On Wednesday, I am presenting at a ‘Beyond Diagnosis’ conference at University City Cork (UCC)’s school of nursing and midwifery. The subject that I am covering is how compassion based practices create the conditions for psychological resiliency. While I was putting together my power point, I was struck by how my research was very much influenced by both EAST and WEST viewpoints, which in turn got me thinking about our upcoming February conference http://www.mindfulnessassociation.net/EastMeetsWest2015.aspx.
My presentation is based on a paper I wrote for the MSc, last year. In my paper, I explained that one of the defining factors of mentally surviving a trauma is psychological resilience or the ability to experience trauma and to return to a mental state that is stronger than before the event. Moreover, Hora Estroff Marano, the editor-at-large of the journal Psychology Today furthers this explanation when she states that
[a]t the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself- yet also a belief in something
larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They
find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending
pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs
(Psychology Today website, May 21st, 2013, para. 1)
Marano’s definition of resilience can be compared to the underlying principles of the Buddhist concept of mindful compassion in that psychological resilience requires a shift from self-focus to a focus on others (compassion), a reluctance to define oneself according to one’s experience (non-attachment), and by ‘perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs’, a state of mindfulness and a deep comprehension of impermanence is required with the meeting of each moment as it unfolds.
I found more EAST and WEST connections throughout my research as I went on. However, the most poignant of all was my comparison of bodhicitta and resiliency. Our MA tutor Choden explains that “[b]odhicitta connects to buddha nature, the fact that each one of us is intrinsically whole and well and free, and nothing that happens in life can damage or destroy this” He furthered this statement when he told me that this wholeness, or one’s true self is not necessarily compassion, but it can be reached through compassion as to be compassionate towards self and others requires a deep desire to connect with the true nature that resides at the heart of each of us.
This true nature/bodhicitta, or what Pema Chodron explains as the awakened/enlightened mind/heart (Chodron, 2003) is what scientists would call the resilient self. Like bodhicitta, the components for psychological resilience reside in each and every one of us. For example, when a burn survivor was asked what resilience was, they responded with it’s something “deep inside of you, it’s already there, but you have to use it” (Holaday and McPhearson, 1997, p.348). So, what do we need to do to find this resilient self that resides deep inside? Well, Prof. Paul Gilbert suggests a ‘regular action of compassion’ approach. He compares compassion as “a kind of physiotherapy for the mind” (Gilbert, 2009, p. 266), and explains that there are many exercises that we can learn to strengthen our compassion muscle.
Kristin Neff offers some advice
East meets West…..
I can hardly wait for more nuggets of insight to come during the East and West conference in February. These two sides of the coin are not so dissimilar, in fact, they are interwoven.