The wonderful reality is that MSC is a way of being in the world, a way that is kind, mindful and compassionate. I often think of MSC as an ongoing way of creating balance, the balance we are always needing of wisdom (mindfulness) and compassion (loving connected presence).
With all this in mind - it naturally evolved that after the MSC program is finished there needed to be a place for ongoing practice, growth and connection. The practice sessions held regularly at The Heart's Nest at Henley became this place. I will post the discussion notes for each of the sessions up on this page. So we can all stay connected.
This Chinese character for Mindfulness (to the right) combines the two symbols: presence and heart. I find it a useful symbol for my loving-kindness practice. Into this heartfelt presence I can include others and of course - me.
Loving-kindness practice is an inclination of the heart, practicing feeling kindness and giving and receiving kindness. It is a deep, warm practice in the spirit of friendship towards yourself and others.
When first starting out it may be helpful to have some memorized well wishes as your phrases. Letting them be short, kind and honest. Practices with a person who is easy to love and then when the juices are flowing snuggle in there with them. Imagining how someone you care for would wish you to join in.
Once you feel steady and familiar with this heart practice and your inner voice of kindness is at the ready you can start meeting any difficult moment with some on the spot loving and kind words and phrases.
Discovering your own phrases:
Loving Kindness phrases can anchor our awareness, just like the body, breath or sound. For phrases to truly anchor deep into the heart they need to be words that ring true for you, they need to be; simple, clear, honest and kind. This ensures there is no argument within, instead the phrases are met with - 'thank you, thank you thank you.' I often remind myself of the gentle encouraging words of Steve Hickman, that we are not mining for the ‘right’ words, here it needs to be more of a melting.
‘Words that come from the heart will land in the heart.’ - Rumi
Equanimity: a quality of calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation, it is often described as a kind of emotional resilience. Our wisdom recognizes that we are all subject to a constantly changing flow of numerous causes and conditions, within the full spectrum of joyful to painful. Equanimity combines an understanding mind together with a compassionate heart: mindfulness and heartfulness.
Resilience is scientifically measured by how quickly we get back to baseline after a stressful event; I see equanimity as an important form of resilience – an important reason that it is included in the MSC program.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote: ‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.’ Sums up for me why I practice mindfulness and compassion, I do not practice to prevent the bumps / waves but so that I can be with them with greater loving discernment and skill.
My granddaughter enjoyed making this heart on the beach, but she was so cool about leaving it to be washed away by the sea...
The origins of resistance:
Resistance is a normal movement of the mind, perhaps driven by our primal desire to survive.
Along the trajectory of our life we collect beliefs (stories / rules) around what this ‘survival’ may equate to, there can be a lot of them; perhaps one (or more) for all the different roles we play.
When we detect a potential threat to one of these, or when an aspect of our life is not going according to our plans – enter resistance - we are alerted to do something about it.
This sounds simple, even sounds like a good idea to me, so lets get curious about how this habit of mind to want things to go a certain way and to be on the alert for any potential deviations of our view of this way can cause us unnecessary suffering.
Enter the good old equation:
We started with an open awareness mindfulness practice:
Meditation is, first of all, a tool for surveying our territory so we can know what is going on. With the energy of mindfulness, we can calm things down, understand them, and bring harmony back to the conflicting elements inside us. Like a caring parent holding and guarding the life of her/his only child, so with a boundless heart of loving-kindness hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.- Thich Nhat Hanh
We then moved on to practices based on some of Paul Gilbert's work: the soothing breathing rythm and finding your place of peace and contentment.
If the ocean can calm itself so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air Your heart is the softest place on earth. Take care of it. - Nayyirah Waheed, from her book - Salt
The last exercise was writing a compassionate letter to self. I will mail these in 3-months time to assist to deepen the compassionate connection. A current issue was noted and then the letter flowed just as you would write to a loved one with the similar issue, words of understanding, support and love.
