An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

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Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

Doubt, suspicion, fear, mistrust and a mixed up relationship with the inner child

Well each painful step along the way in my relationship with Scott has been a lesson in trust and what I am learning is that I am not a very trusting person where others are concerned.  I have a lot of fears and doubts and can be very suspicious and mistrusting at times.  I also find it hard to feel that I am loved and valued and cherished even when I am. I am also noticing that when I get fearful I shut down my heart energy.

I have made huge leaps forward with trusting in this relationship and I see when my fear begins to raise its ugly head again.  I am just in the middle of a wonderful book which I found at the book fair a few months ago called Life Loves You, it is co written by Louise Hay and Robert Holden and it is so beautiful and heartfelt.  I am drawn to the work of Louise Hay lately, I love her idea that all love begins with self love and forgiveness and that we have major healings around guilt., also that all healing lies with our inner child.

I know how much I struggle with feelings of unjustified guilt and not feeling ‘good enough’ and I know its a collective issue too.   In the chapter on Forgiving The Past Louse and Robert speak about how we also project guilt onto others and what we forget was that once they were an innocent child, just as we were, a child that probably got hurt by life.   They talk of how when children are raised there is often too much emphasis on kids being ‘good’ in order to win approval, attention and love, instead of parents just encouraging the child’s inherent self expression and basic intrinsic goodness.

being good full time is hard work.  You have to suppress a lot of feelings.  You can’t always speak the truth.  Sometimes you have to lie and that feels bad… being good is just an act…. putting on an act is not innocent.. its a calculated attempt to win love and approval… whatever act we choose, it causes us to be estranged from our basic goodness….. without our basic goodness we are lost.

On our healing journey when we chose to love our inner child (as well as that of others) as it really is deep inside choosing to recognise his or her inherent innocence.  We no longer continue to project shame and guilt, and we can project this either outwardly or inwardly through the outer or inner critic and we no longer put on an act out of the idea that we are not good enough and must win the love of others.

I love the Oscar Wilde quote “a critic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’, we all have intrinsic value in our inherent beingness not as a result of what we do to please others or social mores.  When she passed over to the other side during a near death experience author Anita Morjhani found that only unconditional love exists on the other side and there is no judgement of us at all, only learning from consequences and failures to be true to and love ourselves unconditionally.

I finally went to visit my sister yesterday afternoon too and I am so glad that I did.  When I think too much my mind can come up with all kinds of reasons why its too hard to be there for my sister, or I can focus on past things that block the love and healing that wants to flow to my sister.  I see I have a lot of fear around her mental illness and I do wish that she looked into alternatives besides drugs to help her mood, but her path is also hers and I only really feel true peace in my own heart when I love her unconditionally and show up to just physically be there.   Most of all I feel she just needs my presence as well as my own love as well as healthy detachment from her pain (that said some of our pain is shared in the loss of family members, for example).  I notice the change in my body when I do show up and not resist the flow.  I sleep much better.

Life is much better for me when I just let my energy flow out as it wants to but what I am seeing is that my mind creates all kinds of barricades.  If I had allowed my fearful suspicious self to convince me Scott is a scammer simply because he asked for money I could be crying now.   Instead I have decided to trust my heart and my inner child who really loves and connects with the inner child I feel within Scott.

However my fear still raises its head and at times like yesterday when I had a shame attack I project guilt and fear back onto myself as well as feelings of not being ‘good enough’, and then life becomes a kind of prison for me.   And I really am very, very tired of living in a prison, especially one that is constructed through my own defective thinking and unhealthy unearned guilt.  That said I am seeing too where I tried to ‘be good’ at times, when I just would have been better to be myself.

At least I am noticing this more now.  I am going to be taking on board the recommendations in Louise and Robert’s book so that I can begin to trust that there is a force in life that truly loves and wants the best for me.  I just need to get out of my own way.  It has demonstrated its existence so many times, so why do I need to let fear and doubt and suspicion rule my life as much as they do?

I am not proposing a Pollyanna approach to life as in modern society we do need to keep our wits about us, but with loved ones maybe the world becomes a far happier place when we look to the soul’s inherent innocence and trust the healings that come along the way when we cause ourselves and others pain by not appreciating this inherent kindness of the life force of love and healing force of the inner child that exists in all of us.

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when theives broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to underatake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

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In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

We are vulnerable

To be human and to be alive is probably to be vulnerable.  Its a thought that I had today after re reading a prayer I wrote earlier asking for help to overcome fear.  I wondered after reading it if I had been asking for something that is only possible for moments rather than as an ongoing state of being a world so often fraught with insecurity and peril.  My question Isn’t a bit too much of an ask for us to have it together all the time and not struggle with the inherent insecurities in our lives?

That said a lot of what we expect to experience is based on past experience, so if in the past things didn’t go well or we were hurt this becomes our point of view or expectation and we do need boundaries and self care and some protection, just not so much that we limit our ability to live and love and forward move and grow in this life.

I became a fan of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron a few months after my last serious accident in 2005.  I was recommended to read her book When Things Fall Apart by a friend who had also nearly lost her life and the central message of her teaching involves not erecting defences against what she calls ‘the soft tender sore spot’ in one’s heart.  Pema claims that it is part of our human nature to always be struggling to get some solid ground under our feet but paradoxically the more we strive for this the more we can become attached to things being a certain way and then we just end up suffering more. The more defences we erect against pain too, the less we become connected to our pain as it is a central tenant of Buddhism that we look to our mutuality and inter dependence with other human’s and all living things and all living beings are vulnerable and suffer.  The Buddhists recognise a seamless web of interconnection between every living thing that we only split and divide and pay a price for so doing in neurosis.  Its only in embracing this inherent insecurity that we have a chance of finding some inner security and happiness.  The Buddhists also recognise that it is through opening to our pain and suffering instead of defending against it that we experience our interconnection with others, so opening our hearts is actually a powerful practice not only to heal but also to reconnect to our essential oneness not only with humans but also with nature and cycles of birth, growth, loss, death, change and transformation that are involve in all of creation.

