involved?
  • What was your behaviour when the catalyst occurred? Did you spend your time talking to others, recalling the precipitating event from the past and intensifying your agitation by re-telling the story? If it was an interaction or sighting, did you express your anger, act curtly towards the other person or avoid them entirely for fear that either you or they would act inappropriately?
  • Are there other external events or interactions that reinforce or intensify your feelings? For example, the precipitating event in the past may have involved misrepresentation of facts and/or false accusations. Untruths or misrepresentations reported in the press or false accusations made about another person on social media, may intensify your feelings of resentment (even though the misrepresentation or false accusation reported may have limited direct impact on you).
  • Do you experience a desire for revenge – wishing some misfortune for the other person?

Reflections about the initial, precipitating event or interaction

  • What was the initial precipitating event or interaction? What actually happened? Sometimes just recalling the situation may diffuse your resentment because, in the light of hindsight, the issue may seem so trivial now. Alternatively, being accurate about what actually happened, not your interpretation of the event or interaction (nor your assumptions about the other person’s motivation), can help you become more clearly focused on your thoughts, judgments and residual feelings.
  • What was the impact of the initial event/interaction for you? What happened as a result? How did you feel at the time – embarrassed, angry, defensive, distracted, antagonistic? Did you have a strong sense of injustice, unfairness or dishonesty? Did insensitivity from the other person compound your feelings of hurt and resentment?
  • What identity issues were playing out for you? Was your integrity unfairly challenged? Was there a baseless claim that created a situation where you had to publicly defend yourself? What impact did the event/interaction have on your personal and/or professional reputation? How did it impact your sense of self and achievement of your purpose in life?

What sensitivity on your part was aroused by the precipitating event/interaction?

  • Is there anything in your early family experience that made you particularly sensitive about what happened during the precipitating event/interaction? Did you feel abandoned, criticised unjustly, neglected (your needs not being met), isolated, unsupported or abused? How did these feelings tap into any prior experience? Did the event/interaction uncover what was a “blind spot” for you?
  • Were your words and actions at the time disproportionate to what the other person said or did? Did your response highlight a particular personal sensitivity?
  • What judgments have you formed about the other person? Do you consider the other person thoughtless, lazy, dishonest, ungrateful, mean, disrespectful or revengeful? Do you believe that they would lie under any circumstance or that they believe “the end justifies the means”? Do you think they are a freeloader or that they trade on their family/business name? What do these thoughts/judgments say about your own values?
  • What assumptions have you made about their motivation? What is the basis for these assumptions? What do these assumptions say about you and your goals? Are you a competitive person?

Reflections from the perspective of the other person

There are several ways to explore the perspective of the other person. Here are three areas for reflection to gain a better understanding of what it all meant for them.

How they experienced the precipitating event/interaction – their concerns, feelings and identity issues

  • What happened for the other person in the initial interaction/event? Did they consider themselves exposed, threatened, embarrassed or under attack? Were their words and actions designed to achieve self-protection? What potential loss could they have faced in the situation? Were they trying to “save face”? [Tim Dalmau, when explaining the perspective of NLP, stated that the starting point for understanding others is to realise that “their behaviour, however self-defeating, is self-caring”]
  • How do you think the other person felt? They may have felt locked in, unable to think of another way out of their dilemma. They could have felt vulnerable, insecure or exposed. They may have felt that they had failed in some respect. They could have been experiencing non-specific anger and lashed out at the first person they interacted with. They could have been depressed, anxious and wary. What feelings do you think could have been at play for them?
  • What identity issues were involved for the other person? How were they trying to protect their sense of self-worth? What was at stake for them in terms of their sense of competency, their perception of their own goodness and self-assessment of their lovability?

Pressures and stresses experienced by the other person

  • What kind of stress was the other person experiencing? Did they have marital/relationship problems, financial difficulties, job insecurity, illness in the family or personal ill-health? Did they have a carer role?
  • Were there parental pressures, peer perceptions or social/work expectations at play for them? Were they just modelling the behaviour of their hierarchy? Was parental acceptance and financial support dependent on their achieving “success”? – a conditional parental love? What would happen to them if they were cut adrift by their parents and/or left without social support? How would they cope mentally if their external source of self-definition was removed? Did they grow up in a family where there was no moral compass or a morality dependent on what was needed to achieve a desired outcome?

Putting yourself in their place – empathy and forgiveness

  • In what way were their words and actions designed to be “self-caring”?
  • Have you ever engaged in the same behaviours that you ascribe to the other person? Empathy and compassion flow from honesty with yourself – if you maintain the “moral high ground”, despite evidence to the contrary, then you will have real difficulty in being empathetic towards another person.
  • Can you forgive yourself for your own behaviour during the precipitating event and, subsequently, when you have “maintained the rage” and indulged in resentment? Self-forgiveness may take a long time to achieve and repeated attempts at a forgiveness meditation.
  • Are you able to forgive the other person? Forgiveness is easier when you have built up your understanding of the other person and their actions.