Sufi prayer (adapted) - When I listen to the voices of animals, the sounds of the trees, the murmuring of water, the singing of birds, the whistling of the wind, the boom of thunder - I feel the evidence of unity. May I understand this unity with equanimity, calmness and doubtlessness.
Truly living mindfulness and compassion means connection, living with an open heart. Within this loving energy we experience pleasure but we are also are vulnerable to pain. So let’s get curious about the potential value of the pain in leading us to wise compassionate action.
We started with a mindfulness practice emphasising listening, listening not just with the ears, but with all of the senses. Our heart practice was also around listening from the inside out. Listening to our inner response when we silently offered ourselves the word compassion. We then meditated on our inner courage, wisdom and commitment in regards to our intention to live a compassionate life. Finding these resources within, savouring and validating them in our own way.
From our practice arose the discussion of what does compassion truly involve? What does forgiveness truly involve? Where does MSC and courageous presence sit within this?
“Compassion is the courage to descend into the reality of human experience.” – Paul Gilbert
"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid". - Frederick Buechner
So courageous presense...
‘To be in harmony with the oneness of life, is to be without anxiety about imperfections’ - zen
I think this photo from Animals Australia speaks to this zen quote beautifully!
“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung
These two sayings make sense right? MSC invites us to stay human and to be realistic about what that means, bringing compassion to the struggles this being human involves. So why do we all still have parts of us that we fear showing to others, that we resist coming to harmony with? Perhaps it is time to bring our kindly curiousity to this?
On this topic last year we discussed the wisdom of Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a theoretical framework for personal and social change. Pivotal to this work is learning to be with the difficult emotions that arise due to the problems our world is facing.
This time we discussed the wisdom of Tara Brach, and investigated some tips that she finds helpful for bringing compassion to difficult feelings. We then explored what was workable for each of us in regards to the practice of softening, soothing and allowing in the presence of difficult feelings.
Self-Observation Without Judgment - Danna Faulds
Release the harsh and pointed inner voice.
It's just a throwback to the past, and holds no truth about this moment. Let go of self-judgment, the old, learned ways of beating yourself up for each imagined inadequacy. Allow the dialogue within the mind to grow friendlier, and quiet. Shift out of inner criticism and life suddenly looks very different. I can say this only because I make the choice a hundred times a day to release the voice that refuses to acknowledge the real me. What's needed here isn't more prodding toward perfection, but intimacy - seeing clearly, and embracing what I see. Love, not judgment, sows the seeds of tranquillity and change.
“The most important thing is remembering the most important thing”
- Suzuki Roshi
In our time you can Google anything to gain instant information - yet the honing of true wisdom – finding the most important thing, takes far more than a Google search - it takes practice from the inside out, an inner deepening of understanding from continued effort.
We sometimes refer to the importance of ancient wisdom – can we find our deep core values this way? Perhaps the wisdom is already inside of us, we just need to go within to re-connect with it.
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the things I want to live for.” - Thomas Merton, The Man in the Sycamore Tree (1970)
We started with a mindfulness of sounds - the body - the breath and then moved to an open awareness practice. Our heart practice was a loving kindness for a loved one, then tucking ourselves in, the practice then focussed on moving to compassion for someone we know is struggling - then easefully into a giving and receiving of compassion.
‘Attention is like a spotlight – whatever it shines on becomes brighter in the mind. This knowledge can help us build compassion’. - Paul Gilbert
Paul Gilbert's quote speaks to much of the research findings regarding the impact loving kindness meditation can have on our physical, emotional and spiritual health. As the prayer flags remind us, people have been sending well-wishes, prayers off into the winds of the world for a long time.
In today's world loving kindness practice can play an important role in bringing balance to the mind's negativity bias, and also meeting our innate need to feel into the love and good that we are - the basic goodness that resides within the hearts of us all.
