Mindful Self-Compassion 5-Day Intensive, Toronto ON 2016

MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION 5-DAY INTENSIVE

Christopher GermerLynette Monteiro
Toronto ON Canada

MAY 30 – JUNE 3, 2016

Join us in the exciting city of Toronto for a week of practice in Mindful Self-Compassion.

The Mindful Self-Compassion Intensive is offered as a five-day program and qualifies as the prerequisite for training as a Mindful Self-Compassion teacher. Please see the Center For Mindful Self-Compassion for more details on teacher training.

Mindful Self-Compassion is a research-supported program developed by Dr. Christopher Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff. Research studies on self-compassion show that it can lower anxiety and depression, and improve our relationships with others. Continue reading

Self-Compassion Practices for Emotional Distress: It’s not just about being kind

leavesSelf-Compassion practices and programs are gaining momentum in psychological treatments and look like they might well become the next wave of transforming our painful feelings. Mindful Self-Compassion (1), developed by Drs. Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff, is an approach that can be both an adjunct to conventional therapies as well as a stand-alone treatment model. The interesting and very useful aspects of this approach are its applicability to our multilayered experiences of suffering. First, let’s look at what they define as Self-Compassion.

Neff (2) describes it as a three-fold system that are antidotes to the experiences that cause us suffering. (A sidebar note: Suffering is typically described as Pain multiplied by our Resistance to the reality of that pain (3)). Here’s a table that summarizes Neff’s definition of self-compassion. Continue reading

Building Safeness: How to get intimate with our inner critic

chive heart

We all want to feel safe. It’s important. When we feel safe, we feel confident and more willingly open ourselves to new experiences. In fact, feeling safe leads to the willingness to take risks – to risk being known, being seen, loving and feeling loved. As we encounter the world in all its various ways of showing us what being safe means, we learn to open and close our hearts (and minds) when we feel respected or rejected. Paul Gilbert¹, the developer of Compassion Focused Therapy, uses the term “safeness” to describe the experience of being safe. It’s different from “safety” or “safety-seeking” which tend to be what we do when we are engaged in the threat evaluation/response processes.

There are many things in our environment that we have learned are safe and many we have learned are unsafe. Hot stoves, fast-moving traffic, dark alleys and the like are easy to discern in terms of their safety. Emotion-cued environments are harder to figure out. Our childhood experiences are a fruitful ground where we learn many of our lessons about safeness and safety. Angry voices, certain words, patterns of relationships and other features of interpersonal relationships can become cues for safeness. We typically know the degree of safeness from the language and tone of the person speaking to or interacting with us. Safeness with respect to our inner dialogue is no different from our external experience.

Most people, when asked about their inner voice, smile sheepishly and confess it’s not a pleasant one. But almost immediately, they will begin to defend their not-so-silent partner. “It’s how I motivate myself.” “I’d never know how to avoid mistakes I make if I didn’t remind myself that I can screw up.” While all this is true, the sad fact is, our inner critical voice is often what keeps us from engaging with life. More than that, the inner critic leaves us feeling threatened rather than safe.

Like all relationships, our relationship with our inner critic is complicated. We suspect it’s trying to help but it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. We’d like to turn it off but we’re afraid without it we’d become a lazy lump on the couch. We want it gone forever but it’s a hard-wired part of who we are. We’d like to make peace with it but we’re not ready for that inner group hug. We think it just wants us to be careful and wise but it sounds like it’s telling us can’t do anything right, ever! And to add insult to injury, no one knows us better than that inner critic. It knows all the buttons to push to get us to start or stop. It knows our vulnerabilities and strengths, often over-emphasizing the former and diminishing the latter. It is like being inseparable from an unruly, impolite friend who has really good intentions to keep us safe but can’t create safeness. It is intimate with every aspect of who we are and that also makes it primed for self-compassion²‚³.

However, befriending a person like that is a challenge at the best of times; befriending ourselves in the worst of our times can be daunting. That’s why we need to take slow, quiet steps towards engaging with the inner critic.

