You are a Happening!

Recall that the act of compassion begins first with recognizing suffering is happening, then responding to relieve it. Here, now in the midst of the disruption of our lives by the corona-virus is an opportune time for noticing your suffering is likely to be present. Using your body-mind as a laboratory, notice the breadth of your somatic experience in response to suffering the uncertainty and separation imposed by this event. What is occurring in your muscular and digestive systems? How does your breath change as you meet new challenge after new challenge in the day? Can you focus your attention? How are decisions being made when your nervous system is likely in sympathetic overdrive? What has changed about your mood and sleep quality? Explore all that is happening within to be able to accurately respond with self-care. This is paramount to support your immune system.

Because humans are in fact in a dynamic system of systems in perpetual state of physiological change, it is very instructive to conceptually regard yourself as a happening. This is a simple yet profound teaching I have been most grateful to receive in my yoga and meditation training. What is happening within you and around you are being influenced by your internal and external environment in a co-emergent process. In times of great disruption such as this, wise leadership is essential. Good leaders stay attuned to the interplay of self and others as they navigate new terrain. Creative solutions arise when we are curious, activated and inspired by the challenge rather than paralyzed by fear of failure. So how do we attune to ourselves as a happening?

Radical times call for radical self-compassion which is advocated beautifully by psychotherapist and mindfulness meditation teacher, Tara Brach, PhD. I have found great comfort in following her guidance into a state of self-compassion using this particular practice: R.A.I.N. ( right click to link) It uses both the metaphor of a soothing, soft, cleansing rain and the acronym. In keeping with the groundwork described above, we are encouraged to be present so as to recognize that suffering is happening. Once recognized, then we connect to the somatic experience of what is happening now and actually allow ourselves to feel. Being kind and curious with the quality of our attention, we stay present and investigate so we can nurture ourselves in just the right way. You are encouraged to visit this link for more guidance in this practice of self-compassion. Take the time for self-care amidst all that is happening.

Cultivating Compassion with G.R.A.C.E

Life always calls for compassion! Generating compassion for patients, family and community when we are all in this time of disruption may be more challenging than usual. Humanitarian, author and Zen Buddhist scholar Roshi Joan Halifax describes the following four conditions as a map for creating compassion: the capacity to attend to the experience of others; to feel concern for others; to sense into what will serve others and to act in order to enhance the well- being of others. That is the what of compassion.

We need to invoke grace to get to the how of compassion. To quote Thich Nhat Hanh, compassion is a verb. To be able to follow this map and navigate the terrain to generate these conditions for compassion, she teaches a process of G.R.A.C.E. To begin, we gather our attention. The affirmation Be Here Now is useful. To get here, use the instruction to put your mind and body in the same place at the same time. Do this preferably by placing attention on feeling one place in your body where you are already receiving strong input based on your homunculus (face, hands genitals, feet). Take a few slow breaths, with a long exhale. The next G.R.A.C.E. step is to recall intention. Connect to what is motivating you to do what you are doing right now and FEEL its alignment with your values. As you prepare to engage, attune to self and other. Using the perspective of yourself as a ” happening” in continual co-creation with your environment (inner, outer, other), pause and *sense into your somatic experience all that is happening in your interaction as it unfolds. While we may be conditioned to react to the situation at hand with either helping or fixing, Halifax reminds us to consider what will serve. When we respond with service, we are appreciating the whole context of the situation and acting skillfully to relieve the suffering we have attuned to by sensing what is happening in ourselves and the other person. Engage and end is her final step. Once you are clear on what will serve, take the compassionate action you are able to take with the resources at hand. Sometimes this engagement may generate creative solutions for meaningful change. Other times, engagement is bearing witness together the suffering we experience in the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome of our situation. End with creating some symbolic gesture, such as shaking out your hands, or momentarily bowing your head, to signal to yourself you are closing the encounter to prepare for a next encounter.

Cultivating Compassion: The R in G.R.A.C.E.

The how of compassion can be generated using the acronym of G.R.A.C.E.: gather attention, recall intention, attune to self and other, consider what will serve, engage and end. Simple practices for gathering attention and attuning to oneself to become fully present to our experiences have been presented previously. Recall attention is gathered by developing these habits: frequently checking in that our mind is anchored to our body in whatever we are doing, pausing to notice sensation from key body areas (face, hands, feet, perineum), refreshing our five senses by attuning briefly to each one and repeating be here now( silently or aloud). We will explore theR of G.R.A.C.E., recalling intention for engaging self-care, as an act of compassion.

