Patient Heart

I really appreciated the distinctions and nuances of self-compassion during Dr. Craig and Dr. Richard recap of the “self” . Up until now, I never realized how connected heartfulness is to mindfulness. I always thought it was just about awareness, but now I know that connecting the heart with the mind is a big part of the practice. And there’s plenty of material in our lives in which we get to put knowledge into action. Every time we read or listen to the news, check our social media, and engage in conversations with those around happy daysus–every moment presents a challenge and an opportunity. And now that I know better, the question I have to ask myself: can I do better?

My heart says: Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. Keep practicing. Be patient.

My mind says: You can’t do this. You’ll always be impatient and judgemental. It’s your nature. You are hardwired to be critical. Give up, it’s useless.

I feel like trying to coax my mind into a friendship with my heart is like trying to convince a card carrying NRA member that America needs gun control laws–A frustrating endeavor that requires unemotional focus and patience. And I have to wonder, is it even possible? Can my thoughts shake hands with my heart and come into agreement? It seems to me that I have to develop my heart muscle. As I have chartered into a new dimension of my self-awareness through this mindfulness practice, it has become crystal clear that I need balance between my thoughts and emotions. Self-compassion seems absolutely relevant and necessary as I develop into the person I wish to be.
As an aside, I find it uncanny and appropriate how the Chinese character for patience involves the graph for heart, as well as recognizing the possible danger and struggle that can ensue when developing patience.

character for patience

May I be happy.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful.

May I be safe.

May I be me.

 

Can We Stop Gun Violence by Making Compassion a Habit?

If anyone has studied the Chaos Theory, then they have the understanding that nothing is random even though it is unpredictable. Coincidences are an illusion. Even one small act can have profound effects, such as the flap of a butterfly’s wing.

So this week was no surprise that my mindfulness practice mirrored the curriculum of our inherent oneness and the need to cultivate compassion. As my key take away, I reflected on remembering our common humanity–see the WE and not just the ME.

Due to the shooting in Orlando, FL in America, I was deeply moved, not just by the violence of the shooting, but by the reaction to the trauma. I wondered if people could experience greater compassion if they would feel that they need to cling to their guns to provide them a sense of power. Could embracing the notion that we are ONE despite our religions, our ethnic backgrounds, our political leanings, our level of wealth, etc.. and recalling that “we are our brother’s keeper” be a powerful enough reminder to curb our need to “protect” ourselves from one another and stop using the 2nd Amendment as a shield from our feeling of powerlessness? Now we could argue if owning a firearm is really a right or is it a privilege and hence the need for gun control, but that’s not the point. As I see it, it is the cause for such a horrific act of violence that needs to be argued–why would anyone feel a deep malicious desire to kill others? And I am not referring as so much the mental state of the perpetrator, but the underpinning lack of consciousness that seems be prevalent in these senseless crimes, in which there is a lack of connection to people, emotionally unplugged from the beauty, love and grace in life.  And it wasn’t just the shooter, because so many other hateful things have risen to the surface and have been brought to light as a justification for killing innocent people.

viktor-frankl-quote

So here is the flapping of the butterfly wing. Me, thousands of miles away, feeling the impact of this atrocious event. I reflected and wondered about my own acts of violence (not bullets, of course, but the things I say I do which create harm) in my life–toward myself and toward others.) I tried to take note of these moments, offering the wishes, “may you be happy, may you be well, may you be peaceful, may you be safe.” It helped me to cultivate gentleness towards myself and others. As I think about the importance of practice, I wonder if I was to really commit to this and create a habit in which my default mode was compassion, who I would be in 1 year from now? And I am curious–how long would I need to practice this in order to cultivate this hard wiring of compassion? Would keeping these people in mind (as well as Sandy Hook and so many other senseless mass shooting victims) who were shot down be enough to keep me focused?–Remembering that the world needs LOVE and UNDERSTANDING.

If I was to create this habit of compassion, is the risk that this practice might ripple out in the world to make a difference enough to solidify this worthy goal into the fabric of my daily life. Could you imagine what serendipity might ensue from a cascade of events that arose from a moment of compassion, understanding and love? In this way, there might be some sense made from the murder  For surely this too is the flapping of the butterfly wings as well.

