dukkha (suffering)

Six ways to start practicing self-compassion — even if you believe you’re undeserving

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For many of us being kind to ourselves is hard. It’s hard even when we’re struggling — and need compassion most. Instead, we get mad. We tell ourselves to buck up. We wonder why we’re so weak. We criticize and hurl insults. We withhold our favorite things — telling ourselves that we don’t deserve to participate in enjoyable activities, because after all, we screwed up everything.

But the good news is that we can learn to cultivate self-compassion. Which is vital. Self-compassion helps us to meet life’s challenges in a supportive way, said Amy Finlay-Jones, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, compassion teacher, and researcher who specializes in self-compassion. In fact, according to research, self-compassion has a measurable effect on our mental health and well-being, she said. (See here and here.)

Self-compassion is “the intentional cultivation of a relationship with oneself that is respectful, kind and compassionate,” said Celedra Gildea, Ph.D, a psychotherapist in Portland, Ore., who leads Mindful Self-Compassion, Compassion Cultivation Training and Mindfulness groups. Below are six ways you can start cultivating self-compassion, even if you’ve been berating yourself for years.

Reduce disparaging times, and up kind moments

Simply notice when you feel most self-critical and aggressive toward yourself, Finlay-Jones said. Maybe it’s when you’re tired or overworked. Maybe it’s when you’re spending too much time on social media. “Whatever it is, see if you can refrain from it a little.”

Also, pay attention to the times you feel nourished and comfortable with yourself, she said. This might be when you’re taking a walk in nature or hanging out with friends or working on a creative project. “Whatever it is, see if you can cultivate a little more of it in your life.”

This can give us more space to be gentle and curious with ourselves, Finlay-Jones said.

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Take a self-compassion break

Gildea suggested trying an exercise created by self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, which helps us recognize and soothe our suffering. Put your hand on your heart or any place that feels comforting.

Simply say, “This hurts” or “This is suffering.” Next, say something that acknowledges that you’re part of a community of people struggling, such as: “I’m not alone” or “We all struggle in our lives.” Lastly, offer yourself some kindness, such as: “May I be kind to myself,” “May I accept myself as I am,” or “May I be patient.”

Speak tender words — like you would to a child or your child

“Many of us think that we don’t have the capacity or words to give ourselves compassion,” Gildea said. She shared a powerful story that reveals we do. Gildea was volunteering at a women’s abuse shelter, trying to teach a group of women the self-compassion break. Because of all the pain they’d endured, they couldn’t find any words of compassion for themselves.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Another volunteer brought in a baby who was crying. The mom took her baby into her arms and started whispering loving words, like: “Don’t you worry sweet one, we are going to be OK. I’m right here and no one is going to hurt you anymore.” She was able to effortlessly shower her child with compassion.

“Deeply touched, we all put our hands on [our] hearts and spoke the same words of compassion, imagining our little child sitting next to our adult selves safely in our hearts,” Gildea said. “They had found the key.” You can try the same.

Try this loving meditation

Another way to start practicing self-compassion is by bringing to mind a loved one and noticing the feelings of love and warmth that tend to arise, Finlay-Jones said. “Step-by-step, we become more skillful at mobilizing this capacity, so that after a time, we are more able to include ourselves in the circle of compassion.” She created this beautiful meditation for readers to try.

Pay attention to how you’re practicing

“Self-compassion is not about self-improvement,” Finlay-Jones said. She stressed the importance of paying attention to how you’re practicing self-compassion. Do you have an attitude of impatience or harshness? Are you being considerate and comforting?

Many of her clients share long lists of self-care practices they’ve tried. These lists might include everything from yoga to psychotherapy to meditation to running. Yet, they feel anything but cared for. Instead, they feel exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, Finlay-Jones said. “This is often because they are demanding and aggressive with themselves in the process — treating themselves as though they are a problem to be fixed, and self-care is the solution.”

To be truly self-compassionate, she noted, it’s important to work on acknowledging that we are all acceptable exactly as we are.