Intention setting is often confused with establishing a goal. Discerning the difference is essential because our intentions continually shape our reality. Intention describes how we will BE in order to HAVE what we seek. Intention is oriented to the mechanics of the fulfillment of the desire that is motivating our goal. Gaining clarity on what is truly desired is a necessary step in the process of the G.R.A.C.E. step to recall intention. To clarify your desire, you have two choices. First, you can reverse engineer an important current goal to understand why it really matters to you. This is desire/what is sought to be experienced from achieving the goal. If you are in a phase of not having clear goals, you can again reverse engineer your way to clarifying your desire by considering what you have been tolerating in your life. The opposite is likely a desire around which a goal can be established.

Once desire is clear, then we get to our intention/how to BE by considering what conditions are necessary to support the desire that is the primary motivator for attaining the goal. For example, this pandemic has imposed more time at home for many of us, which may have led to one or more projects. Maybe the project involves decluttering a home office, building a patio or learning to play a guitar. Fast forward and imagine deeply enjoying the benefits of your completed project and experiencing feelings of _____? This answers how to BE, starting now, to cultivate the right conditions that support the desire behind the goal. Let’s say project completion would satisfy a desire to FEEL organized or calm or strong or focused or creative. To hone intention, dig deep by looking for a desire that may be behind the first desire. Several choices may fill the blank, so take the time TO FEEL each one to identify which feels most satisfying. Our body is our best ally here, so mindfully observe bodily sensations of this projected future enjoyment of goal achievement more so than using cognitive processes. How are the five senses responding within this projection? Is smiling or frowning present? Recall observations of whatever is happening now are made with a spirit of curiosity and kindness, to feel all feelings without judging them as good or bad.

Intention is stated in the present tense: I AM ___ (calm, organized, strong, focused, creative etc.). The conditions that support your intention will map out an ideal self-care plan. Self-care generated in this way does not create a to DO list but rather an intended way to BE in life as it is, right now . Perhaps one may BE rested, attentive, creative, well-nourished, playful, etc., as conditional for experiencing the intention statement I AM ___. Recalling intention for self-care in this way makes it sustainable by directly supporting what is valued most. This process is also extremely helpful to patient care for cooperatively transforming home programs into pathways for resilience.

We all have a song of the soul, which reflects our journey through life.
By learning to bring ourselves into harmony with our own being we will become our Greatest Selves. ~ Silverhawk

Cultivating Compassion: The E in G.R.A.C.E.

The acronym of G.R.A.C.E. described by Roshi Joan Halifax provides us with a map for generating compassion: gather attention, recall intention, attune to self and other, consider what will serve, engage and end.To know when to engage and end, it is helpful to check in with your ANS (Autonomic Nervous System). Your ANS regulates whether you get to respond to your present experience with a mode of fight or flight or tend and befriend. Is your ANS hyper-activated after taking in the nightly news? Adopting an ATTITUDE that reflects an intention to pay kind attention to yourself, to commit to the mantra BE HERE NOW and, once present to yourself to CONNECT to how you are feeling in the moment, will teach you the skills to answer the ANS status question What is presenting in society of late is a reflection of a many over activated autonomic nervous systems; a state not optimal for sound decision making or for healthy immune function. Not a helpful state for meeting the challenges posed by this pandemic!

To know how to engage in and end compassionate action involves exposure to practices that promote equanimity to arrive at a course of skillful action and practices that promote thriving so we have the vigor to sustain our engagement. Eastern traditions encourage contemplation of our challenges using a both and perspective that explores the interdependence of opposite qualities to arrive at insights that may generate solutions. For example, we are alive now and death may come without warning. Humans can both thrive and suffer. To thrive is to flourish, grow, radiate, succeed, arrive, shine, blossom and prosper. Suffering and thriving are opposites. When we fail to thrive, we suffer. To not thrive is to, shrink, shrivel, recede, languish or cease all. Which brings us back the Yoga tradition, one offered to humanity to overcome suffering- to thrive.

Recall compassion for self is the seed for compassion for others. To that end, consider working with these brief self care practices. Engage, then end in 5 minutes. Having cross trained and practiced for more than a decade as a yoga therapist, these practices reflect the integration of yoga into self-care. Why involve yoga? It is a time-tested practice that offers an embodied technology to directly address human suffering. Our body is generally a convenient tool 😊 Research is showing many of the practices used in yoga are in fact evidence-based in the regulating effect they have upon our ANS. The number 5 carries symbolic significance in yogic view: we are made of 5 elements and human beings are considered to have five treasures (a physical body, energies operating the body, mind and emotions, a conscious witness to body, mind and environment experiences and an animate spirit). It is also a convenient reminder as we all have 5 fingers and that worked with this graphic 😊. Visit this link to 52 different self-care practices to nourish your human treasures.