May we be Happy.

May we be Well.

May we be Peace.

May we be Safe.

May we be WE.

Good bye, Hello: Resilience

The end of the school year always makes one emotional. For most teachers, it is sweet relief but there is regret–regret you didn’t do or complete something with your students and colleagues. So much unfinished business!  But I feel like a bit of me is experiencing grief, like there is shock and there is sadness. This is partly because, as an international teacher, you are among a unique group of people–people who are curious about other cultures and are keen to seek adventure. These people become a second family to you and you feel sad when they move on. And I worry, maybe you do too, that you didn’t express enough love and gratitude to them–that they don’t know how much care for them. That’s true for any loved one of course. But I wonder, if something was to happen to them, would they know that they mattered to me; and that as a result of our friendship, I have become a different person, hopefully more loving, more open-minded and full of life. This is heaviness I feel in my good byes.

Resilience

It’s kind of serendipitous that this week we focused our mindfulness practice on self-compassion. It is true that we respond to suffering of others much better than we are to ourselves. So I have been confronted with the fact that I am more likely to offer gentleness and understanding to others than I am to myself.  Despite my positive intentions, I have still made mistakes, said or did things that I felt were “wrong” and I really beat myself up for them. I linger on my errors, on words or deeds that just aren’t “perfect”, and have a hard time forgiving myself and being self-critical. Saying my “good byes” has really acerbated this feeling for me, especially since I have had such a stressful year. I wonder if I have let down people who I care for–not just friends that are leaving but also loved ones because I have been so self-involved that I may have forgotten about them. I’ve had so many emotions surface this week, that having some self-compassion was a tool that has become indispensable to help me overcome my feeling of loss.

The 3 main components of this practice are: self-kindness, common sense of humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness comes in handy when we are struggling with these kinds of emotion, as we turn away from judgement and bring to these emotions a sense of understanding and acceptance.It is completely normal to feel this way and recognizing my humanity helps me to feel connection to others in the inevitability that I will make mistakes as a human. I can then extend some goodwill towards myself, just like I might to another suffering person such as a friend. While bringing mindfulness to these emotions provides the opportunity to observe them, not only in my mind but also in my body. I can create some space between me and my thoughts and generate love towards myself, despite my flaws.

What-is-Self-Compassion

What I find so fascinating about this practice is that it creates physical changes in the brain. Offering self-compassion not only generates the “tend and befriend” response (as oppose to flight or fight response) and generates the love connection hormone, oxytocin, but it also causes neurons to fire and wire together. The more we practice self-compassion, the more we are fine tuning these circuits in our brains, which can become hard wired and the default mode. In other words, I can develop resilience and bounce from my negative emotion, more often and faster, with each time I practice.

Thus, in the face of suffering and self-criticism, I can shift my awareness and start to develop a new pathway. Obviously this is the sort of thing which lifts us up out listeningof a state of despair and moves up into hopefulness and positive expectation.

With that in mind, I can feel the appreciation for the people I have come to love, and experience the blessing of our meeting–even all the crazy parts in-between! And before I know it, I will begin the new friendships that will come in the future; hopefully, one of those friends will be myself-and that friendship is one that will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addicted to Distraction?

report cards keep calmIt’s report card time here for teachers and there’s nothing I’d rather do than NOT write and read those comments. So this week’s journey into distraction and procrastination was perfectly timed.

Did you know that we are wired for distraction?–that every time we get off task, our brain’s get a little dose of dopamine, which is a chemical on the reward pathway in the brain; furthermore, avoiding what needs to be done and letting ourselves wander off task could actually be addictive. So we are screwed, right? Not necessarily because through our directed attention, mindfulness works to subdue our emotions, bringing us back on task and renewing our focus.

