Afflictive Emotions: Greed

usondollarGreed is an afflictive emotion involving a particular quality of desire. It is the intense, excessive and insatiable yearning for and/or pursuit of ever more. This is not the same as planning and taking action to meet basic and higher needs. Greed involves craving, a compulsion to possess more than is needed, and a strong urge to cling to excesses once we have them.

One of the problems with greed is that it can never be satisfied. It takes much time, attention, and energy to strive after, guard, and maintain possessions. This distracts us from other truly beneficial pursuits.

Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. – Erich Fromm

The things we pursue out of greed are temporary and devoid of intrinsic value. Because of this, we are bound to be disappointed again and again, driven by an unconscious cycle of longing and lack. We become like the snake that eats its own tail – rather than helping us savor life, greed devours it and leaves us hungry.

Greed can harm others by depleting them or depriving them of what they need. We can unwittingly demand more from others than is healthy for them to give. We may feel compelled to hoard precious resources so that there isn’t enough to go around. When others are so harmed, there is less space for them to act from their highest values which ultimately makes the world a more difficult place for everyone.

As with all afflictive emotions, greed arises from ignorance and/or confusion. Often greed comes from a desire to experience sensual pleasures and distract ourselves from what is unpleasant or unwanted. We ignore that fact that, given enough repetition, we always habituate to even the most enjoyable sensory experience. We will require more and more until even the maximum intensity no longer brings us joy. This ultimately leads to dissatisfaction.

Sometimes there is a fear of not having enough or a desire for power or dominance. We think that the things we possess will ensure our safety or protect us from pain. In our relentless pursuit, we forget that no matter our possessions we will all ultimately decline and die. So we waste the precious and uncertain amount of time we have in this life in a cycle of grasping at and clinging to ever more.

One antidote to greed is the practice of generosity. By giving to others without attachment to outcome, we experience a joy that is more powerful and longer lasting than the transient pleasure we experience from possessions. By releasing our grip on our “things”, we have an opportunity to face fears and gain courage through experience.

In yoga, we practice aparigraha, which is non-possessiveness or non-hoarding. We aspire to be free from attachment in word, thought, and deed by not striving after, accumulating and clinging to unnecessary things. This applies not only to material things like money, possessions, and gifts, but also with intangibles such as pleasurable feelings, validation, attention, assistance, accomplishment, power, and control.

Gratitude is another antidote to greed. By making a habit of giving thanks for what we receive, we see that nothing is truly ours alone to possess. We become aware of the good in what is freely available all around us. We develop an attitude of abundance and build contentment with what is already here.

The true antidote of greed is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn’t matter whether you obtain the object or not; either way, you are still content. – Dalai LamaThe Art of Happiness

From Getting There to Being Here

daily_meditation_1_17Given the many wonderful mindfulness practitioners I’ve met over the years, I am struck by a common thread that runs through our stories. Frequently, a pivotal event after a period of intense suffering is the kindling that lights the fire that fuels the journey. Many of us search for and strive after all sorts of “fixes” and “solutions”, some of them quite unskillful, before we stumble upon the healing practices of mindfulness.

People ask me about my journey and I always feel a little torn. Is it relevant? Will it help? Do I even really understand my journey? Its all stories, but maybe in the telling there is a sense of common humanity or some imparting of hope or inspiration. So here it is – my story – for what its worth, may it be of benefit.

There were surely many formative factors, both internal and external – maybe even some from before I was born – that shaped my path, but this is what seems most relevant now. I was sick often as a child, so I was aware of suffering and mortality on some level, with no useful framework for making sense of it. Looking back, I believe this primed me for a fair amount of cynicism and disillusionment later on. Suffering seemed unavoidable, isolating and pointless.

