Compassion is HERE and NOW

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I am just home from attending The Compassionate Mind Foundation’s (the work of Prof. Paul Gilbert) annual conference with my colleagues, Alan Hughes, Choden and Fay Adams. It was a lovely few days where we manned a stall for The Mindfulness Association, letting people know about our MSc: Studies in Mindfulness, as well as our non- MSc courses and teaching pathway (for more information, click here).

There were many inspiring talks on Compassion Focused Therapy and working with trauma, with people who hear voices, compassion and gender, and even some very funny research into how compassionate children are, or not, when it comes to sharing stickers!

However, what struck me the most was how international the conference was- there were people from Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia, The States and Canada (and not only me!) It was incredible to see that all throughout the world, there are people who are working hard at creating compassionate societies: something that is not reported in the news too often.

So, I thought it might be interesting to make this week’s challenge a challenge to bring our own compassion into action. Is there one thing that you might do to not only move towards your own suffering and the suffering of others, but to also move towards alleviating it in some way.

I am not talking about giving up a kidney here, but maybe you’ve been trudging to work through a terrible cold- what might you do to respond to your cold more compassionately? Or maybe you have a friend who has been struggling with their own personal upheavals- how might you respond more compassionately?

IMG_5593Maybe you have always wanted to know more about cultivating compassion and living a more compassionate life: you might like to find a course, listen to a Ted Talk, do a practice!

In the words of Pema Chodron, start where you are! But the operative word is START! 😉

Together, with all of our small acts and in our own little ways, we can all be part of the creation of compassionate societies!

-Jane

 

If you want to hear more about the transformative power of compassion, have a watch:

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Let Be, Let Go, Let In

IMG_4262A few days ago, I was golfing with a friend in the glorious Autumnal sunshine. Conditions were right for a relaxed afternoon of good conversation, mindful attention on not only the ball but also on the stunning park like setting and some nourishing fun. The two of us were hitting the ball well and pleasantly plodding along.

Happy. Content. Even Joyous.

Then, on the fourth hole, the game took a nose dive. Shots that I felt should be straight forward were ending up in the rough, the bushes, the lake- anywhere but the green! I could feel my body tense, I stopped noticing the bird song and an undertone of frustration replaced any feeling of satisfaction that may have been present.

The game was lost before we even reached the half way point!

Interestingly, we both noticed what was happening and we both really looked and marveled at how quick my mind jumped track to not only ‘focus on’, but completely embody the negative. It was crazy!

This got me thinking about Rick Hanson and his famous phrase: the mind is like Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad. All my good shots, the sunshine, the good conversation had slipped through my fingers to be replaced by irritation, tense muscles and a feeling of not being good enough. Again, this was based on 1 or 2 (Ok…maybe 3 or 4!) bad shots.

Thinking of Rick, I remembered his talk from our summer conference and a particular moment when he spoke about the mind as a garden. He explains that in our mind gardens, we need to Let Be, Let Go and Let In or witness, pull weeds and plant seeds.

This noticing what was happening on the golf course was a blessing. I was able to witness my negative mood and simply, as Rick says, Let Be. This is half the battle.

I then Let Go of all of those negative thoughts and ideas about being a crap golfer- this was helped by my friend who kept reminding me of the amazing drive I had made 5 minutes earlier. I pulled the weeds from my mind garden.

This left me space to plant seeds or Let In the positive thoughts and traits that were present. A few bad shots do not define me. AND, I was actually grateful that I had the time, health and opportunity to spend the afternoon golfing in the sunshine, in park like conditions with a dear friend. What a treat in my often ‘too busy’ life!

So, what has this taught me? It’s shown me that I have the skills and the knowledge to develop and grow a healthy, flourishing mind garden through Let Be, Let Go and Let In.

This week, I would like to invite you to try it out! Can we all become resourceful gardeners of our minds? Cultivating and maintaining a bit of happiness, contentment and maybe even joy.

-Jane

Watch Rick’s talk on ‘In The Garden of The Mind’:

 

I will be teaching on the Level 1: Being Present Mindfulness course in Samye Ling this November, if you have always wanted to learn more about mindfulness, sign up and come join us by clicking here.

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A Time for Giving Thanks

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~William Arthur Ward

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving; and being a Canadian, this means a time for giving thanks. It also means a time for family, food and the gathering in of the harvest, whether that be the veg from the garden or the boons and blessings that have fallen upon our lives.

Unfortunately, my extended family live quite far from me- well, they live in Canada. And this means that sometimes, if life feels busy, I try to do a quickie on Thanksgiving. Being in Ireland, I can get away with it. For instance, there have been years that I ignored it all together, or other years where I simply made pumpkin pie and served it as a post- school snack. However, more often than not, I have put on the full deal: bells and whistles included.

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So this brings me to this year. I’ve been busy and I was thinking of going the quickie route; but much to my surprise, my kids are having none of it. Instead, they declared that they are taking the day off school and we will do Thanksgiving properly.