Cultivating Compassion: The A & C in G.R.A.C.E.

From the work of Roshi Joan Halifax, the acronym G.R.A.C.E is a tool for cultivating compassion. It calls for us to gather attention, recall intention, attune to self and other, consider what will serve, engage and end. Last month’s topic focused on the R/recalling intention as how to BE in order to support that which you desire to have (goal fulfillment).

Attuning starts with being present, which is the result of gathering our attention. Our nervous systems are continually engaging in what the late pain science pioneer Louis Gifford, PT dubbed an SSR mode: Sample, Scrutinize and Respond. Our senses sample the inner and outer environment and provide input that is scrutinized by perceptual centers of the brain. Input generates output; a Response of action or inaction. As our body, mind and environment engage to create our conscious experience the SSR mode explains what is meant by attuning to self and other. Recall, the affirmation Be here Now is a self-care practice that is a precursor to attunement as is the practice of checking in with oneself via paying attention to input from the five senses. Attunement taps our sixth sense, intuition, as an ingredient in scrutinizing.

In integrative health circles, there is a call for health professions to make a significant perspective shift in how we attune to those we serve. The bigger question to aspire to in health care goes beyond what is the matter with you to embrace what matters to you. This question forms the hub of a patient centered or, preferably, person-centered whole health approach to health care. In this paradigm our participation with self-care demonstrates accountability to our health. Attuning to the what matters to you question is supported by applying mindfulness skills to the existence of the ongoing SSR process of human interaction. Recall mindfulness involves paying kind attention to whatever is happening, as it is happening, without judging the experience as good or bad. Mindful observation of our own SSR process involves objective observation of the judgment likely to occur in our scrutinization phase that then motivates and colors our response in the interaction. In situations where what matters to the person we serve is considerably different from what matters to us, the compassion practice of non-judgement is an essential skill. Mindfulness skills of directing attention also assist in our attunement to the SSR process in others; recognizing our SSR processes are always co-mingling and co-emergent in shaping behavior.

Attunement also allows us to C/consider what will serve. In her classic book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen MD made an important distinction between health professionals engaging in service versus acting with helping or fixing derived from our conventional focus on the what is the matter with you question. She teaches us that service fosters healing as it is a relationship among equals empowering all parties. Service generates gratitude, a key to well-being. Attunement is a somatic as well as a cognitive understanding of the answer to the what matters to you question for person-centered health care. It opens the door to meeting people where they are to actively listen to how they can be best served to support what matters most to them. Compassion involves both recognizing suffering and the motivation to act to relieve it. Motivation arises from the feeling of attunement. A simple informal practice is to pause momentarily each time there is a shift in your outer environment; home, vehicle, work, store, nature, etc. With curiosity and kindness, mindfully bear witness to your somatic experience of your SSR mode in each setting. Attune to the effect each environment you find yourself in upon breathing, posture, attentiveness and mood. Attuning to self is a skill that precedes attuning to others.


Is Your Self-Care Happening?

Mindfulness is often defined as paying attention in the present moment without judgement. If you have practiced this, you likely have become aware of a rather continuous flow of sensations and feelings that happen within you, around you and between you and others. Happenings are phenomena; observable occurrences. It is a mindful form of play to consider oneself a sort of happening. It is common to lose sight of how happenings (inner, outer and other) continually shape our responses, which in turn influences what unfolds as the next happening and so on through our days. Much is always happening, but our brains can actually only pay attention to one thing at a time. One.

Consider adopting a habit of pausing often through the day to notice the many pulls upon your attention via your five senses. Notice you can toggle your attention between phenomena attracting it, often quite rapidly like a fast scroll through your cell phone photo gallery but in reality, your brain is attending to one happening after another. It helps to name where your attention is going to appreciate how fast it moves. For example, screens, voices, smell of hand sanitizer, street noise, thirst, COVID statistics, political ad, neck tension, planning dinner, etc. Using this practice regularly reveals where our attention is most repetitively being drawn/what is our happening. Being both neuroplastic and bioplastic, we all become more proficient at whatever (thoughts, words, deeds) we repeat the most, including where our attention is drawn and the feeling states and emotions produced. When distracted, our brain activity typically migrates into a self-referential, self -evaluative mode, generating a vague sense of disease. You may have noticed an elevated level of distraction in yourself and others particularly in this time of deep societal uncertainty on so many levels.