I remember reading The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy in high school. The depth of the protagonist’s isolation and suffering stuck with me, but I have no memory at all of his 11th hour liberation – that must have gone right over my head. Fortunately, I grew into good health, but the story line remained. Living from this type of narrative made the hardships stand out more boldly against the many joys and pleasures that were also present.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I think these early experiences were what eventually drew me to psychology as a study and a career. Working in a caring profession offered the possibility that I could help reduce suffering in some small way and that felt very meaningful to me. Life became more purposeful and hopeful. Through my professional studies and work with clients, I learned the concepts and practices of mindfulness. They seemed radical, almost paradoxical, yet proved to be so much more powerful than many of the Western therapy approaches I was trained to deliver.

Through my own personal practice of mindfulness and in sharing the practices with clients, I experienced and witnessed subtle, yet profound changes. Some of the fruits of a consistent practice have included increased openness and flexibility in responding to experience, growing courage and confidence in facing difficulty, greater contentment and life satisfaction, and a more enduring sense of gratitude. These benefits make the practices self-reinforcing, necessitating less of the “will-power” and self-discipline that seem to be a part of many self-help strategies and key to their non-sustainability.

Whatever the truth of my journey may be, I am very grateful to have learned about mindfulness. My path continues to evolve and change and it has been interesting to watch it unfold. Perhaps my greatest joy is sharing what has been so nourishing and helpful to me with others who are open to it. The insights I have gained from my clients are immeasurable and priceless.

Now that I’ve shared my mindfulness journey with you, might you consider sharing yours? What brought you to the practice of mindfulness and what continues to sustain you?

 

Making Space for What Is

fullsizerender-5One of the most wonderful benefits of a dedicated mindfulness practice is the spaciousness that develops. This is not something you can currently read about in the research. After all, how would we measure it? There is probably some brilliant scientist out there who can operationally define it, but let me do my best to explain.

To me spaciousness means having room in the field of awareness for whatever is present. This requires letting go of things we have been clinging to as well as being open to things we have a habit of ignoring or pushing away. We make space to welcome in whatever comes our way. I suspect our true nature is spacious, but we clutter it up with all kinds of distractions.

When the mind is unexamined, we tend to operate from a place of constriction and fear. We avoid phenomena that we perceive as unwanted, ignore things that have little valence for us, and strive after experiences that we perceive as desirable. Through the practice of mindfulness, we begin to open, more and more, to all experience regardless of any associated feeling tone (pleasant, neutral, unpleasant).

Non-attachment is not the elimination of desire. It is the spaciousness to allow any quality of mind, any thought or feeling, to arise without closing around it, without eliminating the pure witness of being. It is an active receptivity to life. – Stephen Levine

When we purposefully attend to the present moment without judgment, we begin to see things as they actually are and we are often surprised to find most everything is workable. Each time we discover this, we gain courage to face increasingly difficult or unpleasant things. We develop a sort of fearlessness. We also recognize the impermanence and emptiness of pleasant things, which allows us to release some of our striving after and clinging to objects of desire. Finally, we see the interconnection of all things, which opens awareness to phenomena typically ignored as valueless.

There is great freedom and ease in the rediscovery of this spaciousness – a sense of abundance, inclusion, and expansiveness – at times even a glimpse of the potential for boundlessness. We feel less driven to fill up empty space with distractions and instead we allow things to come and go naturally from awareness. We become more flexible, more welcoming, softer, and lighter. Others are touched by this spaciousness, even included in it if they allow it. In this way the benefits of our personal practice ripple out into the world, spreading far beyond the “self”.

There is a presence, a silence, a stillness which is here by itself. There is no doer of it, no creator of this stillness. It is simply here in you, with you. It is the fragrance of your own self. There is nothing to do about this, it is naturally present. This fragrance of peace, this spaciousness, it is the fragrance of your own being. – Mooji

Afflictive Emotions: Pride

florida-gullsPride is an afflictive emotion that involves a profound feeling tone of pleasure attached to perceived personal qualities, actions, possessions, or accomplishments. Also known as arrogance or conceit, pride is considered an obstacle to spiritual growth (deadly sin, poison, unwholesome mental factor, klesha, or fetter) in most faith traditions.