With these thoughts in mind I am sharing tonight an excerpt from The Pocket Pema Chodron.  

No Happy Ending

In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, “I don’t know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get it all together.”   I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head, but I’ve always remembered it.  There isn’t going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up.  Even thought it was shocking to me, it rang true.  One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the level of mental peace.

Learning to bear the storm, to find a centre in the middle of the storm or change, that is what an opening up practice is about. Its not always easy to stop defending our selves or reacting from primitive parts of our brain to find less reactivity in the middle of chaos or change, but its definitely worth a try, as is, in our moments of darkness and pain the recognition that despite the aloneness we may feel so many other suffers and struggle just like us and experience loss and feelings of insecurity in failing to get it all together too.

Remaining Steady

Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception – a sight, sound, thought – which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort.  This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked.  Energetically there is a perceptible pull; its like wanting to scratch an itch.  We don’t have to be advanced meditators to catch this.

The initial tug of “for” or “against” is the first place we can remain steady as a log.  Just experience the tug and relax into the restlessness of the energy, without fanning this ember with thoughts.  If we can stay present with the rawness of our direct experience, emotional energy can move through us without getting stuck.  Of course, this isn’t easy and takes practice.

Wild Geese : Mary Oliver

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I love sharing poems on my blog by published poets, most especially the ones that speak to my heart and soul (and body).    The following is such a poem that forms part of William Seighart’s collection The Poetry Pharmacy which I have shared from before.  In his introduction to this poem by Mary Oliver which he prescribes as an antidote for self recrimination, Sieghart writes :

There is a small, wide eyed animal in each of us that doesn’t understand why we keep kicking it.  All we need do to overcome is to treat ourselves like a loyal pet with love, forgiveness and understanding.

Wild Geese

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies

and the deep trees and the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely.

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

Mary Oliver

Silence

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Silence will leave you guessing

May fill you with an emptiness

That is an echo of those times separation distance or silence was used

To prevent you expressing something

Others did not understand or want to hear

But silence can also be such a soothing balm

It can provide a healing place for a tired or damaged soul

Emptied out and made weary by the cacophany of this world

And its at times soul scalding profanities

Its all in what you bring to silence

That determines whether it is blessing or a curse

A hiding

Or a finding place

Where you are finally free

To open your being and feel your soul speak to you

Truths you always needed to know

That so often others

Could not accept

Or fully understand

Hidden deep in your body

Under a heavy blanket of silence

Shut the door

Dear Self

It is perfectly acceptable

To close the door

On those who want to bring you down

It is okay to brush off the hurtful words of those

Who do not speak the truth

It is a gift to be able to know your own value

To be humble

In the sense of having a grounded realistic knowing of your self

Some criticism may be constructive

And then it pays to open the door

If there is something new to learn

Or something to gain by finding another way

But this I say

Always trust your own heart

And your inner knowing

Because when all is said and done

When you close the door at the end of the day

You are the one you must come home to

And be at peace with

An attack of the ‘bad me’s’

I had a mini attack of what I call ‘the bad mes’ earlier today just after reblogging a post on narcissism and addiction.  I am beginning to see how caught up I still can get in family dysfunction and it is an ongoing challenge to walk a fine line between trying to help family members struggling with symptoms of the disease like low self worth and perfectionism and focus on my own recovery, too.  I ran around a lot for my older sister this week and to be honest I felt a bit ‘insane’ today as I didn’t sleep that well last night as I am also connecting to someone who messages me late at night.  I threw over some appointments which I think was the right thing to do as on one level I know my sister is ravaged at the moment and her self concept is weak and I want to give love but I must also recognise my limits.  And getting overly tired myself won’t help and it is how I felt to day which is  message to reign the help in a little bit.

Luckily her youngest son has decided to visit this weekend for Mother’s day.  It’s the first Mother’s day without my Mum and I haven’t been thinking about it a lot but if I do  I remember the special treats we gave to Mum on Mother’s day in past years so there is no guilt there in knowing I did all I can.  I don’t expect to be included in any family thing this weekend which I am honestly fine with.

I have been connecting with my Mum and Dad in spirit a lot lately and driving home a moment ago after dropping some books off at the library they spoke to me about how I was a part of both their hearts, they were not emotionally present as they did not really know how to be. That is a wound for me.  One that I am working my best to over come.  Is there then, any purpose in an attack of the ‘bad mes’?  Am I narcissistic at times posting and drawing on my wounds for art and poetry?  I dont think so really.  My experience in AA was of some narcissistic types though who did feel they had the answers for me at times and for others, I didn’t always see the greatest awareness in them, though of their own level of emotional neglect.  It is something I have only started to come to terms with in the past two years.

Beating myself up won’t help.  Realising I am open to criticism though and knowing there are always ways I can improve or be more teachable is important but so is knowing my own power, not in a power over others way but in an inner god centred power way is important in recovery.  I need that strong sense of a humble grounded self to maintain balance.  And lately when I feel myself loosing it I am praying more to God or higher power for my thinking to be changed and in the words of a Marianne Williamson prayer, become more full of light and hope and peace instead of criticism, shame or self blame.

The importance of grieving in recovering a sense of self

Grief reveals

With sufficient grieving, the survivor gets that he was innocent and eminently loveable as a child.  As he mourns the bad luck of not being born to loving (or emotionally available) parents, he finds within himself a fierce, unshakeable self allegiance.  He becomes ready, willing and able to be there for himself no matter what he is experiencing – internally and externally.

Peter Walker