Turning intention into action

You might intend to be less resentful, but how are you going to put this intention into action? There are four questions that can help you in this process of translating intention into action:

  • What are you going to do more of? – e.g. reflecting on what it meant for the other person and what are their driving forces/influences (trying to understand their perspective in all its elements – thoughts, feelings, consequences, identity issues).
  • What are you going to do less of? – e.g. this could be less re-visiting of the precipitating situation and/or less negative judging of the other person’s behaviour.
  • What are you going to stop doing? – e.g. telling other people your side of the story and/or “bad mouthing” the other person (elicits support and sympathy for your perspective and reinforces your resentment).
  • What are you going to start doing? – e.g. approach the other person with an open mind and heart.

I am not suggesting that overcoming resentment is easy – but reducing resentment is possible with persistent effort, e.g through the suggested meditations and reflections. Resentment is typically a very strong emotion that is deeply rooted in our psyche and held in place by our assumptions. Unless resentment is tackled, it can eat away at you and lead to physical and psychological health problems. It is important to chip away at resentment, to dig up its roots and to break down the walls that it creates. Persistent personal work will lead to lasting results.

As we grow in mindfulness (particularly inner awareness) through meditation and reflection we can gradually reduce our resentment and develop self-forgiveness and forgiveness for others. Compassion grows out of a deepening understanding of the other person.

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Image by FarfOuille from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Dealing with Your Feelings of Hurt and Resentment

When someone says or does something that hurts you or upsets you, you can jump to hasty judgments about the person – one hurtful event can precipitate your judgment that the person is superficial, thoughtless, vengeful, or any other derogatory assessment. Maintaining these thoughts enables you to justify your continual resentment about the individual.

In the previous post, I discussed how to overcome your hasty judgments through conscious breathing and noticing your thought stream. Here I want to explore meditation approaches to deal with the residual feelings of resentment, resulting from the hurtful words or actions of another person.

Noticing your thoughts and associated judgments

Building on the guided meditation provided in the previous post, it can be helpful to more fully explore your thoughts and associated judgments about a particular individual – basically, focusing more fully on your stream of thoughts about an individual which may be precipitating your negative feelings such as hurt, anxiety, anger or resentment. You can then follow your thought stream in relation to this person, e.g. “he is an attention seeker”, “a lazy person trading on his family’s influence”, “a troublemaker out to make life difficult” or “she is just another narcissistic person”. Having observed your thinking in relation to this “difficult” individual, you can explore the stereotype that you are accessing and note what limited information is shaping your hasty judgment.

Focusing on your feelings of hurt and resentment

The next step is to focus in on the feelings generated by your thoughts and judgments about the “difficult” individual. These feelings may be associated with an adverse interaction or a series of interactions. You need to name the feeling so that you can tame its intensity and its influence over your emotional state and your interactions with the individual (or your complaints to others about the individual). The challenge is to stay with the feeling and experience its intensity, while treating yourself with self-compassion, not negative judgment. What might be useful here is to use the R.A.I.N. meditation approach (recognise, accept, investigate, nurture).

Investigating your sensitivity

You might say by way of justification of your sustained resentment, that anyone in your position would have felt hurt. However, to maintain resentment towards an individual suggests a deep hurt born out of a specific sensitivity – such as feeling abandoned, abused, neglected or belittled in your past life (including in your childhood). As you identify and stay with the feeling of resentment, you can explore what in your past has given rise to your present emotions – what events or circumstances have increased your sensitivity in regard to the “difficult” individual’s words and actions. This requires a lot of personal honesty and what Brian Shiers describes as “granularity” in relation to your inner awareness. It is taking your meta awareness to another depth of self-understanding. Recognising these earlier influences on your reactivity will help you to understand your resentment and to sustain your self-compassion.

Exploring the other person’s perspective

In the heat of the moment of an adverse interaction, it is very difficult for you to see a conflict from the other person’s perspective. However, while you are developing your self-understanding through exploring your own sensitivities, you can explore the potential perspective of the other person and attempt to identify and understand the influences that may have shaped their perspective.

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) provides a three-step analysis of a conflict based on what is involved in any conflict, i.e. content, feelings, personal identity. Looking at the other person’s perspective from this angle creates the opportunity for understanding, tolerance and compassion. Mary Neal, in her book on her near death experience, makes the point that true compassion for another person flows from fully understanding the individual and the multiple influences that shaped that person’s perspective and behaviour. Some of these influences are socially constructed perspectives.

Understanding the ingrained impact of social conditioning

For example, Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist specialising in cognitive neuroimaging, maintains that there is no innate difference between a male and a female brain. In her book, The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain, she provides a compelling case that influences at play (such as family, society, work and education) create a “gendered world” which, in turn, shapes gendered brains through the process of brain plasticity which continuously creates and modifies our neural pathways. So our responses to stimuli are deeply wired in our brain and these embodied neural pathways can lead to unconscious, automatic reactivity. So, it is necessary to “know yourself” as well as to know the other, in order to clear away resentment and replace it with self-compassion and compassion for the other person.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on our thoughts, judgments, feelings and the influences shaping our reactivity (and that of other individuals), we can achieve a level of inner awareness and understanding that can reduce feelings of resentment and engender self-compassion and compassion for others.

