Group August 4th 2016

We started the session with a mindful self-compassion practice adapted from Germer (mindfulselfcompassion.org). This is a practice which combines mindfulness of sound, bodily sensations, breath awareness and loving-kindness with self-compassion phrases.

'Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given with our hearts' (Jack Kornfield, 'A Path with Heart').

The practice was followed by enquiry. There was discussion around the choice of phrases used and how being flexible with them can help them resonate more personally, and the value of returning to the intentionality of deliberately bringing kindness and compassion to oneself, as a way of working with our inherent vulnerability as human beings, which can so often lead to negativity, self-criticism, even self-loathing. If we neglect compassion toward ourselves, then compassion toward others eventually leads to exhaustion and burn-out.

A personal discovery has been finding that loving kindness can be practiced 'off the mat' - e.g., whilst walking, the repeating phrases seem to flow more effortlessly (less thinking, more being), and in daily moments of challenge, the 'opening' effect of self-compassion and kindness can shift perspective quite dramatically. 

Tara Brach's, 'Waking up from the Trance of Unworthiness' (from 'The Self-Acceptance Project', various authors) begins:

'Many years ago, I began to focus on the urgent need for self-acceptance. In fact, I called it radical self-acceptance, because the notion of holding oneself with love and compassion was still so foreign. It had become clear to me that a key part of my emotional suffering was a sense of feeling "not enough'", which, at times, escalated into full-blown self- aversion. As I witnessed similar patterns in my students and clients, I began to realize that the absence of self-acceptance is one of the most pervasive expressions of suffering in our society.'

An evolutionary perspective shows how self-protection helps survival, but Tara Brach describes how this sense of vulnerability can become highly personal, and childhood experience abetted by our competitive culture can add further messages of unworthiness and inadequacy. This is turn can lead to attempts to defend and promote ourselves and cover our feelings of unworthiness - ending in aggressive behaviour towards ourselves and others.  Sounds familiar to me!

To reconnect to our innate (though often undeveloped) compassionate selves, Tara Brach describes two elements: mindful recognition of what is going on inside us, and a compassionate response.

The practice of R-A-I-N is a way of doing this (N.B. a useful version of this is presented by Judson Brewer at

https://themindfulnesssummit.com/sessions/mindfulness-for-addiction-judson-brewer/  )  

Tara Brach describes RAIN as a practice for 'disentangling from the trance' -  at any moment. Here's a summary:

R is to recognise what is going on. Pause and acknowledge feelings of unworthiness

A is to allow what thoughts and feelings are here. Deepen the pause. Let it just be, without distraction

is to investigate with kindness and gentle curiosity. You can put your hand on your heart and offer self-compassion. 

is non-identified where we intentionally don't identify with the unworthy self, but instead inhabit a larger loving awareness and wholeness. (NB Judson Brewer uses the idea of N for Noting whatever body sensations are present at any moment - to gain perspective).

 

We ended the session with a reading of 'Kindness' by Naomi Shihab Nye from 'Words Under the Words', Eighth Mountain Press, 1995)