When those who stand high offer admiration, do not smile with pride, do not accept attachments, for you may again be caught up in what is undesirable. – Yoga Sutra 3.52

It can be hard for us in the US to swallow this notion of pride because the word is used in a culturally sanctioned way here. I find it helpful to distinguish pride from appreciation or acknowledgement, which involves a full understanding of a situation including that which is wanted, neutral and unwanted. Pride is different because it disregards the neutral and unwanted in favor of what is desired – it clouds clear seeing.

Pride is a form of ignorance or delusion in that it involves a misguided belief in a separate, independent, eternal, unchanging and unique “self“. Even when we are proud of something or someone outside of us, it almost always reflects back somehow on the self. In this way, pride might be considered a type of greed because it is a manifestation of ego clinging. We tend to strive after, defend, and try to hold onto experiences that reify our sense of identity and we have a habit of ignoring, avoiding, or fighting against experiences that challenge it.

Pride also requires the use of comparison mind – seeking out differences and judging them. When we feel pride we elevate the self (or some aspect of it) above others and we think this means something fundamental about me. This motivates us to focus on and inflate certain factors that support a sense of pride, while ignoring or diminishing those that conflict with it.

Feelings of pride can make us forget our interconnectedness and take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride. The shadow side of “unique” and “special” is isolation. A high pedestal (or a deep pit for that matter) is a lonely place. When we see others as very different from us, especially when we see them as “less than” in some way, it becomes easier to disregard or mistreat them.

Concepts such as “good” and “bad”, “winning” and “losing”, “first” and “last” are not essential qualities of things – they are attributed to phenomena from the outside and they are highly subjective. However, we tend to respond to them as if they are “truth“. It is important to remember that everything changes, ends, or transforms and so too will that of which we feel proud.

Just as the antidote to greed is generosity, the antidote to this particular form of greed (the ego-clinging of pride) is a particular form of generosity – gratitude. Practicing gratitude means giving thanks and expressing appreciation for things that are given to us. We recognize that nothing we possess or express is ours alone. Everything we have, think, and do is the legacy of a long and complicated web of causes and conditions. Remembering this helps us see the bigger picture, take the long view, and manage change with greater calm and wisdom.

…when people in great numbers choose to practice, integrate, and embody gratitude, the cumulative force that is generated can help create the kind of world we all hope for and desire, for ourselves and for future generations.Angeles Arrien

Mindfulness Myths: #5 Its a Cure-All

fluffycloudsIn this series, I discuss the most common myths I encounter about mindfulness through my work as a psychologist and mindfulness coach and I attempt to debunk them.

Myth #5: Mindfulness Will Cure What Ails You

With all of the hype in the media about mindfulness, it may be tempting to see it as a panacea – a cure for whatever ails you, a strategy for self-improvement, or a formula for getting what you want out of life. Unfortunately, this view often leads fledgling practitioners to disappointment, causing them to give up on the practices all together.

While mindfulness practices can indeed result in useful changes, it is a gradual evolution that unfolds in its own time by opening to and allowing what is rather than an effortful resistance to what is unwanted or straining toward what is wanted. Striving for results is a rejection of what is, and this is antithetical to the practice of mindfulness.

What many practitioners discover in time is that the things that tended to historically bother us, trip us up, or cause us distress us do not just magically disappear. Rather, we learn to relate to difficulty in new way. We discover on an experiential level (not just intellectually) that we are not the thoughts and emotions that compound our suffering – the assumptions, expectations, rumination, judgments, and worry that plague the untrained mind. Through a willingness to be with that which is unwanted, but is already here, we begin to decenter from it, becoming less personally identified with it.

All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me. – Anthony de Mello

Difficult thoughts and emotions still arise and we remain aware of them, but they no longer take a leading role in our experience. With practice we get better at witnessing and observing phenomena, rather than getting caught up and swept away by thoughts and emotions. The associated feeling tone may become less intense, reactivity decreases, and space is created for more skillful responding (or non-responding). The subtle consequences of this new way of being reinforce the practice through the creation of a beneficial cycle. We gain the courage needed to face ever-greater difficulty with equanimity. Self-compassion increases as we better understand our habits and patterns. Wisdom grows as we see things more clearly, free from the veil of a biased narrative.