Step 1. Mindfulness. It’s hard to be in the presence of harshness, so mindfulness practice helps us stay grounded and aware when the inner critic begins its monologue of dire warnings. Mindfulness of our emotions helps us stay connected with the impact of the words. It also tells us when we’ve had enough and need to get off that nasty train of thoughts.

Step 2. Acknowledge we heard its message. This sounds strange because it may feel like we’re agreeing with it. Notice we are saying, “I hear you,” and not “You’re right.” Everyone has a perspective and the point of view of the inner critic is just one perspective on our life. As we become more comfortable with acknowledging its voice, we can try to acknowledge its attempt to help. Eventually with practice, we may get to say “Thanks for alerting me. I’ve got this!” Remember we can’t fight the inner critic with brute strength; we have to soften around it.

Step 3. Strong back, soft front: respect the partnership. The inner critic is really our attempt at feeling solid in our life; that’s the strong back. We have opinions, ideas, feelings and a reality that is meaningful. We are also of a softer nature that is attentive and giving, accommodating and caring. We feel our vulnerability and openness in relationships. The balance between the strong back and soft front helps us be flexible and available emotionally.

Meditation practices you can try:

1. Lovingkindness and compassion meditations help us develop less fear of being wounded. The inner critic tries to toughen us up against external criticisms and that subtly makes these criticisms seem more threatening than they are and the wounds deeper than they might be.

2. Giving and receiving compassion meditations can help to create space and calm between ourselves and our inner critic. Although the meditations are intended to give compassion to another person in our life who needs it, we could see the inner critic as an aspect of ourselves that needs compassion too.

3. Compassion Breaks and “Soften-Soothe-Allow” meditations help to develop presence in the face of the monologue we heard internally.

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With notes from Glynn, Brittany, Mindful Self-Compassion 8-week program, Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic

¹Gilbert, Paul (2009). The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. New Harbinger Publications: CA

²Germer, Christopher (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion:Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press: NY

³Neff, Kristin (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. William Morrow: NY

 

Advance Praise for “Mindfulness Starts Here” – Christopher Germer

Book-poster

Each week, leading up to the release of our book, we will publish a review or comment from a respected mindfulness teacher.  We are so grateful for their support and encouragement.  

Mindfulness Starts Here is a groundbreaking contribution to the literature on mindfulness in therapy. It explicitly integrates mindfulness techniques into an ethical lifestyle of respect for our mortality and our limits, and for cultivating generosity, compassion, and mindful consumption. The words of these wonderful teachers embody the practice and, together with the companion CD’s, provide a comprehensive program for living fully throughout the ups and downs of our lives. When you’re ready, here’s the trustworthy place you need to begin.

Christopher Germer, PhD, Clinical Instructor, Harvard Medical School, author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion & co-editor of Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy

Visit Christopher Germer’s website Mindful Self-Compassion for information on his retreats, books, audio meditations, and so much more.  Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff have launched a nice initiative as well: The Center for Mindful Compassion where they offer training in Mindful Self-Compassion, retreats, and other amazing work to support our practice.

Taking the path from forgiveness to gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada.  It is a time to reflect on the wonderful people we have in our lives and the good things that have blessed this life.  In the language of practice, we “incline our hearts” towards the practice of gratitude.  This is a wonderful practice on the path of well-being.  And yet, there are times gratitude is difficult in the face of the suffering we feel.  We know we have hurt others and others have hurt us.  Resentments, anger, and bitterness lurk in the shadows keeping us from truly appreciating the richness of our life.

A traditional practice we use to find our way to calm and ease is the metta or lovingkindness meditation.  We begin with ourselves, offering a wish to shift our perceptions of who we think we are; may I (be deserving to) be free of suffering.  We incline our heart in the direction of this worthiness.  Then, as we widen our circle of inclusion,  we “wait for others to show up” so that we can lean that heart further and further into a deep desire that all beings be free from harm, be safe, be healthy, be well.  As each person appears, we savour the deliciousness of our love and care for them.

Tucked into this practice, are those who have hurt or harmed us, those whose presence makes us incline the heart away from metta.  We hold assumptions about them, their motivations, their willingness to hurt us.  These are the blind spots in our open-heartedness.  We also hold assumptions about ourselves when we are painfully aware of the ways in which we have hurt and harmed others.  These are more blind spots in the vision field of the tentatively opening heart; eventually the whole landscape can be obscured from our vision and we forget what there is to be grateful for.