Delve into your needs and values

Self-compassion goes deeper than supporting ourselves in the moment. According to Finlay-Jones, it “involves understanding what our deeper needs and values are, and aligning our behavior accordingly.” For instance, one deeper need all of us have is connection. As she writes in this piece, you might meet this need by spending time with friends, playing with your pet, listening to music, and helping others.

You might be thinking, but what if I don’t deserve self-compassion? What if I don’t feel worthy or loveable or deserving of kindness?

As Finlay-Jones said, start practicing anyway. “[S]elf-compassion is so important precisely because we don’t feel worthy, or deserving, or loveable. There is, therefore, no better time to start.”

Original article no longer available

 

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This difficult thing of being human

caution sign

It’s always good to remember that life isn’t easy.

I don’t mean to say that life is always hard in the sense of it always being painful. Clearly there are times when we’re happy, when things are going well, when we feel that our life is headed in the right direction and that even greater fulfillment is just ahead of us, etc.

What I mean is that even when we have times in our life that are good, that doesn’t last. In fact, often the things we’re so excited and happy about later turn out to be things that also cause us suffering.

For example, you start a brand new relationship and you’re in love and it’s exciting and fulfilling. And then you find yourself butting heads with your partner, and you hurt each others’ feelings. Maybe you even split up. Does that sound familiar?

For example, the new job that you’re thrilled about turns out to contain stresses you hadn’t imagined. Has that ever happened?

For example, the house you’re so pleased to have bought inevitably ends up requiring maintenance. Or perhaps the house value plummets. Or perhaps your circumstances change and you find it a struggle to meet the mortgage. Maybe you’ve been lucky, or maybe you’ve been there.

Happiness has a way of evaporating. Unhappiness has a way of sneaking up on us and sucker-punching us in the gut.

On a deep level, none of really understand happiness and unhappiness. If we truly understood the dynamics of these things, we’d be happy all the time and would never be miserable. We’d be enlightened. But pre-enlightenment, we’re all stumbling in the dark, and sometimes colliding painfully with life as we do so.

This being human is not easy. We’re doing a difficult thing in living a human life.

It’s good to accept all this, because life is so much harder when we think it should be easy. When we think life should be straightforward, and that we think we have it all sorted out, then unhappiness becomes a sign that we’ve “failed.” And that makes being in pain even more painful.

We haven’t failed when we’re unhappy; we’re just being human. We’re simply experiencing the tender truth of what it is to live a human life.

So when you’re unhappy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t fight it. Accept that this is how things are right now. Often when you do that, you’ll very quickly—sometimes instantly—start to feel better. By accepting our suffering, we start to move through it.

And as you look around you, realize that everyone else is doing this difficult thing of being human too. They’re all struggling. We’re all struggling. We all want happiness and find happiness elusive. We all want to avoid suffering and yet keep stumbling into it, over and over.

Many of the things that bother you about other people are their attempts to deal with this difficult existential situation, in which we desire happiness, and don’t experience as much of it as we want, and desire to be free from suffering, and yet keep becoming trapped in it. Their moods, their clinging, their anger—all of these are the results of human beings struggling to find happiness, and having trouble doing so.

If we can recognize that this human life is not easy—if we can empathize with that very basic existential fact—then perhaps we can be just a little kinder to ourselves and others. And that would help make this human life just a little easier to navigate.

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What is insight practice?

Woman doing standing yoga pose on an high rocky outcrop

What is insight practice? Before answering that question, let’s back up a little and ask, “What is the Buddha’s teaching, or Dharma, essentially about?”

Dharma is about attaining freedom from suffering. All Buddhist practice has this aim.

There are of course many different kinds of Dharma practice. To use a classical model, there is 1) ethical practice, 2) meditative practice, and 3) wisdom practice. These all work in different ways to reduce our suffering.

Ethical practice makes us look at what we do and say, with an eye to whether, in the long term, we are causing ourselves and others suffering. So we train ourselves not to cause physical harm, not to deprive others of their property, not to sexually harm or exploit them, not to lie or speak unkindly to them, and not to suppress our ethical sensibility with drugs and alcohol. These are the five precepts of Buddhism.