People who struggle with various human afflictions will not be cured by the practice of mindfulness, but they may find they can cope more effectively and experience less suffering. When we approach the practices with a beginner’s mind, momentarily setting aside our dreams and goals, the fruits of our efforts ripen, even without undue interference on our parts.

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. – Aldous Huxley, Island

 

 

Ashtanga Yoga for Depression & Anxiety?

mayashrineCould ashtanga yoga be a particularly helpful complimentary approach to managing depression and anxiety, enhancing the benefits of psychotherapy and/or psychopharmacology? We already know from the research that hatha yoga in general can be quite beneficial. But, might there be some aspects of ashtanga yoga in particular that would make it especially well suited? I would love to see some research addressing this hypothesis directly, but in the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

  1. Ashtanga yoga is a vigorous practice.

When practiced at a brisk pace, ashtanga yoga can be more aerobic and vigorous than other forms of yoga. The primary series has around 60 chaturangas (low push-ups) as well as numerous jump-backs and jump-throughs, that occur every five breaths or so. This intensity of physical activity is one of the aspects that may make it particularly well suited for helping with depression and anxiety. We already know that moderate exercise is correlated with increased endorphins, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and other hormones that help us feel content and modulate the body’s stress response. Less vigorous activity may not be as effective. Regular moderate exercisers are less likely to suffer from mental health disorders and those that do, have a decreased rate of relapse. The beneficial effects of moderate exercise tend to be longer lasting than many medications, although the time to take full effect may be longer. Exercise may also impact self-esteem and quality of sleep, which can improve mental health.

Just as a thought provoking aside, the ashtanga yoga primary and intermediate series include many forward folds and inversions, which B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga and Amy Weintraub in Yoga for Depression describe as beneficial for both depression and anxiety for a variety of physiological reasons. These claims are not yet rigorously scientifically tested, so this is another area where good research could be very helpful.

  1. Ashtanga yoga is a demanding practice.

The practice of ashtanga yoga demands much of its devotees. Practitioners quickly discover how our behavior in everyday life impacts the practice. Many ashtangis report naturally gravitating toward more healthful behavior in service to their practice. We may go to bed earlier so we can awaken refreshed for the early morning practice that is typical of this form of yoga. We may refrain from drinking too much alcohol so we don’t feel fatigued, dehydrated or nauseous. We may also drink more water for the same reason. We may become more conscious of what and when we eat so we don’t feel weighed down or have digestive issues during practice. Many of us forgo meat for this reason, as well as in observance of ahimsa or non-harming (see #4). This leads to eating a more plant-based diet, which we already know is a healthy habit. The intuitive gravitation toward more healthful behavior creates a healthier body, in turn establishing a better foundation for a healthy and balanced mind. Fortunately, the benefits that come from a devoted practice prove to be self-reinforcing and make the sacrifices seem worthwhile.

  1. Ashtanga yoga requires single pointed concentration and mindfulness.

When practicing ashtanga yoga, there is something called the tristhana, or three places of attention (breath, gaze and posture). We are instructed to breathe in a slow, steady and rhythmic manner in coordination with our movements and to take a particular drishti or gaze with each posture. We also activate the bandhas, or energy locks, contracting certain muscles throughout the practice. Along with executing a memorized and challenging sequence of postures, attending simultaneously to all of these aspects of inner experience at once requires considerable concentration. Mind wandering becomes less likely and interestingly, certain types of mind wandering may be an important component of anxiety and depression. Rumination, or repeatedly mulling over past events or future worries, is a major cause of suffering in these disorders. We unconsciously turn to it as a coping mechanism (along with avoidance), creating a painful feedback loop. Attending to experience is an antidote to avoidance and rumination. Ashtangis with a devoted practice spend a couple of hours each day practicing this type of concentration and mindfulness. We learn to maintain equanimity, moving smoothly through the practice, working with whatever arises, returning again and again to the intended points of focus.