Adding to our pain, we tend to see blind spots as fixed just as we see the “badness” of ourselves and others as fixed.  We begin to own that negative aspect or use it to filter our perceptions of the other person.  This adds a dimension of futility to our wish that the anger or resentment can change.  How can something intrinsic change?

So, it’s important to begin our cultivation of gratitude with a practice of forgiveness, with an openness to the truth that we and all beings act “wittingly and unwittingly” due to a complex set of biological, cultural, and acquired causes and conditions.  This possibility that we or the other person may have acted with OR without awareness shifts our perception of a fixed aspect of who we are or who the other person is.  By taking a different stance to our blind spots, the unseen aspects of a relationship are revealed.  Just like the little mirror on the corner of side mirrors on newer cars, we have a chance to see things that were typically blocked from our view.

It’s important to note as well that forgiveness of another does not mean we approve of their actions or that we should resume our relationship with them.  It does mean we step out of needing them to play a role in our well-being.  We repossess our power over our intentions and actions.  We become discerning about our vulnerabilities and understand that wittingly or not, we are able to hurt others just as we are able to be hurt.

As we release from the pain of self- and other-inflicted hurts, we can begin to practice the art of savouring our life.  We begin with an awareness of what is present for us in each moment.  We take a stance of appreciation for these wonderful gifts.  And, most important, we linger in that state of appreciation, bringing our hand to our heart, saving that sensation to the hard drive of awareness.

Does it feel manipulative to focus on the positive things?  Didn’t we learn in mindfulness courses that life is about connecting with our suffering?  True, however our minds have a natural inclination to and tendency for getting stuck in the negative, a negativity bias whose intention is to protect and ensure our survival.  Given its tendency to incline that way, we may as well take charge and incline it in a more beneficial direction that counterbalances the negativity bias.
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Note bene: This post (and terms in quotes) were inspired by the Mindful Self-Compassion training provided by Drs. Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff.  You can find a forgiveness meditation here at Mindful Self-Compassion along with many others on self-compassion.  More self-compassion material is available here at Self-Compassion.

Lions and Tigers and Compassion. Oh my!

A Triad of Book Reviews: Understanding the “Yellow Brick Road” to Compassion

Guest Author: Brittany Glynn, PhD(c) at University of Ottawa

In the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, the central character Dorothy finds herself swept away by a cyclone and lost in the Land of Oz. With nothing but her small dog Toto, ruby-red slippers, and a driving desire to return home, Dorothy embarks on an adventure to find the great Wizard of Oz – a “larger than life” being who may have the power to help her return to Kansas. In many ways, each of us has felt like Dorothy at some point in our lives where we are swept away by cyclones of anxiety, depression, burn out, negative thoughts, and self-criticism. Personally, when I am swept away by my own emotional and mental “cyclones” I feel that I have been thrust into places that are so far from “home” – so far from a life that is anchored in the present moment. When lost in these emotional and mental stories, I can relate to the struggle of searching for the Wizard of Oz…searching for the hope and means to finding a way back to the present moment.

As illustrated by Dorothy’s story and in relation to our own lives, we cannot embark on our journeys alone. While traveling the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy encounters three unique individuals that become her friends and companions on the path to find the Wizard of Oz: the Scarecrow searching for a brain, the Tin Man longing for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion hoping for courage. In my life, while traveling down my own Yellow Brick Road, Compassion is the friend that travels beside me – yet it is a friend that I am still getting to know – a friend that I am learning to trust. Thus, I will review three books that attempt to explain the role of Compassion in relation to well-being and living in the present moment. Each of these books are symbolic of Dorothy’s three friends, specifically: Sharon Salzberg’s (1995) book “Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness” is the Scarecrow – the wisdom and knowledge bestowed in the brain; Kristin Neff’s (2011) book “Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind” is the Tin Man – the warmth and security of a loving heart, and finally Christopher Germer’s (2009) book “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions” is the Cowardly Lion embodying the courage to face our internal and external resistance to suffering.

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