 My initial reaction was – Day off? No way!

But then I got thinking… gratitude is important. I teach and encourage people to practice gratitude all of the time and here in front of me is an actual holiday dedicated to giving thanks. Why wouldn’t I do this for my children?

More thinking…why be grateful?

For all of you who like a bit of scientific back-up, according to Emmons and Mishra (2010), who did the research for me, there are all sorts of benefits:

gratitude interventions in adults consistently produce positive benefits, many of which appear to endure over reasonably lengthy periods of time. Gratitude interventions lead to greater gratitude, life satisfaction, optimism, prosocial behavior (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ), positive affect (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ; Watkins et al., 2003 , Study 4), and wellbeing (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005 ; Seligman et al., 2005 ), as well as decreased negative affect (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ; Seligman et al., 2005 ; Watkins et al., 2003 , Study 3) compared with controls for up to six months. Similar findings, over shorter follow-up periods, have been documented in youth (Froh et al., 2008 ).

In short, gratitude is good for you! I mean life satisfaction and well-being, what more could you ask for?

So this weekend, I have organized a Thanksgiving meal for my friends and family and will find myself stuffed to the brim with delicious Autumnal fare, plenty of laughter and the love of all those most important to me. Not to mention and undoubtedly, I look forward to a long, post festivity nap on the couch in front of the fire.

Life satisfaction and well-being.

So at this time, I would like to extend the invitation to all of you, as a weekly challenge, to take some time out this week to give thanks and to treat yourself to some nourishment in whatever form it is that you need.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Jane

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Building The Base

I used to run races. 10k races. I was in shape and I felt good. The key words here are ‘used to’ and ‘was’. So, it is no surprise that I have made plenty of attempts to recapture the glory days of my fitness. However, one of my latest attempts had me gasping for air, feeling nauseas and ready to give up forever. I reckoned that there must be something wrong with me. There had to be some explanation for my inability to run without feeling like I was dying.

I started to wonder if my resistance to this activity had something to do with motivation. Perhaps, I was giving up too easy. How could I find the motivation to stay with the struggle of getting fit? Suddenly, I remembered that I had bought a book written by Sakyong Mipham called ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’. My meditation practice was filled with motivation. Perhaps, if I turned my running session into a mindful movement practice, I would find sustenance to keep me going.

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I was very excited to see that soon into the book, Sakyong Mipham describes his own struggle with keeping up to one of his trainers as they moved his running outdoors. He explained that his trainer told him that what he needed to do was ‘build up his base’. At first, Sakyong Mipham was doubtful. Building up a base can take up to two years, and he wasn’t even sure that he would be running that long (p. 22-23). Yet, he persevered and has developed a strong meditative running practice. For me, this sounded promising

For me, this sounded promising and got me thinking… when we first learn to meditate, we go through the repetitive process of settling the mind through deepening our breath slightly and introducing counting. This leads into grounding in the body and eventually coming to resting. When I first started the MSc (in 2013), we did this practice over and over again. As someone who had been meditating for some time, I initially thought this practice was regressive. Alas, I signed up for the course; I would follow the instruction. As the weeks progressed, I found that my ability to come to resting strengthened with these preliminary steps. Looking back, I realize that what we were doing was ‘building our base’. If I could build my base through what I initially thought as baby steps in meditation, surely this could happen with my fitness regime.

For the past week, I have been heading to the gym and running for 30 minutes on the treadmill. No, I am not traversing the hilly, bumpy 10k track of my past. I am simply taking things slowly and giving my body the space to reacquaint itself with this activity. I am giving myself permission to ‘build my base’,and you know what? I don’t feel like getting sick or quitting. I’ve got my motivation back.

So this week’s challenge is to build our meditative base- can we go back to basics and see our practice with beginner’s eyes? Can we go back to simply ‘settling our mind’ with a strong support of a focus on the breath and a  count or a simple phrase of ‘breathing in and breathing out’?  How does this feel? What do we notice? Are there any underlying attitudes or thoughts? Resistance in the body?

-Jane

Are you a beginner? or perhaps you are an experienced meditator who has been interested in the Mindfulness Association approach and want to deepen your practice: build your base… I am teaching on a Level 1: Being Present course starting in Samye Ling this November- check it out here.

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Nowhere to Go- Nothing to Do

This past weekend, I found myself resting. With nowhere to go and nothing to do. For me, this phenomenon is quite rare. I mean, we always lead our meditations into a place of resting with nowhere to go and nothing to do and this is a much- welcomed respite for my mind and body, even if it is fleeting.

However, this past weekend, I found myself in the curious position of being at home, chores done and time alone with my three children. What made it even more curious, was my teenagers were not running off with agendas of their own. Instead, there were many moments of the four of us causally lounging on the couch, in front of the fire, book in hand (and sometimes not), simply enjoying the rest. And enjoying being together. We really had nothing to do and nowhere to go.

