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Compassion for Self and Others

Posted on Mon, Aug 17, 2020 By:
Posted in: blogMental Health & Mindfulness

Welcome to a new week everyone!

How are you doing? No, I mean how are you really doing? We’re headed into our sixth month since our province was shut-down. What have you learned? What have you struggled with?  What have you overcome? What are you still grappling with? I’m going to dig a little deeper with you this week, and if you’re in, GREAT! If it’s too much for you at this moment, no worries, go about your day, ENJOY!, and come back to this blog post at a later time if you want. It’s totally up to you 🙂

I’ve seen and heard many wonderful things about people responding to the COVID-19 crisis by reaching outside of themselves and giving their time, energy, and practical resources to others in need. It’s amazing to me to see how people can rise up together like this. I bet you have done this, too!  But have you also had moments where the anger, the fear, the isolation got to you, even just a little? Have you struggled like I have with days where I feel so lost and afraid inside that I turn it on others? For me, this comes out as blaming, judging, and condemning. Like criticizing someone for wearing or not wearing a mask or for reaching too closely in front of me to grab a litre of milk in the grocery store (GRRR!). The discomfort I feel inside, when I let it run willy-nilly in my mind and heart without acknowledging and processing it, can affect the way I feel about myself and treat others. Can you relate?

The coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented fear, tension, and uncertainty for people across the globe. While our apprehension has been increased, our resources have been decreased, and this perception of scarcity – of freedom, of choice, of predictability, of safety, of financial and practical resources – has presented the opportunity to either bring us closer together or tear us apart. To choose radical love and compassion and show up for people who need to be lifted up in this crisis, or to be engulfed by the fear and misconception of scarcity and react by pushing down. And it makes me wonder: How can I – we – more often choose the radical love and compassion for others?

Racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and classism (forgive me if I’ve missed any) are abundant and always have been. And there’s much that we can do.  But I believe that before we can DO, we must THINK. and before we THINK, we must LISTEN.

There are many ways to listen and many important narratives to listen to. But first, try this: take a moment to LISTEN to YOU: turn inwards and listen to your heart. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Do you feel any hurt? Sense any emptiness? Hear any fear?

All of our hearts have been hurt at one time or another. Leaning in to that hurt without judgement, but rather with loving acceptance, brings us healing and resilience. Cultivating an understanding and acceptance towards ourselves allows us to be even more understanding and accepting towards others. “By soothing and comforting ourselves when feelings of insecurity arise, we provide ourselves with the sense of safety needed to explore the emotionally complex world inhabited by other people” (Neff, 2011, p. 201).  We all hurt. That’s what makes us human – it’s our shared nature. And hurting people hurt people. Without even realizing it. Because we make mistakes. But we can learn and unlearn. And choose compassion.

At the beginning of June, I facilitated a loving-kindness meditation for our you tube video on loneliness (available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JcKQ4fxk0I). I have to admit it was the first time I’d ever facilitated this type of mindfulness practice for others. And it had POWER. It stuck with me. Because we all need loving-kindness and because loving-kindness can change the world.

Loving-Kindness, a.k.a. Metta Meditation, is a traditional Buddhist practice designed to develop and nurture feelings of goodwill towards oneself, others, and the world in general. It involves directing specific phrases (e.g., “May I be safe”, “May I be healthy”) towards yourself, a mentor, a loved one, a somewhat difficult person, and to the whole world. It seems to me that practicing loving-kindness towards myself could begin to soothe my own needs for self-compassion, nonjudgmental acceptance, and healing. Then, extending loving-kindness towards others I love and care about can help me feel comforted, connected, and held by those who have made a difference in my life. Next, extending loving-kindness towards the world in general can help me develop a sense of connection, commonality, and acceptance towards others I haven’t yet met. And, for those who are ready – because this part can be more challenging – extending loving-kindness towards someone who has hurt me can increase my feelings of forgiveness, acceptance, and healing. In my opinion, this mindfulness practice can be a springboard from which we unlearn our biases and assumptions, remember our values and commonalities, and re-learn to love ourselves AND others with the same nonjudgmental acceptance and compassion and grace.

If you’d like to give it a try, I’ve included an introductory loving-kindness meditation below (adapted from: Rockman, P., & Hurley, A. (2015). Self-Compassion and Mindfulness: Loving- Kindness Meditation for Beginners: The Centre for Mindfulness Studies)

To begin this mindfulness practice, find a place you can experience relative peace and quiet.  Whether sitting in a chair or laying down, getting into a comfortable position where you can remain for about 10 minutes. Feet on the floor or against a firm foundation if possible. Closing your eyes if you like, or softly keeping them open while focusing on an object just in front of you that won’t move or distract you.

First, focusing in on your breath. Noticing how the breath enters in to your body and leaves out of your body.  No need to change the breath in any way, just noticing how the body breathes itself. In and out.  All the way in and all the way out. You may notice how your breath moves in through your nostrils or mouth, flows down through your throat and into your belly, building your belly up like a big balloon. You may also notice how, as you breathe out, your belly flattens, and the breath moves up through your throat and out through your mouth or nose.  Notice how the breath may feel different between the in breath and the out breath.  For example, it may feel cool or warm, soft or rough, tense or relaxed.  However it feels, it is your experience and it is okay.  Just paying attention to your breath as it is, in this moment, moment-by-moment.

