The Two Wings of the Bird; Mindfulness and Self Compassion

“The two parts of genuine acceptance — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion —are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.”

It is said that mindfulness is like a bird; it needs two wings to fly. The two wings are clear seeing or wisdom and compassion.

In our meditation circle, we spoke about this and why cultivating compassion is such an important part of the practice. It is like the image of the bird, both wings need to be in balance in order for the bird to soar. When compassion isn’t informed by wisdom, it turns to pity. Too much wisdom and it turns into intellectualization. So, there must be a balance between compassion and wisdom, to help us stay present with the challenges we face in life, and to learn from them. In this post I’d like to focus on the wing of compassion/self-compassion.

Why it’s important to begin with self-compassion…

As a therapist, I counsel clients, who are facing challenges in their lives. So compassion towards their suffering, is an important part of the healing process. It is also important to have self compassion, to be a compassionate witness to what is difficult to be with. Compassion and self-compassion, are healing antidotes to pain. It is indeed powerful medicine, when we are able to meet pain in this healing way. Meeting pain in this way helps us stay grounded and present. It also helps us slow the chain of reactivity and come into connection with the qualities of mind and heart that are able to open to, and hold what is difficult. We become aware, of our moment to moment experience, meeting it with curiosity and kindness.  With this present moment awareness, we can attend and befriend that which is in need of kind attention. This is the opposite of what we usually do when we are hurt, angry or grieving. Our habitual reactive response to these feelings, is to defend ourselves. This isn’t helpful, as it takes us further away from the healing power of the heart. And this is where self-compassion is needed.

Rumi speaks to this in the poem below:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.1 Buddha Relics
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

With mindfulness, we become aware of how we are paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. When we pause and slow down the reactive mind, wisdom can arise and with wisdom, a moment of choice. This moment is a pivotal choice point; continue down the road of reactivity/suffering or shift towards a more healing response.  This is the power of self compassion. We shift from needing to find the villian in the story (others, ourselves), to helping ourselves tend to what is tender and in need of acceptance and kindness. There isn’t a need to go after, or punish anyone. Instead, we turn towards the pain and recognize, that this is a moment of suffering. With that recognition, self compassion arises and we can then be with what’s happening, bringing kindness and compassion to it. So what does that look like?

Turning towards pain

Image result for self compassionIt’s not an easy practice, this turning towards pain. Especially when we’ve been conditioned to respond to pain with aversion, as if it’s not a part of life. So, as you are learning to practice self compassion it is important to be patient with yourself. What I’ve found to be most helpful, is to shift from the story about what happened/is happening to what is felt in the body. so I’ll experience anger as a burning feeling in my stomach, when I feel that, I place my hand on my stomach as a symbol of care and compassion. This instantly brings me into contact with what is happening in the present moment. I feel the pain that is beneath the anger and if I stay with it, breathing into the area of distress and softening around it, the hurt begins to soften. This didn’t happen when I practiced for the first, second or 20th time. It took time to really learn how to shift from feeding the anger with thoughts and stories, to be with the direct painful experience that was happening in the present. A resource that helped is Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion; The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

It also helps to belong to a Mindfulness Meditation Circle that focuses on exploring the practices which help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. Our Sangha, has definitely helped me to deepen my own meditation practice and how these teachings help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. However, if you don’t have a local group, there online groups you may join, that practice on a regular basis.

With the state of the world today, there truly is a need, for all of us to learn how to be a healing presence for all living beings. This helps us and when we are more compassionate towards ourselves, we are able to be more compassionate towards others.

Want to learn more? Join us at our weekly meditation circle, RSVP at Meetup.com or at our upcoming 5 Day Residential Mindfulness Retreat at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center. To register go to our Event Registration page.

If you would like more information on this practice, please feel free to contact me here.

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Cherish This Very Moment…

“Cherish this very moment. Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Butterflies in the night

Every moment is precious…

These words are from a lovely poem by Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh.  Listening with an open mind and heart allows the words to move you, to realize that each moment is a precious gift. That when we approach life with a real honoring of each moment, it allows us to shift from living in a mindless haze to being fully present; feeling our body, breath and the life energy moving through us. When we are truly present for life, aware, open in body, mind and heart, we stay open hearted and allow the suffering of the world to touch our hearts. This shifts us towards pausing, sensing what’s here, and what’s needed or how can we respond to suffering in a way that is both wise and compassionate . This is something that is desperately needed in our world. It is both a privilege and a honoring of life when we are present for it, when we respond to the need, when we cherish each moment, each person and every living being.

