Tag Archives: compassion

Self-Care Starts with Self-Compassion

We hear a lot about “self-care” these days. We can see family and friends drift into pandemic-inspired patterns of behavior that make them unhealthy, unhappy. And they see us drifting in the same direction. When I was young, my mother used to repeat to me, “Money can’t buy you health, Alan. You have to take care of yourself.” And now everyone, from the top officials at the college all the way to chemistry students in zoom breakout rooms are talking about “self-care”.

My question here is, what drives us to think “self-care” is needed? Is it the pain in my wrist or neck or eyes from too many hours spent at the computer? (I was already suffering from these things before the pandemic). Or, could it be an emotional pain that I feel, but one that I cannot easily name or describe? Whatever the source of the problem, at a very simple level, “care” begins with noticing suffering and feeling compassion. We see the pain, whatever it’s nature, and this arouses a desire to act.

But if only it were that easy. We are much less likely to notice, admit, or name, the emotional side of our day-to-day experience. This is especially true when the emotions are “negative” feelings of loneliness, disappointment, sadness, anxiety, fear, arrogance, jealousy, or anger. I will quickly start to rub a sore wrist or neck. But am I equally willing to face my fear over what the future will bring, or my regret over some past failure?

Because we are more likely to notice negative feelings in others than in ourselves, a natural way to begin our inquiry is to ask, “How do I respond when I encounter these emotions in others? Do I pull away from them or do I approach them?” If the person who is experiencing trouble is someone that I feel close to, I’m more likely to stay by their side. I care for them. My compassion is naturally aroused. I tell them, “I’m here for you. Tell me about it.”

While there is a natural tendency to treat ourselves different, to reject/deny/avoid painful feelings, the example of how we treat our friends recommends another approach. My feelings are not a failing. They are a call to my best friend (myself) to feel compassion for me. In this case, self-compassion. Please, dear friend (that’s me), come closer to my suffering. Dear friend, I know you won’t try to judge me or fix me. I can count on you to stay by my side and join me in my inquiry, to let me know that I am being seen and heard. Let us share this awareness of each moment together, whether it is suffering, or just our breath, or the world around us. Whatever comes, please stay with me.

The Buddhist teacher and author, Bodhipaksa, writes about the importance of self-compassion and the process of self-inquiry in “Loving Pain”, Tricycle magazine, 5 March 2020. Here is very brief excerpt:

Something that can help us to practice acceptance of our pain is to recognize that our feelings are only ever pleasant or unpleasant, and never right or wrong. … Feelings are non-volitional and ethically neutral; they are not choices we make and so they don’t have any moral significance. … You need not be ashamed of any feeling you experience. You feel what you feel. Simply accepting this is in itself a profound act of self-compassion.

We may need to offer ourselves reassurance as we turn toward painful feelings. We can say things like, “It’s alright to feel pain. It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” This encouragement helps us build up our confidence, and it also takes up some of the mental bandwidth that might otherwise be occupied by reactive thinking. Turning toward our pain gets easier with practice. Gradually, we become less afraid of our discomfort.

excerpted from “This Difficult Thing of Being Human: The Art of Self-Compassion” by Bodhipaksa, Parallax Press, 2019.

FYI, Bodhipaksa also has a wonderfully informative and detailed website, Wildmind. Check it out. And take good care of yourself. As my wise, dear mother once taught me, “Money can’t buy you health.” Make sure your labors are keeping you healthy.

A Quiet Place, An Open Place (reposted)

Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,

Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

He went on,

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

from ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*

I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.

Believing that, I get carried away.

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To Cultivate Love Look Deep

Conflicts between people are a natural part of life. We even fight with ourselves, criticizing our past actions and denying our ability to cope with the future. Meditation doesn’t seek to erase conflicts or turn meditators into placid doormats. Instead, it teaches a path in which life’s problems are approached with understanding, patience, and love.