 

Also, the attitude in which we pay attention can also determine our ability to stray or come back into focus. I found this video of distraction memeBrendon Burchard’s War and Peace model a reminder that when we want to change something in our life, we must commit to finding every possible solution and accepting that change takes time. I think this is really relevant as I consider that the practice of mindfulness is not just a one-off thing that perhaps I do in the morning or evening, but I need to find ways to seed this activity throughout my day in order for mindfulness to be hard-wired into my brain and become my mind’s default mode. An excellent suggestion was to take a moment to get in touch with the breath as we transition to a task that we may find challenging in order to avoid procrastination. This would help to give attention to what is relevant and necessary to complete a task, instead of allowing the mind to wander into worry or fear. Moreover, extending compassion to ourselves when we do stray off track, helps to decrease and de-activate the stress response that may accompany us when we are in avoidance and procrastination. Not only does it help to alleviate the negative emotion associated with the task, but has physiological benefits such as improved immunity and executive functioning of our brains.

So, I have to wonder, if I can be addicted to distraction, can I also become addicted to awareness? Is that possible?  I’m not sure, but I’m willing to dedicate myself to this challenge….one moment at a time. (:

 

 

 

Stickiness

Muhammed Ali said that “If you want to win, start within”.  He was such an inspirational man, but what made him such an icon was that he had the courage and commitment to choose his thoughts about himself.  The older I get, the more I grasp that in order to evolve, we must meet our thoughts and beliefs where they are, shake hands with them, and move on–they are not who we are, but where we are. We can may feel that we are “stuck” in this mindset, but it is possible to detach from them and choose new ones.

muhammad ali

I’ve heard it said before that to know and not do is to not know. And that’s true–how many times have we learned something, thought it was interesting, but then did not act any different as a result of it?

Since I’ve begun this deep dive into mindfulness, I’ve started to become curious what is my “mind-full” of? What kinds of thoughts am I thinking? Since I want to approach this as the observer, I have been viewing my thoughts in my meditation without judgement and elaboration, trying to engage my mind in the present, labelling my thoughts as a thought about the past or a thought about the future; and after noticing this, putting my attention on the breath, allowing  my mind to  wander but then gently bringing it back. I think I have been rather successful at this exercise because I was touched by the article about mindfulness stress reduction, and, in particular, the following quote:

“Since it is really about the present moment, the approach has to be spontaneous rather than thought out in advance. It has to be embodied. I just trust that, in a sense, my whole life has been a certain kind of preparation for this moment we call now, and that whatever emerges will be good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will be good enough for that moment. I have never found that that was not true.”- Jon Kabat-Zin

 So now I have been extending my practice beyond the course’s mediations. Since the beginning of this week’s work, I’ve put a sticky note on my laptop to help cue me into cultivating a stronger sense of presence and mindfulness. My note says:

  • Am I breathing? (this has helped me to check in with my breath),
  • Where’s the Magic? (this is to help me find some wonder and awe in my surroundings or experiences.), and
  • Who can I Cherish? (this is to help me connect with the people around me and experience appreciation for them).

I am hopeful that this practice is “sticky” and moves me to help me to create a greater habit of mindfulness outside of these meditative exercise and embody this practice in other areas of my life. I’d rather have my MIND-FULL of thoughts of joy and appreciation, rather than doubt or worry. I feel like this is also great mental training–like Muhammad Ali–cultivating a mind of a champion. In this way, I tap into the power of my being, the gifts that life has to offer me, and the joy of experiencing my loved ones and colleagues.

It’s hard to imagine how much of my life is shifting from noticing the little things. And it reminds me of another quote from The Greatest Man who ever lived: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

ali2

RIP, brother.

 

 

Swimming Lessons

During this week of our mindfulness course, we are exploring the stress response and how we can choose our impact of it. The idea of choosing stress seems rather ridiculous to me, but it’s true that when I engage in a thought of a worry or concern, I choose to give it attention. But I can also choose to get curious about my wandering mind, and in this way diminish the physiological effect and emotional attachment to it.

drcraigquote

Dr. Richard made an analogy that really resonated with me. He suggested that the best time to learn how to swim is not when we are drowning, but to take lesson before hand so our lessons would avert disaster.  Once I reflect on this, it appears intuitive–I want to practice mindfulness on a regular basis to avert overwhelm. By the simple act of noticing the breath and bringing presence of mind to my daily life, I can calm the mind and increase my performance when engaged in tasks.

So can I have a deep fascination with my  breath this week? Can I have non-attachment to my opinions and thoughts?  I am going to make a commitment to this new habit and become curious because I will certain prefer curiosity over stress.