Meditative practice helps us cultivate the mindfulness we need in order to observe how our patterns of thought can cause suffering—for ourselves, yes, but for others too as our thoughts are expressed in words and actions. It also helps us to develop qualities such as kindness and compassion, which help both to eradicate emotions such as anger and cruelty that cause harm, and to create positive states of wellbeing, fulfillment, and happiness.

For a long time, most of our practice might necessarily be focused on becoming more ethical in our daily lives and on cultivating skillful qualities such as mindfulness and kindness. In general this makes us happier. But there’s a limit to how far we can go in the direction of cultivating happiness through becoming more skillful. There are deeper factors at work than our relatively superficial (and yet still deep-rooted) emotional and behavioral habits. We can knock down weeds, but unless we uproot them they’ll keep growing back.

This is because the very way in which we interpret our experience is flawed, Buddhism tells us. Our perceptions are distorted. This doesn’t mean that we’re literally subject to, for example, optical delusions. It’s not that a person you’re looking at is really a cat or an alien, or that their hair looks brown but is really green. It’s that the way we interpret our experience is frequently mistaken.

For example, we assume that things (ourselves included) are more stable and reliable than they actually are. So we might assume unconsciously that our parents, or we ourselves, will live forever. We might assume that some painful feeling we have is going to be with us permanently. This creates suffering.

We assume that happiness comes from setting up a constant stream of pleasant experiences while keeping at bay unpleasant experiences. And yet since we can’t control the world, this is simply unattainable.

We assume that we are more separate from the world, and from other beings in the world, than we actually are. Thinking of ourselves as separate we may act as if a concern for our own well-being can be separated from our concern for the wellbeing of others: that we can be happy by simply focusing on ourselves.

Insight practice challenges the delusion of permanence, the delusion that happiness can be found through grasping after pleasant and avoiding unpleasant experiences, and the delusion that we have a separate and concrete existence. It helps us to let go into freedom; to let go into reality.

You might read the words “insight practice” and think I’m talking about “insight meditation.” But practice is more than just meditation. We can cultivate insight and challenge our misperceptions in our daily activities as well as on the cushion. And so we can do so outside of meditation as well. Additionally, we should pausing from time to tome to focus on non-insight meditations, in order to remind ourselves that the goal of Buddhism is not simply one of attaining insight, but of developing kindness, compassion, and moral excellence.

We’re going to take one of those pauses right now. So to get started with meditation, let’s begin with a simple mindfulness of breathing—something to help us calm, focus, and steady the mind so that we can see beyond our delusions.

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Taking the self out of self-compassion

man looking at universe

One of the most interesting studies I’ve ever seen was by James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor, and Shannon Wiltsey Stirman, who is now associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

Poets are particularly prone to taking their own lives, and Pennebaker and Stirman were interested to see if the writings of poets who had killed themselves contained linguistic clues that could have predicted their fate. They matched together, by age, era, nationality, educational background, and sex, poets who had and had not killed themselves, and ran their works through a computer program that looked for patterns in the language they used.

What they found was that the poets who had killed themselves were far more self-referential than those who hadn’t. Right from the beginning, those who ended up committing suicide used the words “I,” “me,” and “my” in their writings far more often than those who died naturally or are still alive. Also, the suicidal poets became increasingly self-referential as time passed, using first person singular pronouns more and more often, right up until they took their own lives.

Also see:

Poets who didn’t kill themselves, on the other hand, used those words more rarely, and instead referred more often to “we,” “us,” and “ours”—words that embed a sense of connection. And those words were used more and more often over the course of their lives.

Part of our conditioning tells us that if we want to be happy we need to focus on “number one.” And yet, as the Harry Nilsson song says, “One is the loneliest number.” Connecting with others, and thus reducing our focus on ourselves, is an important form of emotional buffering, helping us to deal with life’s ups and downs, and also providing the rich and nourishing experience of loving and being loved. Those who disconnect and withdraw into themselves experience greater suffering, to the extent that life can become unbearable.