  1. Ashtanga yoga remains a spiritual practice in the US.

Research has shown a correlation between spirituality and decreased incidence of depression and anxiety disorders. Yoga was meant to be a spiritual practice, including aspects of ethical behavior, virtuous observances, meditation, and a journey toward enlightenment. However, here in the West there is an increasing focus on the physical aspects of yoga with a corresponding decrease in focus on the more spiritual aspects of the eight-limbed path. It seems to me that the practice of ashtanga yoga has managed to maintain much of this connection, perhaps because it has remained close to its lineage and is still seen as a system of purification and healing – not just a series of postures. Many teachers continue to recite the opening and/or closing mantra in their classes, teach the other limbs of yoga during workshops, and recommend pranayama (breathwork) and meditation as a part of the practice. This spiritual aspect could potentially give ashtanga yoga an advantage as a complementary treatment for depression and anxiety.

Of course, ashtanga yoga shares all the general health and wellness benefits of other forms of hatha yoga. For example, practicing as part of a class builds social connection and community, which is often lacking in people who suffer from anxiety or depression. Yoga practice is correlated with increased oxytocin, the “love hormone” that also modulates fear, as well as heart rate variability, which appears to be related to stress modulation. Strength, flexibility and balance improve as well as an overall sense of wellbeing, supporting the mind-body connection.

Anyone suffering from depression or anxiety should first seek the consultation of licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist – yoga is not meant to take the place of this type of care. I encourage you to ask your provider about the potential benefits of adding yoga to your self-care toolkit. It will be interesting to see if, in the future, some scientific research emerges to support or disprove the theory that ashtanga yoga may be particularly helpful. If any local Kansas City researchers would like to collaborate on such a project, send me a note. Until then, I’ll see you in the practice room!

References:

Iyengar, BKS (1979). Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika

Such, F. B., et. al. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research (77) 42-5.

Weintraub, A. (2003). Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga

Tracy Ochester’s Mindfulness Research Bibliography

Softening, Opening, Surrendering

fullsizerenderWhen we have practiced mindfulness for a while, we may begin to notice a subtle softening of resistances – a gradual opening to what is. Most of us have been conditioned to be on guard and protect ourselves from perceived threats. Through a dedicated mindfulness practice, we can develop the trust and courage needed to experiment with previously unquestioned habits and beliefs, giving way to a more spacious mode of being.

When unexamined, the “self” is like a castle keep, a fortified panic room collecting all the cherished treasures that compose “I, me and mine“. Through observation of unfortunate role models, the school of hard knocks,  or our own misguided logic we learn to hoard and protect these treasures, becoming vigilant, arming ourselves, building walls and motes, and attacking enemies (including ourselves). We often do this by:

  • Presenting an image we view as beyond reproach
  • Avoiding vulnerabilities such as making mistakes, reaching out, trusting (especially ourselves and “strangers”), giving or receiving
  • Maintaining an ever-critical eye for ambiguity, inconsistencies, and differences – things that we think might indicate danger
  • Defending ourselves by failing to acknowledge mistakes, rationalizing or explaining away harmful behavior, making a preemptive strike, or retaliating
  • Devaluing or resenting others’ successes or celebrating their failures
  • Seeing ourselves as different from others – like we are a special exception (in either direction of a given duality) – which makes us feel safer, yet also disconnected and alone

Another common strategy is striving to gain respect or approval from others through pursuing what we believe to be favorable judgments and reactions. Unfortunately, this often compels us to go after “low hanging fruit” such as:

  • complaining about things that most people dislike or find difficult – seeking company in misery
  • broadcasting or making fun of others differences, flaws, mistakes, or weaknesses – exploiting others for a quick laugh or to elevate oneself
  • flaunting our perceived unique gifts or good fortune
  • intimidating or striking fear in others

Despite all of this striving and defending, the fear seems to increase rather than decrease. If we continue down this path, we become harder, more insecure, withholding, judgmental, cynical, and even a little bit stingy. We may gradually become the people we most fear.