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Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of the importance of what he calls engaging with a ‘Lazy Day’. He explains that an over scheduled life has the potential to amplify stress and bring on depression; therefore, we should all make time for a day in which life just unfolds. Moreover, he says that “[t]he Lazy Day has been prescribed for us to train ourselves not to be afraid of doing nothing” (2009 p.103), and it was precisely this letting go of an expectation to be productive that really provided the opportunity for my children and I to just rest and be together.

Sometimes, I can get caught up in ‘trying’- trying to communicate openly with my family, trying to make sure there is time and opportunity to ‘do’ things together- making plans. But this past weekend, it was in our non- doing that acted as a catalyst for all the happening.

For instance, at one point we were all on the couch with our devices, and rather than getting caught up in ‘we should all be doing something and not on our devices’, we were sharing funny memes, my son was explaining all of the characters in his video game and what he was trying to do with the characters, and we even watched the all- Ireland GAA final! Ultimately, we were SHARING in our doing nothing. And just being.

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Then when I moved to bake something just for the sake of ‘I love to bake’, two of them followed me into the kitchen, sat on the high stools, held bowls as I stirred the batter, prepped pans as we casually chit chatted. Again, without forcing some activity to bond with, we were naturally just being with one another. Our days unfolded naturally to our rhythm of no schedule. Space was made to just live amongst one another.

It was beautiful. We all rested with nothing to do and nowhere to go. And in this rest, we were connected, together and gave one another the best present that one can give: our presence.

So this week’s challenge is to have a ‘Lazy Day’. Seeing if we can throw the schedules away for one day and just be- moving to the rhythm of non-doing and seeing if we can be curious about what happens in all of that non- doing.

-Jane

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Let it Go

Recently, I was in Dublin airport standing next to a mother with her 8 children. Yes, you read that right- 8 children. One of her kids was going on and on about some complaint as they all stood waiting in line for some thing or another. And the mother, in exasperation, exclaimed,

 “In the words of freakin’ Frozen, ‘Let it Go!’”

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I nearly spit out my coffee. I was shocked by her language, but her children were not. They simply stopped in silence, looked at each other and everyone, including the mother, started laughing. They let it go. Not only of the complaint, but of the tension and irritation that comes with travel and waiting around (did I mention with 8 children?)

A small smile crept on to my face and I vowed to watch the movie. Ok- I still haven’t, but I have been thinking a lot about just letting it go. Letting go of what? Well, trying to control how others see me, how I see myself, of expectations that I’ve placed on others, on expectations that I have placed on myself, on fears… fears that have and probably will continue to play a role in dictating my life.

Sure! I would love to! But this poses the question- how easy is it to ‘in the words of freakin’ Frozen, to let it go?’

For me, it’s not…

BUT, what I have noticed, since the song has been playing over and over in my head, is that when the fears become too much, when the expectations take over, we can bring our mindfulness practice in to help us.

In the song, Elsa cries “Let the storm rage on- the cold never bothered me anyway”.

Can we notice the storm, the expectations, the fears raging on, while not letting them bother us? Can we bring mindful awareness to this experience and still rest in the midst of it all? Can we find our breath and use the discomfort as a support and rest as they swirl in our midst? Can we let them go?

This week’s challenge is to notice when we are starting to get overwhelmed with fears and expectations and to see what it might be like to let them go. To let go of the constriction we have around them- the tight hold on control that really is an illusion. Can we notice when it is happening and laugh like that mother and her 8 children?

-Jane

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Whispering Winds

As Autumn settles in and takes its place, the wind of change can often be seen all around us. For instance, a warm summer breeze may have shifted into a cooler version of itself, or perhaps the green leaves we once saw blowing in the wind at the tops of trees are now swirling in a vortex of air, brown and dead.

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Changes can also mean the physical move towards more indoor pursuits; such as, taking up new courses (check out our Autumn courses at Samye Ling here), children returning back to school and maybe even the start of a slight shift towards our inner landscape. Often, when the leaves start changing, I start to feel a pull towards the quiet and stillness that comes with winter. While this pull starts as a whispering, it can end with many intentions being set for an enriched meditation practice.

This week, the challenge is to set the intention to use the wind, whether it be the sound of wind, the sensation of wind on your skin or the smells that wind may bring, as a support for mindful attention of the changing Autumn days. Whenever we notice the wind, perhaps we can stop for a one- minute pause to notice what is happening all around us. If we are outdoors, we might want to pay attention to signs of Autumn that we can see. Or if we are indoors and hear the wind, we might want to check in with our internal weather and pay some mindful attention to how we are feeling. Wherever we are, we can ask ourselves: What sensations do we feel in the body? What is our emotional state? What is our reaction to the wind that we are witnessing?

And maybe we can even set a few intentions to sit a little bit longer or more frequently on that cushion.

-Jane

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