So what does this tell us about self-compassion? After all, isn’t the word “self” right there in the name? Does this mean that focusing on ourselves might actually make us less happy?
In self-compassion, one part of us sends compassion to a suffering part of ourselves, not because the suffering part of us is a part of us, but simply because compassion is the appropriate response to pain. It doesn’t actually matter whether the suffering is inside us or outside us, part of us or not part of us—the compassionate part of us has compassion for suffering because that’s what suffering needs.

In a way there’s no such thing as “self-compassion.” There’s just “compassion.” There’s just the desire to care for anything that’s suffering, and to remove the suffering if possible, with no regard to whether it’s “our” suffering or not. By cultivating compassion for suffering within ourselves, we automatically become more compassionate toward others, and thus become more connected to them, and thus become happier. With self-compassion we don’t see ourselves as different from others because of our suffering, but see ourselves as connected to others because we all suffer.

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Prison meditation program helps inmates rebuild minds, restart lives

wildmind meditation newsAllegra Abramo and Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News: The men filed into the chapel, pulled chairs into circles, and sat. Then this corner of New Jersey’s Bayside State Prison got quiet.

A short meditation opens each weekly session of Heart-to-Heart, a mindfulness and nonviolence program run at three east coast prisons. Silence, said founder Stephen Michael Tumolo, helps bring “present moment awareness.”

That’s where he believes transformation starts.

“One thing we have choice in is where our mind is,” said Tumolo. “Present moment awareness can radically alter one’s experience in the moment. And then it can radically reshape the next steps we take.”

Gossip …

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How corporates co-opted the art of mindfulness to make us bear the unbearable

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“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.” Hsin Hsin Ming

Zoë Krupka (PhD Student Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University), The Conversation: Almost every person who walks through my practice doorway is anxious in some way. And so they should be. While their anxiety might be blasting messages at an overly high volume, the messages themselves are worth paying attention to: abusive relationships, significant losses and workplaces that have squeezed their personal, physical and spiritual lives into a corner too small for a hamster to burrow in.

Most come in hoping that the volume of their anxiety will be turned down, but many also hope that the messages themselves will go away. Like all of us, they want to find a way around having to take difficult action to change their lives. And for some of them, their hopes are pinned on our current corporatised misinterpretation of mindfulness. They’ve been sold on meditation as a simple way to bear the unbearable.

Pasteurised versions of the ancient practice of mindfulness are now big business …

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Hiding from pain by pursuing pleasure

Merry-go-round canopy.

There’s a famous teaching, the Sallatha Sutta, in which the Buddha discusses our suffering as consisting of “two arrows.” The first arrow is simply the unavoidable suffering that we all experience as a result of being human. We’re all going to experience loss, hurt feelings, physical pain, illness, etc. The wise person simply observes this pain mindfully. The unwise person responds to suffering through resistance: “Why is this happening to me? This is terrible!”

The Buddha called this reaction “grief, sorrow and lamentation,” and he pointed out that this was like responding to the first arrow with a second one! Our resistance to pain simply causes further pain—perhaps even more than we’d originally experienced. Every thought we have along the lines of “This is awful; I wish it would stop!” merely adds another stab of pain.

But the Buddha pointed our another unhelpful way that we commonly respond to pain. Many people skip this when discussing the Sallatha Sutta—probably because the Buddha didn’t offer an image to accompany this third form of suffering.

“Being contacted by painful feeling, he seeks delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the uninstructed worldling does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure.”

Those with more wisdom know that the escape is, once again, mindfully bearing with the painful feeling until it passes. He or she “understands as it really is the origin and the passing away” of the discomfort.

It seems to me that the attempt to escape from underlying painful feelings (which are more likely to involve boredom, anxiety, or loneliness than physical pain) more often involves the pursuit than the experience of pleasure.

There may be pleasure involved when we attempt to hide from discomfort by bingeing on ice cream, indulging in a marathon session of “Orange is the New Black,” or having a few too many beers, but often there isn’t. In these cases it’s the pursuit itself that is the real distraction. That’s why these activities continue for so long. I sometimes find myself, late at night, restlessly clicking on a link to read “just one more article,” as if pleasure was just a webpage away. There’s little pleasure in this restive surfing, but much pursuit. It’s because stable pleasure isn’t found that we keep faring on.