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Image by Andi Graf from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Forgiveness: Forgiving Our Self and Others

Forgiveness is challenging because it is not a one-off event. We are continually hurt by others and hurt them, often unconsciously. It is one thing to forgive others for words and/or actions that are hurtful and another thing to forgive ourselves for the hurt we cause. According to recent research, mindfulness can improve our tendency to forgiveness and our willingness to forgive a past offense, according to

Developing a tendency to forgive others

If we are able to develop a mindful disposition – consciously monitoring our physical, mental and emotional health – we are better able to reduce our negativity and improve our likelihood to forgive. When we feel hurt by someone, we can harbour the negative emotions of anger and resentment – feelings that become compounded by the re-telling of the story of the hurtful action to others. We can become obsessed with our rightfulness in the situation and elaborate on how much we have been wronged, entrenching our feelings of hurt and anger.

Mindfulness can help us to name these negative feelings and learn to tame them. It can give us insight into our own sensitivities and the pattern of our own emotional responses. In a conflict situation, it can also help us to understand the perspective of the other person who has, consciously or unconsciously, hurt us. In the process, it can assist us to develop a tendency to forgive others.

Forgiving our self: a lifelong process

It is one thing to forgive others for the hurt they cause us; it is another task – often more challenging – to forgive our self for the hurt we cause others. For one thing, we tend to be blind to the way we hurt others – we often will not let our recollection of these events reach conscious awareness because they are perceived as damaging to our self-esteem – our sense of our own (superior) worthiness.

There is also the difficulty of dealing with the very strong negative emotions of guilt and shame, once we have surfaced our recollection of our own hurtful words and actions. These emotions are hard to deal with and require a concerted, conscious effort to overcome them – a process involving lifelong learning and reflection.

Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, offers a forgiveness meditation in her article, Practise Self-Compassion with Forgiveness. The meditation begins with focusing on forgiveness towards others and then our attention is directed to forgiveness of ourselves.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop a mindful disposition, an understanding of the perspective and hurt of others and awareness of our ingrained feelings of hurt (and related sensitivities). We can gradually, with concerted effort, develop the tendency to forgive others (for present and past hurts) and, at the same time, slowly develop self-forgiveness for the hurt we have caused others.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Parallel Conversations: Hidden Assumptions, Thoughts and Feelings

So often we end up engaging in conversations that are based on assumptions that are never made explicit. Each party to the conversation assumes they know what the other person is thinking and feeling but does not make this assumption known to the other person. The result is a parallel conversation – a conversation lacking touchpoints, where both parties are on the same track, talking about the same things with open awareness about what they and the other person is thinking and feeling.

The catalyst for this reflection is a conversation between Paulo and Karla, his female companion, reported in Hippie, a biographical journey written by Paulo Coelho. The book is a fascinating revelation of Paulo’s early days before he became a famous writer (today he is the “most translated living author”, having sold in excess of 300 million books). In the reported conversation (pp. 178-181), Paulo and Karla each assume they know what the other is thinking and feeling and each withholds information that they could have shared to reach a common understanding (the withheld information is provided in italics as the hidden conversation going on inside each person). The net result of this parallel conversation is reported by Paulo in the following words:

They were, yet again, travelling in opposite directions, no matter how hard they tried to reach one another.

Being aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

I find so often, that I am working off assumptions that subsequently prove to be wrong or, at least, inaccurate. This seems to become a more regular habit the longer you are in a relationship – you tend to assume that you already know what the other person is thinking and feeling, because much of your conversation is based on intuition and a lot of communication is unspoken – a nod, a smile, a shake of the head, a wave of the arms.

The starting point for avoiding parallel conversations is to become more aware of what is going on for you in the process of the conversation – becoming aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings. Assumptions can create a divide and unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings tend to precipitate assumptions by the other person who is a party to the conversation.

Reflecting on a conversation after it occurs can help to increase your awareness of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings, together with the impact they have on your relationship. Reflecting in the process of communicating (reflection-in-action), is more powerful but is an acquired skill and demands that you are fully present in the moment of the conversation.

In Western society, we have developed our thinking capacity to a very high degree, and we are continuously consumed by our thoughts – engaging in planning, analysing, evaluating, critiquing, justifying, summarising, synthesizing and comparing. The cost of spending so much time in thinking, is that we lose touch with our present reality or as Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, we lose the art of “being present”.

Sharing your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

While we continue to withhold our assumptions, thoughts and feelings, we are opening ourselves to the potential negative effects of parallel conversations – misunderstandings, resentment, time-wasting, energy-sapping interactions, disconnection and depression.

Through reflection on a conversation, we can become more aware of what was occurring for us in the conversation – what assumptions, thoughts and feelings we brought to the conversation. This growing awareness increases our capacity to share what is occurring for us and thus build the relationship rather than damage it. By practising this reflection-on-action (the conversation), we can progressively develop reflection-in-action (during the conversation), enabling us to share on-the-spot, our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can increase our awareness of our assumptions, thoughts and feelings and their impacts on our conversations and relationships. We can develop the capacity to be more fully present in a conversation and share what is going on for us rather than withholding information about our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

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Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.