‘If you don’t get what you want, you suffer. If you get what you don’t want, you suffer. Even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality’. - Socrates
In MSC we open to this reality of the full experience of being human, as Socrates explains, the joys – the sorrows, the ease and the struggles. The only certainty is actually uncertainty, wow – one certainty… now take a breath… This is actually good news, because this understanding can give rise to our motivation to keep deepening and widening our MSC practice, because with it we can learn to surf!!! ‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf’. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Anyone who has tried to learn to surf knows that it is all about paying attention, not giving up, and most importantly – finding balance amongst the waves. You can enjoy the learning along the way, but most of all you enjoy surfing. Equanimity is a way to manage the ebbs and flows of life. Mindfulness allows us to understand this being human; with the warmth and connection that compassion brings this understanding can be how we learn to surf.
We started with a mindfulness practice, with the understanding that taking time on a regular basis to practice mindfulness and concentration allows us to get more familiar, therefore more friendly with our inner world. We then moved into the heart practices of firstly recalling a memory of a time someone showed us compassion, how they did it, what we felt like to receive it and what we felt in that moment of recalling it. We explored playing with the idea of giving compassion a colour. Lastly we recalled someone we are grateful to, someone who has helped us along the way - not necessarily with a struggle. We noticed how their help has affected us, and then how we felt recalling it.
Compassion can be defined as sensitivity to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to relieve and prevent it. Mindfulness can assist with the sensitivity part of this but a significant amount of people experience some form of block and/or fear to opening to the full flow of compassion. By the full flow I refer to the three ways the energy of this second component of compassion beckons to flow:
1. From others
2. To others
3. From self to self (self-compassion)
There are definite moments where it may be wise self-care to distract and even protect one’s self from certain things in life. Unfortunately ‘what we resist persists’. As we strengthen our mindfulness and our self-compassion resources we can begin the process of ‘attending and befriending’ those things in our life that we would dearly like to be different. Mindfulness is needed as most our resistance is unconscious, once the light is on – ‘what we feel we can heal’, this is done with the balm of loving acceptance and warm connection to our humanity. ‘The curious paradox of life is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’ – Carl Rogers
Resistance often manifests as judgements / criticism, a solid sense of right – wrong. After all, we are social creatures, and in part, a product of our societal norms. It is easy for this to create a sense of them and us as a means of control and safety; this can also be created within one’s self, leading to disconnection within one’s own skin so to speak. The medicine of this is MSC.
A personal reflection from Tina
We started with a mindfulness practice, then moving into the heart practice of firstly creating a place of peace and contentment, then connecting with ourselves at our compassionate best - feeling into the qualities of compassion, in particular courage - wisdom and commitment.
In looking at Paul Gilbert’s work on compassion via an evolutionary context, we didn’t chose or design our brain that is aimed for survival and protection. So – it is not our fault! … But we can choose to do something about it.
Research shows that we can make changes to bring about a greater state of ease, balance and well-being by consciously practicing turning on the contentment / calming system.
3 important steps to take and practice to strengthen this pathway in the brain:
2. Mindfulness & concentration
3. Cultivating stillness within the body, harnessing the calming effect of the Vagus system
You can see from the photo of my two dogs an example of how mammals need nurturing via this calming system. Little Scooter gets so much comfort from dear old Bob...
So what do I mean by faith?
I follow a similar concept of faith as the Teacher and Author Sharon Salzburg shares in her book entitled ‘Faith’. She feels faith does not require a belief system, it is a verb – something we do. It is founded in our own experience and is the opposite of resignation and despair. Faith speaks of our acceptance, trust and confidence that life is transition; there is rhythm, oscillation and change everywhere. Faith entails the understanding that we don’t know how things may unfold; yet we aspire to positive growth and deepening our own understanding. Faith doesn’t pray for things to be different, it is the steady heart that refuses nothing, it is our willingness to trust things just as they are.
“[the] aspiration to have faith as a steady illuminating glow within is.’”(Sharon Salzburg)
We started with an open awareness mindfulness practice, followed by the heart practice of giving and receiving.