What happens when we develop the courage to surrender these strategies and allow ourselves to be vulnerable? What if we opened the drawbridge and left our ego treasures undefended? We may discover that many of our assumptions are unfounded and most circumstances are actually quite workable. Softening and opening allows us to disarm, so that we become more authentic and loving. Consequently, we have more to offer others.

When we stop reacting to the urge to guard the ego and reduce our striving for approval, much energy is freed up for other purposes. The focus of attention can shift to higher values. Creativity may increase and we may become more flexible. Best of all, this new way of being ripples out to others, who are in turn freed up to be more authentic and receptive if they so choose. It is only when we are all able to lay down our arms that peace can truly flourish.

If you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Mindfulness & The Thin Line Between Helping & Harming

path_to_relaxation_muha
Path to Relaxation by Muha…

We all want to do good, but in the messiness and complexity of real life, it isn’t so simple as exchanging the black hat for the white one. Notions of what is helpful and what is harmful are diverse and they seem to change with the times.

Helping and harming are emotionally laden concepts. There is a long tradition of valuing thought and behavior that supports the first and prevents the second. A number of the commandments from the Judeo-Christian tradition, several of the precepts in Buddhism, and many of the yamas and niyamas in yoga involve non-harming. You’ve probably also heard the phrase, “First, do no harm” (or primum non nocere in Latin), which is one of the primary concepts we learn in the caring professions.

Its Complicated

Actions that, in the moment or on the surface, seem helpful, can turn out to be quite harmful in the longer term or once we’ve dug a little deeper into the factors. In addition, responses that are helpful in one context may not translate well in another context. Finally, there are situations in which some proportion of harm may occur in pursuit of the greater good. While we tend to give priority to non-harming over adding benefit, there is often a weighing of pros and cons that is necessary before we can come to a wise conclusion.

In US culture there is a high value placed on fighting for what we think is right and against what we think is wrong. This strong sense of justice deems silence or inaction in the face of harmful behavior problematic, even labeling them as acts of complicity. At its extreme, we may become intolerant of any phenomena that even hints at potential harm. Eventually, our minds may turn to thoughts of radical prevention – perhaps a demonstration of strength or an act of force is needed in order to prevent future harm.

So how is a conscientious person to avoid sliding into paralysis? How can we choose the path that serves the higher good? What is the formula for benefitting others and working toward ending suffering without risking even greater harm? Wiser minds than mine have pondered this over the centuries and there are no easy answers. But, there are some considerations that can be useful.

Knowledge is Important

There are rare occasions when time is of the essence. For example, if a friend is about to be run over by a bus, we must act on instinct or reflex to prevent harm. Usually though, we have more time than we allow ourselves to unpack a situation. If we have a regular mindfulness practice, our minds are better trained to make space space for skillful responding. Being mindful in the moment helps us pause, observe and consider both internal and the external phenomena, as well as our options for responding.

Is there an urge to action arising from strong emotion? If so, what is the story line behind this emotion? Does it fit the facts of the situation or are there biases and assumptions at play? Do you adequately understand what is happening in the moment? Are you aware of all the factors at play including history, context, cultural implications, etc. and their interactions? Or is it only in hindsight that the situation will become clear?

Intention is Key

An intention is a roadmap for thoughts, feelings and action. Intention doesn’t require action and is not attached to outcome. Cultivating intentions that are “pure” may be the best we can aspire to with our limited senses and biology. After all, we can’t read minds or divine the future – mistakes will be made. If our intentions are benevolent, this sets the tone and shapes the attitudes within which action may arise. Of course it is important to learn from the effects of any action we take, which brings us back around to knowledge that we can use for wise decision making.

How can we know if our intentions are pure, toward benefiting others and ending suffering? Ask yourself if there is something you are hoping to accomplish in a particular situation. Is there an outcome you are attached to? How much of this outcome is related to I, me and mine? Does it align with your highest values? Is there compassion for the “transgressor” – a wish for their wellbeing, or is there merely a desire to punish or destroy?

