MSC for nurturing a sense of our interconnection
Session Details - September 12th - Discussion around our common humanity, exploring ways that strengthen our interconnection and shedding light on some habits of mind and language that actual cultivate a sense of 'us' and 'them'.
We are biologically set up to connect and relate with others, and if we are starved of these connections our lives are greatly impoverished. - Paul Gilbert
In this MSC booster session we shared the practices of the river meditation, befriending the inner critic and then, in pairs did a version of the awakening hearts practice from the MSC program.
Our discussion focused on the role language can play in both fostering a sense of connection but also creating disconnection. We explored the depth of the three components of SC and exercises that deepen the Common Humanity component.
Judgment / criticism = separateness, and a sense of us and them
Compassion = common humanity, ultimately interconnection with all things
Mindfulness + compassion = spaciousness + warmth = courageous presence
Charles Darwin found that the primary reason for compassion is that it helps us survive – to make successful and cohesive communities. Compassion requires the courage to approach, turn towards and understand suffering and the dedication to alleviate and prevent it. It requires wisdom and skills. Seeing the one in the many and the many in the one.
As humans we all feel pain, and a common source of pain is due to loneliness or feeling different / separate, not heard or not seen, lacking in one of our core human needs. Thoughts, language, stories can feed such separateness, having us believe them and the solidity / supposed factuality of them. The duality of subject and object, self and other, is an illusion fuelled by the mind, an illusion with very strong effects physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Categorical labelling is a tool that humans use to resolve the impossible complexities in our world, those that we struggle to perceive. Labelling is adaptive and part of how we create a social as well as a personal identity for ourselves. But it comes at a cost, contributing to some of the deepest problems that face us as humans. The words we use to describe what we see aren't just idle placeholders--they actually determine what we see, and what we expect about people. In turn, that determines how we act. Labelling is usually behind all conflicts, cruelties, and discriminations, between the group ‘we’ identify with and the group ‘they’ identify with.
So unless we hold labelling lightly, provisionally, fluidly, they can do enormous damage. When ‘we’ and ‘they’ are labels, rather than human beings, we can easily lose sight of our common humanity, the interests we have in common and the ways in which our survival depends on each other.
When we meet difficult times or make mistakes we can feel something has gone wrong, or something is wrong with us – ‘this shouldn’t be happening!’ It is important to catch this moment, and recognise that these things and times are normal and precisely what unites us, not separates us – it’s where the learning is.
MSC, the three elements of self-compassion
1- Mindfulness (as opposed to over-identification or autopilot)
2- Common humanity (the anti-dote to feeling alone / separate or different)
3- Loving kindness (activates the calming system - settling the threat system)
The MSC hand gestures
1. Palms turned upwards, a gesture of acceptance, openness and equanimity
2. Palms up and extending them forward a little – a metaphor for what it feels like to reach beyond our separate selves and include others.
3. One palm in the other, placing them on your chest, feeling the warmth and gentle pressure of your own touch, being there for yourself.
We can begin to work at the level of everyday pain by recognising our common- humanity; this shared human experience of thinking and making a big deal of it – as humans we are all wishing to be free of it. We can see that our suffering is shared by others and also see other people’s suffering as our own.
Contemplate the following:
Consider a recent time of emotional or physical discomfort, a headache or feeling frustrated with something, someone a particular situation. Recall this felt experience, as best you can. Then expand your awareness to consider the idea that fellow humans experience similar discomfort. Awakening the seed of compassion within – and as best you can, sending well wishes that all humans be free of this form of discomfort. Keep the heart space open by placing a hand on the heart or wherever feels supportive to you. Keep this well-wishing warm and sincere by internally using your own words to touch in on the following:
- As humans we experience uncomfortable times, we all do
- It is not our fault - it is just part of the human experience
- I wish us all peace and ease, may we be as kind as possible
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
- Mother Teresa
Humanising strangers, a practice from Pema Chödrön
Spending some time every day bringing the unknown people that we see into focus, and actually taking an interest in them. We could look at their faces, notice their clothes and maybe look at their hands. There are so many chances to do this, particularly if we live in a large town or use public transport. Acknowledging that just like you they have those basic human needs, just like you they wish for peace, joy, contentment and connection, just like you they are human and therefore have their struggles. Making the practice light, kind and curious, perhaps silently repeating words like: ‘hello friend’, or ‘I care’, or ‘go well’ – finding your own fit here. It can become a daily practice to humanise the people that we pass on the street.
Acknowledgement: In this paper I have drawn on the teachings of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s MSC program, Paul Gilbert, Pema Chodron and a talk from the Buddhist Teacher Bobbi Allan.