Archives for posts with tag: self-compassion

People, I’m going to get nerdy. I’m going to talk about a subject that strikes doom into many people’s heart. I am not joking even though I am using strong language.

I am going to talk about risk factors and what they mean from a research perspective.

When the media talks about “what causes/prevents cancer” or “what causes/prevents heart attack” or any other bad disease, they are usually referring to risk and protective factors. Example number 1. We know that smoking “causes” lung cancer. What that really means is that smoking is risk factor for lung cancer. We all know people who smoked throughout their lives and never got lung cancer. And some of us know people who got lung cancer who were never smokers.

So from a research perspective, smoking does not cause cancer. Smoking is a causal factor for lung cancer. It increases the risk of developing lung cancer by quite a bit.

“Elizabeth, that means that I can smoke, not feel guilty about it, and because George Burns smoked cigars all those years and lived to 100 years-old, I won’t get lung cancer?”

No, it means none of that. George Burns beat the odds. I mean literally just that. One, he lived much longer than average. Two, he lived much longer than average given that he was a smoker. No one reasonable ever said that there is a 100% chance of getting lung cancer if you smoke or that there is a 0% chance of getting cancer if you never use tobacco products in any way.

Okay, I promised to get nerdy but I am taking it back. Let me put this plainly. You can engage in activities or behaviors that are risk factors and end up with none of the risky outcomes. Risk is relative, not absolute. You can engage in activities or behaviors that are protective factors, you can be a teetotaler, never smoke, exercise regularly, eat well, be nice to your mother, and still end up with scary diseases. Those behaviors only reduce risk they do not eliminate any risk of disease.

And come to think of it, no matter what we do, some day, we will end up dying.

Does that mean that what you do today, tomorrow, or the next day doesn’t matter?

Thanks for understanding my need to be a a psychologist nerd. Yes, we are all about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors but as Ph.D.’s, we are additionally, all about the research. Also, guilt is when you regret doing something that is in conflict with your beliefs and values. Sometimes I wonder when we talk about feeling “responsible” for our diseases that we are really talking about shame rather than guilt. Guilt actually can be productive and helpful. I didn’t believe that for most of my life until I understood the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt refers to behaviors that we can chose to change. Shame is the feeling, “I am bad.” That’s a lot different than guilt, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Sometimes I do things that are at odds with my beliefs and values. I don’t think that I am alone in this. I try to treat myself with compassion. I am not always successful. I try to be compassionate and patient with myself for not living a perfect life. I am not always successful.

My proposal to myself and with all kindness, to you is, “How do you want to live your life today?”

Much love and peace to all of you,

Elizabeth

One of the reasons that rain is so often used as a metaphor about the full life experience is because it is a really good metaphor. Rainy days can be an inconvenience. It is harder to see, it’s uncomfortable, it’s harder to play. In extreme amounts, rain is a destroyer. In moderate amounts, it is essential to living things.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course online. The current lesson emphasizes dealing with difficult emotions and sensations. One of the meditations that is introduced during this lesson is RAIN (Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify). There is an 11 minute long guided RAIN meditation written and spoken by Tara Brach, who is quite well known in the U.S. for her work in mindfulness.

One of the directions for this lesson was to try the RAIN meditation at least once. This is a more specific meditation than many in that instead of a daily practice, it is designed to be used when we are in particular need for self-compassion or as Tara Brach described it, “When we are at war with ourselves.” As a psychologist, I know that there is utility in practicing a skill even when it is not needed and in fact, doing so can make it easier to use the skill when it counts the most. So I did the meditation for the first time, at time when I was feeling relatively relaxed and calm. I found it to be a quite moving meditation.

Yesterday, my feelings got hurt by my husband. It was the kind of hurt that is common and part of healthy relationships. But it hurt and I was having trouble getting over the hurt. I was doing things that were making it worse, not a lot worse, but appreciably worse. I had a moment of self-awareness and told John, “I need to do some yoga or something. I need to hit a reset button.”

Then I remembered the RAIN meditation and started listening to it. Typically, I would have worn headphones, since I was sitting in the middle of the living room. For whatever reason, perhaps haste, I didn’t. Only John and I were home. I sat, closed my eyes, and listened.

The RAIN meditation, in addition to observing and investigating thoughts and bodily sensations, also includes self-statements and soothing behaviors designed to demonstrate self-compassion. For example, I was invited to place my hand to my heart, as a gesture of compassion. There were phrases that I was invited to tell myself. One of them, which Tara Brach attributed to the famous Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, was, “My darling, I am sorry for this suffering.”

“My darling”? I’m supposed to call myself “darling”. “Suffering”? That sounds like kind of a strong word for the situation I was in, basically, my husband being mildly thoughtless. However, I found myself with my hand over my heart, saying to myself, “My darling, I am sorry for this suffering.” This is the advantage of doing these things while meditating. My snarky self is much quieter and I am open to trying things even if they sound silly.

During the last five minutes of the meditation, my cheeks were moistened by a slow but steady stream of tears. This is the very first time I have cried during a meditation. I know that mindfulness meditation goes beyond feeling calm or refreshed because it is about focusing on the here and now. When my husband hurts my feelings, I am often in conflict with myself. I love him. He is a wonderful man. But when I skip past the part of experiencing my emotions, I judge myself and I judge him. It is a short cut to suffering, even if it is a chronic, low level state.

There was a great deal of power in those tears. The power to be open, to cry, to let myself be cared for and loved by myself. Sometimes, believe it or not, I worry that by getting deeper and deeper into a mindfulness practice that I will lose my connection with others. I will say and write more and more heartfelt but sappy things. I will look odd to people in my community as I get less and less self-conscious about taking my walks in my colorful, mismatched exercise wear not to mention my rain hat with the ear flaps. “Oh look, there’s that crazy lady who takes photos, wears Spandex AT HER AGE with purple shoes and green socks.” It is easy to think this way, especially for women.

Mindfulness gives me a sense of perspective. When I take my walks or go to the pottery studio, I am on my own time. I am doing my own thing and if I look unconventional, I hurt no one. If I am genuine to the point of sappinessĀ  and cliche at times and this makes people uncomfortable, I am pretty sure that this is not my problem.

There are times in life where it is a very good idea to be composed, to suppress emotion, and to be private. But those times are not all of the time. And if you might be embarrassed to tell someone else that you told yourself, “My darling, I am sorry for this suffering”, guess what? You can try it and not tell ANYONE other than you. Your self-compassion can be your little secret power.

 

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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