Fortunately, the wisdom traditions have a work around! Once we mindfully observe if the dominant phenomena /most frequent object of our attention generates feelings of comfort or discomfort, we can choose to stay with our observation knowing it will inevitably change, or we can redirect our attention to explore for opposite qualities of whatever phenomena is most repeatedly attracting our attention. As suggested by the Yin-Yang symbol, opposite qualities are always co-existent. For example, disruption couples with stability, stagnation with creativity, fear with courage, fatigue with energizing, noise with quiet and so on. Whatever phenomena is happening, observe also its opposite quality. Over time, this cultivates a neutral sense of equanimity. Equanimity is an elixir for uncertainty.

As we each adapt to the increasing disruption of living through this phase of time, self-care may be compromised if not consciously held as a priority. In keeping with exploring opposing qualities of phenomena, consider self-care’s opposites as a path to appreciating the its value to you. We practice self -care to thrive! Let all tension drain with your breath out and take a fresh breath in affirming you care deeply about you! A quick thesaurus swoop provides these antonyms for care- disregard, neglect, oversight, omission, thoughtlessness and cites withering as an antonym to thriving. Feel the impact of each of these words. If and when we have one of those days where we believe self-care just cannot fit into it, experiencing even for a moment its opposites may lead us to a happening of the wise and self-compassionate choice to invest that five minutes.

Exploring the Self in Self-care

This blog entry invites us to engage in contemplative practice with the notion of the self we are caring for in our present scope of self-care. Working with the universal constant of change, begin by adopting a perspective of oneself as a continually changing happening in your inner, outer and other environments. Every breath, every heartbeat, every sensation, even every thought is a new phenomenon.Practicing with observing oneself as a happening encourages mindfulness of the series of present moments that weave the fabric of each day’s experiences. Contemplative neuroscience would suggest such conscious experience is responsible for our sense of selfhood. Contemplative practices are self- oriented in that they provide practical means to promote human thriving and flourishing by training attention in the domains of self-regulation, self-inquiry and self-awareness. So, this month let’s direct our self-care practice to exploration of who are you?

For many of us, our notion of selfhood tends to be enabled by our embodiment and all of the sensory machinery that comes with the package. Having continual somatic and visceral inputs to our nervous systems provides the primary reinforcement of our sense of I, me, mine selfhood. I am walking, those are my feet, wearing my favorite shoes. Contemplative neuroscience studies the nervous system mechanisms that are active when we engage in reflection, while contemplative practices map out an experiential path of inquiry into the nature of the self. So, as you reflect upon the question Who am I?, does your sense of self extend beyond your body?

As you reflect, it may be useful to take yourself through a process that allows you to arrive at a sense of selfhood by sorting out who you are not. When the activity is complete, rest assured you can reintegrate all you have sorted out. Begin by standing in a posture that embodies dignity. Take a moment to experience the feeling of the posture and its influence upon your breath. Spend a few minutes just standing there in an embodied experience of dignity. Notice if it feels familiar or unfamiliar. Next, imagine you are standing before a shelf on which you will now set all object forms of your societal identification- driver’s license, voter registration, passport, etc. Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I? Next, imagine you place all subject ways you identify yourself up there too; child, parent, partner or spouse, sibling, health professional, athlete, artist, writer, even down to your gender identity. Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I? Now add your five senses and the sixth, your mind as the meaning maker of your sensory experiences. Lastly, appreciating the body as the impermanent material form that it is, tenderly place your body with everything else on the self. There remains a faculty of awareness or consciousness unconnected to the senses, mental machinations and form just placed upon the shelf. Again, inquire who am I? I would not presume to offer an answer to this question other than to pass on the typical phrase from this yoga-based practice that invites a next level of reflection and contemplation, which is I am the one who knows or I am that (not subject to name or form).

This type of practice invites a consideration of extending self-care beyond supporting our body-mind tissue-based systems to other powerful, yet presently immeasurable, domains of healing that support our vitality, our life force. Whatever those domains are for you also, the point of this month’s writing is to call for the necessity of (its /that) inclusion in your self-care. An experience with that nature or essence of the self is likely to be the source of compassion and motivation to take whatever time is necessary for right action in your self-care.