"The key to knowing joy is to be easily pleased." - Mark Nepo
We discussed Rick Hanson's metaphor of gardening in relation to our MSC practice:
1. Observe the garden
2. Pull the weeds
3. Plant the flowers
Being with and working with:
Bringing curiosity to Rick Hanson’s swing on our practice assisting us to improve our well-being via experientially directed neuroplasticity. This metaphor perhaps speaks to the practice of being with our moment-to-moment experience – but at the same time noticing what is helping and what is hindering our experience being one of warm acceptance. The brain does not change through observation alone. Reducing the negative and growing the positive helps to change the brain via changing our mind (just pause on that one a moment or two...)
Being with the garden and working in the garden of the mind are synergistic:
I have found MSC to be the ‘work’ – the gardening, of particular value are the practices of gratitude, savouring the good and coming to a sense of awe and wonder.
A compassionate body scan was then followed by an open awareness practice with the emphasis on the compassionate quality of allowing.
Our shared discussion was on what is working for us to keep bringing MSC into our everyday life to help feel into balance.
Living a balanced life: - Jane O'Shea
‘I know that point of balance, I swing past it all the time.’
We started with the gift that a simple pause can bring to our ability to choose how we respond to life's ebbs and flows of comfortable and uncomfortable, light and dark, hard and soft, joyful and sad moments.
Mindfulness is being in the present moment, as an act of friendliness and non- aggression. There are many doors to the present moment the breath, thoughts, sound, sight, taste, touch and movement. The following three steps come in the shape of an hourglass; opening – narrowing – opening. The mindful pause allows for a fresh start - ‘growth & freedom’ as Viktor Frankl said.
1. Opening to all that is happening, allowing and letting be
2. Narrowing the focus to come to one of your senses
3. Opening afresh to all that is
Kindling for Anger - Pema Chödrön
“The mindset of friend and foe, like and dislike, for me and against me.
And how that very mechanism of buying so tightly into this notion of the good people and the bad people - the ones that I like and the ones I don’t like - and how we get so invested in this and how this is "the kindling" or "the fuel" for anger and aggression to escalate.”
“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
Reading the above words from Pema invited curiosity in our group about the role of our common humanity in easing the added suffering that some forms of anger are fueled by?
In Thich Nhat Hanh's book entitled 'Anger', he walks us through using our mindfulness, embracing our anger and cradling it in our compassion - soothing and caring for it. He uses the metaphor of our holding our anger with the same tenderness we would hold a baby, using our ability to be mindful and to be compassionate towards our own difficult emotions.
“I woke up this morning to a divine sweetness in my mouth.
In the night, someone had forgiven me.
Or, perhaps, it was I who had forgiven.” – Jane O’Shea
We know that forgiveness requires us to first validate the pain, tend to it. We then need to manage the risk regarding lot letting it happen again. So how does MSC assist us to open to the wounds / pains that are associated with forgiveness? Unpacking the three component of self-compassion, being with them, finding our way to that point of balance between wisdom and compassion.
1. Mindfulness, courageous presence – as opposed to auto-pilot and dismissing the pain
2. Common humanity – as opposed to feeling like you are alone in your pain
3. Kindness – as opposed to criticism, judgment
The opposite to this kind of loving, connected presence continues to keep the fuel the pain.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”– Martin Luther King Junior
In the MSC program we feel our way into developing a greater sense of warm, accepting awareness and experience how this allows for the gradual dropping away of resistance. Forgiveness starts to also gradually bloom with this dropping away of resistance. As Jack Kornfield said, “Forgiveness is letting go of wishing the past were different.”
Living a balanced life - Jane O'Shea
I know that point of balance,
I swing past it all the time
I feel equanimity to be an evenness of mind, calmness, feeling a sense of balance in one’s life. This state of balance is most important during difficult period of life. It brings to mind the advice Pema Chödrön often gives of feeling into being the landscape not the weather.
Mindful self-compassion (MSC) practice enables us to respond to difficult moments in our life with kindness, care and understanding, a way of ‘attending and befriending’ all that is in our world, with that balance of wisdom and compassion. This is quite a different approach than the usual one taken in our busy lives of the ‘subtle aggression of self-improvement' (Bob Sharples), which can add to the stormy weather.