Vietnamese Buddhist priest, teacher, and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers these instructions for performing metta (lovingkindness) meditation as a path to cultivating love for oneself and others (“Cultivating Compassion” Tricycle, Spring 2015):

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Reaching across the academic divide

44 years ago I enrolled in an Introduction to Philosophy class offered by my local community college. One essay I read asserted that my life was filled with choices and I would always have to choose. Even refusing to choose was itself a choice.

Today is Day 2 of the new school year and the Hum 110 conflicts of last year have already reasserted themselves. Because absolutely nothing in my academic training qualifies me to opine on the ideal Hum 110 curriculum it is tempting to turn my back on the dispute and gaze upon the sabbatical year stretching out before me.

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2017 Resolutions – Patience & Equanimity

Last night I sat at the dining room table making a list of things that I needed to do today. As I wrote a few items down, new things, some that had been nagging me for days, even weeks, started to crowd around, demanding to be added to my list. So many things to do.

The ultimate To-Do’s, of course, are my New Year’s resolutions. Like everyone else, I tend to treat my life as a Personal Improvement Project. Just a little thinking about the ways I might improve myself in 2017 has unleashed a flood of ideas: eat better, get more exercise, get more sleep, go to bed earlier, pick up the flute I used to play, pay and file bills more regularly, get my finances in order, clean the house regularly, … and I was just getting started.

So, before your New Year resolve flies out the window, here’s a much shorter list of resolutions inspired by a David Nichtern‘s 2011 New Year’s Resolution published in the Huffington Post:

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The Science of Meditation

The Shambhala Mountain Center is convening top researchers and meditation teachers this week (Oct. 19-23) for a free, online summit on The Science of Meditation. Follow the link to learn more and register. Remember, it’s online and free!

Update: I just registered (takes 2 sec) and learned that some (maybe all?) of the materials will be available after the ‘live’ sessions so you don’t have to worry about being in the right time zone, or work-summit conflicts.

Opening the Heart

The cultivation of metta, sometimes translated as boundless friendliness or loving kindness, has proven to be a beneficial meditation practice over the centuries, but it can present a challenge for modern Westerners. The standard version of metta practice asks one to begin by expressing positive wishes for one’s own benefit, e.g., ‘may I be happy, may I be healthy, etc.’, before extending these wishes to others. The difficulty for many of us appears right at the start. Should I really be wishing myself happiness, good health, and so on? Well-known meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield, has a solution. He says, “We open our heart in the most natural way, then direct our loving-kindness little by little to the areas where it’s more difficult.” Sending good wishes to ourselves may not feel completely natural so we don’t have to start there. You can find all of his instructions at How to Do Metta (Lion’s Roar, 11 August 2015).

Avoiding Burnout on the Picket Line

My picture of a social education activist is someone with high ideals, a person who lives their life according to principles that can serve as an example to us. This rosy picture, however, hides the high costs that can accompany a life of commitment. P. Gorski has this to say, “Activist burnout, which causes activists to disengage from their activism, is a formidable barrier to the sustainability of social justice movements, including those focused on social justice in educational contexts. However, the cultures of these movements often disregard the importance of self-care, seeing it as self-indulgence, putting activists at even higher risks of burnout.” Read the rest of Gorski’s article, “Relieving Burnout and the ‘‘Martyr Syndrome’’ Among Social Justice Education Activists: The Implications and Effects of Mindfulness” in the Urban Rev (2015) 47:696–716 DOI 10.1007/s11256-015-0330-0

A Compassion Incubator

Life lessons can be found everywhere and in every moment. You don’t need to sit on a cushion in silence, but you do need to open yourself up to the moment and its possibilities. Meditator, writer, and gym teacher, Alex Tzelnic, describes how an elementary school gym class can function as a “compassion incubator” for the Tricycle blog (22 Feb 2016) in “(Meta)Physical Education: Temper Temper”

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Helper’s High

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, or CCARE, is part of Stanford’s School of Medicine. It was established and directed by Dr. James Doty, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, with the explicit goal of “promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.”

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