To act rightly–to do the right thing in the right way at the right time in the right place–and nothing more: that is the way of the Gita. Therefore, to keep the fruit, the effect, of an act in mind as our purpose, is to deflect ourselves from the right motivation and to entangle ourselves in the net of egotism and the snare of binding deeds. – 

When we have taken the time to see things as they are and examine our intentions, we may actually discover that silence or inaction are indeed the wisest response. We find that we can stand for what is right without causing additional suffering for others. Leading by example is underrated in this country, maybe because it isn’t flashy and plays the “long game”. It is a quiet, but very powerful change agent and one over which we actually have some influence.

Life is an Experiment

Since change is constant and nothing lasts forever, life is an experiment with many variables. Like everything else, helping and harming become moving targets. A devoted mindfulness practice reinforces the skills to truly “be here now” so that we have the greatest possibility of responding compassionately and effectively to what is arising and transforming moment by moment.

Non-Striving and Motivation for Practice

Here is a blog post I wrote for The Tattooed Buddha: An Evolved Dialogue on how we can reconcile non-striving with motivation for practice. Read more…

tattooedbuddha1_2017

Sky is free.
Ocean is blissful.
Trees are divine.
Rocks are enlightened.
So are we.
Who is still searching …
for what?

– Anam Thubten Rinpoche, Sky is Free

Self Compassion

iStock_000024614859_MediumCompassion is a willingness to be open to the suffering of another combined with a desire to eliminate the suffering. It is a seen as a virtue in most cultures and lies at the core of most religious traditions. It is also a fundamental attitude of mindfulness that is cultivated with practice. Compassion has many benefits for both the giver and the receiver and this has been documented in the research. Being compassionate feels good, reduces stress, improves relationships, and is correlated with a number of health benefits.

When we turn compassion inward, we call this self-compassion. While most of us understand the importance having compassion for others and can readily access it with those we care about, treating ourselves with compassion feels unfamiliar and even uncomfortable. But, when we think about it logically, it only makes sense that we could also benefit greatly from practicing self-compassion. In fact, the research is bearing this out. In addition, there is reason to believe when we treat ourselves with compassion, the benefits we receive ripple out to others.

Practicing self-compassion is a way to befriend ourselves. Many of us have learned to treat ourselves as an afterthought, or in some cases, as a barely tolerable nuisance. We would never speak to a loved one the way we speak to ourselves in our thoughts. When a good friend is struggling, we take notice and lend support. When they make a mistake, we give them the benefit of the doubt and are eager to forgive them. How many of us can say we routinely do these things for ourselves?

Learning to notice our own suffering and being willing to take time to observe it with some objectivity is a crucial skill for self-compassion. We often fail to recognize our unpleasant inner experiences and even when we do, we quickly attempt to avoid or escape them. At the very least, we judge ourselves for them, which often causes us further suffering. This gives us little opportunity to understand suffering on a personal level or how to best respond to it. How can we truly be compassionate with others when we don’t fully understand our own experience of suffering?

There are a number of practices that can help cultivate self compassion. You can learn more about these practices through visiting Dr. Kristin Neff’s website, reading books such as Dr. Christopher Germer’s The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, working one-on-one with a mindfulness coach, or taking an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. You may be surprised at how befriending yourself impacts your emotional resilience, and consequently, your relationships with others.

If you would grow to your best self
Be patient, not demanding
Accepting, not condemning
Nurturing, not withholding
Self-marveling, not belittling
Gently guiding, not pushing and punishing
For you are more sensitive than you know
Mankind is as tough as war yet delicate as flowers
We can endure agonies but we open fully only to warmth and light
And our need to grow
Is as fragile as a fragrance dispersed by storms of will
To return only when those storm are still
So, accept, respect, and attend your sensitivity
A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.

– If You Would Grow By: Daniel F. Mead