Please take a moment to read the poem…don’t rush through it. Receive the words as a blessing, let them touch the heart and as he says enjoy moments of happiness and offer it to everyone. Open to life in all it’s different forms and meet it mindfully and compassionately.
Our True Heritage
 
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
 
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
 
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.
 
This poem is from “Call Me By My True Names” The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Free the Mind, Awaken the Heart…

Waking up to life

Waking up out of our stories is one of the gifts of Mindfulness…

“It’s not life that causes suffering, it’s our story about life—our interpretation—that causes so much distress.” Pema Chodron

The practice of Mindfulness helps us wake up out of our stories about life. As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, tells us, it’s not life/what is happening in life that creates suffering, it’s our interpretation about it. This is great news! It means that we can help ourselves by being willing to be embodied, vulnerable, present and open hearted. We learn to shift from reacting to curiosity, kindness and cultivate the ability to respond to life with compassion. This is something that is lacking when pain is present. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental pain, our tendency is to react with aversion, avoidance or rumination.

There is a saying,  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Easy to say and not always easy to do. And why is that? Because our tendency is to resist; we can get stuck in complaining, procrastinating or ruminating. All these ways of meeting pain, intensify it and transform it into suffering. But what if there were a way to shift towards a more healing and kind response? This is the potential that is offered by the practice of  mindfulness.

The Buddha taught the four Noble Truths and implicit in this teaching is the potential and  path to free ourselves from the many ways we create suffering.  As Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in The Heart of The Buddha’s teaching, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

See Life as it Really is…

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

We begin by seeing, experiencing life as it is, rather than how we want/don’t want it to be. Much of the time we live in our rational minds, we use logic to navigate life or we live consumed and controlled by our emotions. To live from either of these places is to be out of balance with life. So it really is important to connect with what heals us. Here we aren’t talking about material things. Yes, we need them, but it’s not something that moves our heart and nourishes us. It is our connection to each other that helps us feel alive, our connection to the breath that brings us immediately into the present moment. And this is where practice comes in….

As we practice, we begin to see, sense and feel what’s happening in real time.  We stop getting caught up in our desires and aversions and shift towards being present with life and experiencing it. And what are we staying connected to? Wisdom, kindness, understanding, generosity, compassion and joy, to name a few. We connect with our capacity to accept life as it is and with that acceptance comes the ability to respond to what’s happening in a way that is helpful and wise.

It’s not the Trigger that creates suffering…

The Triggers are the tip of the iceberg. 10% is about the trigger and the remaining 90% includes our experiences, trauma’s, hurts, needs, defenses, expectations, etc. It’s complicated and our mind works so quickly, that it’s difficult to parse out all the different causes and conditions that are arising in the moment. Pema Chodron, describes these tendencies as seeds that live in our unconscious. She says, “In the Buddhist texts, our tendencies with their habitual story lines are described as seeds in the unconscious. When the right causes and conditions come together, these preexisting propensities pop up like flowers in the springtime. It’s helpful to contemplate that it’s these propensities and not what triggers themselves that are the real cause of our suffering.”

How Mindfulness helps…

The practice of mindfulness, specifically meditation is one that helps us gather the scattered attention of

Stay Patient…trust the journey

the mind. As we develop this capacity to gather the attention we begin to see beyond the conceptual mind, into experience in real time. For example, if I am sitting on the cushion and I start to have anxious thoughts, instead of following or feeding the thoughts, I can shift attention towards:

  • What’s felt in the body (sensations, tightness, agitation, restlessness, etc.)
  • Is the mind contracted, lethargic, open
  • What emotions are felt in the body? Fear, worry, or some other emotion.
  • We can then ask what is needed to help ourselves.

If I’m too overwhelmed by the feelings, I can shift the attention towards the sensation of the breath; actually feeling the sensations of breathing in and out. This shift of attention, towards a neutral object helps stabilize and regulate our emotions. It helps break up the momentum of reactivity. Like hitting the pause button, we get to regroup, connect, and meet whatever is arising with kindness and compassion. We learn to respond to what is happening in the moment, instead of the story about what’s happening. To do this we need to learn how to respond with head and heart together or wisdom and compassion. This is the path to freedom.

“Only within our body, with its heart and mind, can bondage and suffering be found, and only here can we find true liberation.” This is the potential offered by this path.

Come practice with us and learn more about this transformational practice. Join us at our October 5th-7th retreat as we explore and practice together at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. There are still spaces in the shared and private rooms. Reserve your space today. Register here.

May you be well…

 

 

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