If it feels alright, put your hand over your heart. Noting that you are not only bringing attention to your breath, but loving attention. Feel the weight and pressure from your palm into your chest.  Feel the energy and love radiating from your hand into your chest and into your heart. Feeling how your chest flattens and rises beneath your palm with each breath.

Now, picture yourself in your mind’s eye.  As detailed as you can, picture your face, your body, your posture. Imagine looking into your own eyes and feeling what comes up by being in your own presence.  Imagine looking into your own heart and seeing the hope, the hurt, the suffering, the joys that it has experienced. Remembering that you have been subject to sickness, aging, disappointment, rejection, and abandonment, just like every other being. Repeat softly and gently, feeling the sincerity and importance of your words:

May I be peaceful.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be happy.

May I live with ease.

Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, as minds will, simply bring your attention back to the words and image of yourself. Savor any warm feelings that may arise.  Go slow.

Now, bringing to mind a person or being who brings happiness to your heart.  This could be a child, a pet, a grandparent, or a mentor. Let yourself feel what it’s like to be in that person’s presence. Imagine looking into that person’s or being’s eyes and feel what comes up for you. Remembering, also, that this person or being is vulnerable to sickness, aging, hurt, and abandonment, just like you. Repeat softly and gently, feeling the sincerity and the importance of your words:

May you be peaceful.

May you be free from suffering.

May you be happy.

May you live with ease.

If again you notice that your mind has wandered, simply and gently bring your attention back to the words and image of the being who brings happiness to your heart. Savor any warm feelings that may arise.  Go slow.

Now, when you’re ready, imagining the people all over the world: starting in your neighbourhood, your city, country, and moving outwards to the world as a whole. Imagining being in the presence of  people you haven’t met yet and acknowledging that they, too, are vulnerable to the same sickness, aging, hurt, and abandonment as you and your loved ones.  Imagining looking into people’s eyes and sensing the commonalities that connect you as fellow human beings. Feeling what comes up for you. Feeling, with hand over your heart, the energy, the compassion, and the love that radiates from within you. Repeat softly and gently, feeling the sincerity and the importance of your words:

May you be peaceful.

May you be free from suffering.

May you be happy.

May you live with ease.

Lastly, if you feel comfortable, imagining in your mind’s eye, someone who has hurt you, or has hurt someone you care for. Imagining being in that person’s presence and looking into that person’s eyes. Feeling the hand over your heart and leaning in to the compassion, the love, and the acceptance flowing inside of you. Sensing the person’s vulnerability to sickness, aging, hurt, and abandonment, just like you.  Repeat softly and gently, feeling the sincerity and the importance of your words:

May you be peaceful.

May you be free from suffering.

May you be happy.

May you live with ease.

Finally, as this mindfulness practice comes to an end, taking a few breaths and sitting quietly in your own body, savoring the good will, love, and compassion that is flowing naturally from your own heart. Imagining that the love and kindness is flowing from your heart to others and back again, like as if along a giant length of string that connects you with every other being in the world. That all of your kind words and actions reverberate through the string and impacts every other person’s words and actions and back again, in a never-ending fluid dance of connection and compassion.

Knowing that as the day and weeks continue to wear on, you can return to this meditation and its phrases of loving kindness for yourself or others, anytime you wish. it is always here for you.  It is always within you.

As you are ready, start to take in the sounds around you.  You may wish to move in whatever way feels comfortable and, as you are ready, open your eyes.

May you be happy and may you live with ease. Until next week,

Stay well,

Melanie

References:

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. www.self-compassion.org

Rockman, P., & Hurley, A. (2015). Self-Compassion and Mindfulness: Loving- Kindness Meditation for Beginners: The Centre for Mindfulness Studies. Available at: https://www.mindfulnessstudies.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Self-Compassion_and_Mindfulness.pdf

A brief description and presentation of loving kindness meditation    https://www.mettainstitute.org/mettameditation.html

A wonderfully thorough and descriptive Loving Kindness Meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn    https://www.mindful.org/this-loving-kindness-meditation-is-a-radical-act-of-love/

A very simple and powerful meditation for connecting with others based on commonality    https://www.mindful.org/just-like-me-compassion-practice/
https://www.mindful.org/how-your-mindfulness-practice-can-support-the-world-right-now/

The Centre for Mindfulness Studies recently released a new, free app! Get meditations sent to you on a timed schedule! yes please!

Especially for people we work with:

Encourage people to move through the loving-kindness meditation with you, perhaps starting with practicing the loving-kindness towards oneself before moving on eventually to the other beings. Note that many of us are very uncomfortable showing and feeling loving-kindness towards ourselves, and if that is the case, then starting with the loving-kindness meditation towards someone that makes our heart happy first and moving on to ourselves/other beings as it feels right. No need to push or rush. Just practicing the parts that feel comfortable and right.

Also, check out the loving-kindness practice that me and a CASS colleague recorded the week of June 1, 2020 under the video title “Loneliness” on the CASS you tube channel. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JcKQ4fxk0I

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