For me, the creative escape from the fruitless pursuit of pleasure comes when I shift my attention from the screen in front of me to the unpleasant feelings in my body that are driving my behaviors. The moment I connect with my felt experience, it seems that an umbilical cord of emotional attachment between me and the computer is broken. Mindfully aware of my discomfort, I am now free to act in ways that are more truly in my best interests. I’ve stepped out of the “faring on” that is samsara—at least temporarily.

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How can mindfulness help with chronic pain?

wildmind meditation newsStephanie Weaver, Huffington Post: More than 100 million adults in the U.S. deal with chronic pain. After reading an article by Dr. Christiane Wolf, I reached out to her to learn more.

You say that chronic pain is a malfunctioning side of evolution. What do you mean by that?

This is my theory as I’ve considered chronic pain. Acute pain is important; it alerts the brain that there is danger. But for chronic pain, there is no separate system. It continually alerts the brain that there is something wrong, and yet it doesn’t stop. There is no way to calm it down.

Does mindfulness …

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Being mindful of mindfulness

wildmind meditation newsCathy Thomas Brownfield, Salem News: In this fast-paced world in which we live there is so little time to think about anything in depth. But that is not in anyone’s best interests. Rushing from home to work to school to home to dance classes, sports practice, Scout meetings, Lions Club Meetings, Book Club you name it. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for everyone to do all the things they would like to do or feel they have to do. This can lead to a few “issues,” not the least of which is burn-out.

What’s the first thing you think of …

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Mindfulness and chronic pain: every moment is a new chance

Pain always seems worse at night. Something about the silence amplifies the suffering. Even after you’ve taken the maximum dose of painkillers, the aching soon returns with a vengeance. You want to do something, anything, to stop the pain, but whatever you try seems to fail. Moving hurts. Doing nothing hurts. Ignoring it hurts. But it’s not just the pain that hurts; your mind can start to suffer as you desperately try to find a way of escaping. Pointed and bitter questions can begin nagging at your soul: What will happen if I don’t recover? What if it gets worse? I can’t cope with this. Please, I just want it to stop. . . .

You Are Not Your Pain Vidyamala BurchWe wrote this book to help you cope with pain, illness, and stress in times such as these. It will teach you how to reduce your suffering progressively, so that you can begin living life to the fullest once again. It may not completely eliminate your suffering, but it will ensure that it no longer dominates your life. You’ll discover that it is possible to be at peace, even if illness and pain are unavoidable, and to enjoy a fulfilling life.

We know this to be true because we have both experienced terrible injuries and used an ancient form of meditation known as mindfulness to ease our suffering. The techniques in this book have been proven to work by doctors and scientists in universities around the world. Mindfulness is so effective that doctors and specialist pain clinics now refer their patients to our Breathworks center in Manchester, UK, and to courses run by our affiliated trainers around the world. Every day we help people find peace amid their suffering.

This book and the accompanying CD reveal a series of simple practices that you can incorporate into daily life to significantly reduce your pain, anguish, and stress. They are built on Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM), which has its roots in the groundbreaking work of Dr. Jon  Kabat- Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The MBPM program itself was developed by Vidyamala Burch (coauthor of this book) as a means of coping with the after effects of two serious accidents. Although originally designed to reduce physical pain and suffering, it has proven to be an effective stress-reduction technique as well. The core mindfulness meditation techniques have been shown in many clinical trials to be at least as effective as drugs or counseling for relieving anxiety, stress, and depression.

When it comes to pain, clinical trials show that mindfulness can be as effective as the most commonly prescribed painkillers, and some studies have shown it to be as powerful as morphine. Imaging studies show that it soothes the brain patterns underlying pain, and over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself so that you no longer feel pain with the same intensity. And when it does arise, the pain no longer dominates your life. Many people report that their pain declines to such a degree that they barely notice it at all.

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