Posts tagged ‘compassion’

June 19, 2018

Notice What Feels Good to Improve the Feeling in Your Gut

When you’re in distress, it’s hard to notice what feels good. If your head hurts, it draws your attention. If your tummy hurts, it draws your attention. If you suffer a loss, the resulting sadness, emptiness and fear draw your attention. When four or five difficult things happen during a short period of time, the feeling in your gut may be so stressful it can become increasingly difficult to notice what feels good.

I suppose it’s the same phenomenon as the squeaky wheel. If some part of us is screaming for attention, that’s where our energy goes. Unfortunately, over a long period of time this shift in focus can become a habit. When the focus on distress becomes intolerable, we tend to do anything we can to avoid feeling it. We often numb ourselves with work, shopping, sex, exercise, binge-watching, gaming, alcohol, or drugs.

Is there a way to feel the good in the midst of hardship?

You’ll find a lot of things written about practicing gratitude. I’ve written some myself. You’ll find a lot of information about being present in the moment. You’ll find resources on showing up authentically and practicing vulnerability. You’ll hear psychological professionals toss around the term self-care. You’ll hear religious leaders espouse prayer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There is merit to all of these practices, but if you’re white-knuckling yourself into doing them, you may need to go backward to go forward.

Over the past few years as I’ve become able to sit still, able to practice yoga, able to know that intellectual insight will follow trusting my body’s signals, I have become increasingly aware that ease, comfort, stability, and balance are often present when I slow down and shift my focus.

After noticing a feeling of tension in my back, I may notice a feeling of ease in my right abdomen. If I hold onto that feeling of ease, I may feel my back relax. When I feel anger or agitation begin to bubble up, I may notice that synchronizing my movement and breathing causes the tension to quickly dissipate. Remembering that when some part of my body is working, another part is at ease allows me to shift my focus to notice ease more often.

It is this noticing of physical ease and comfort that helps me unknot the discomfort in other parts of my body. The unknotting of my mind always follows. Yes, always. The shift is often tiny. The key is making the space to notice. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with my body. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with real emotions. It is through breathing that I build resilience, confidence, and safety.

Notice that the only connection here is with myself? Notice there is no analysis required? Notice that I don’t try to figure anything out? Notice that I am not forcing myself to do anything? I can simply breathe and notice. Breathe and notice. Breathe and notice.

I have gone back to absolute basics. It sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. If you’re like me and surrender feels like giving up, it’s one of the hardest concepts in the world! It has literally taken me years to even begin to surrender and I am still a beginner.

If you stabilize your world through control, hold your breath, or muscle through difficult situations, this post may seem like the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever read. When you reach the point that all of that muscling through leaves you with anxiety and constant panic, come back. Read it again.

The bottom line is, yes there is a way to feel good during hardship. It comes from what some would call receiving. That term confuses me, so I’ll call it noticing — noticing breath, ease, comfort, accomplishment, a feeling of solidness your legs provide, a feeling of strength, a feeling of contribution, a feeling of connection, a feeling of competence, a feeling of possibility, and a feeling of power.

When you’re noticing those things, you are not noticing a feeling of tension, a feeling of heaviness, a feeling of pain, a feeling of sadness, a feeling of loss, a feeling of fatigue, a feeling of panic, a feeling of overwhelm, a feeling of anger, a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling of helplessness, a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of worthlessness, a feeling of doom, a feeling of bracing for the next shoe to drop, etc.

You are not wrong for feeling any of these things, but in an odd way, noticing the opposites will allow you to stop avoiding, fighting, numbing, or trying to move away from “negative” feelings (feelings are feelings and all are okay). All feelings can then move freely instead of remaining stuck in our physiology and psyche.

How all of this works is understudied, but we are learning that yoga practiced specifically to reconnect trauma patients with their bodies affects change in their brain scans. We are also learning that gut neurons communicate with the insula in the brain — the area believed to control compassion and empathy, perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience.

Body, brain, emotions, and perception share a complex relationship. We can’t necessarily think or talk our way through an emotional problem, set good boundaries, or move on from trauma without reconnecting with our bodies. When we reconnect, our gut flora may affect our perceptions.

The easiest path I know to feeling better is to start with basics – eat a variety of as fresh as possible food with minimal sweets, stay hydrated, sleep at least 8 hours per night, incorporate yoga for trauma and/or guided meditation into your exercise plan, and strengthen your boundaries.

Notice the feeling of being nourished by your food. Time your eating so that you never feel distressed by hunger.
Notice how you feel when you awake rested and how you feel the first moment you become tired. Do not push past your tired feeling. Take a nap or go to bed.
Choose yoga that emphasizes your control over the process, moves slowly, and has an instructor with a soothing manner and voice.
Practice giving yourself permission to prioritize yourself. Notice how that feels.
Use a physical boundary to help yourself visualize your limits. Verbalize your boundaries when needed.
Notice a feeling of ease each time you notice a feeling of tension.
Notice how you feel when you make a decision that’s unlike previous decisions in similar situations. If you feel peaceful, calm, relieved, energized, freer, happy, joyful, or even neutral

With these simple steps, you may be surprised how quickly you begin to automatically notice what feels good! That can have a very positive effect on the feeling in your gut!

March 1, 2016

Comparison Kills Compassion

When things in our lives get tough or unpleasant, it’s easy to begin to compare our situation to those around us; unfortunately, comparison kills compassion. Have you ever started looking around at other people in a restaurant eating pie or cheesecake while you have to opt for dessert later since there’s no gluten-free option and begin to wonder why they have it so much easier than you? Do you ever feel annoyed when you sit empty handed while the rest of the office begins oohing and ahhhing over the box of cupcakes they’re consuming?

Once you allow that thought train to begin, does it gain steam and cause you to compare, and compare, and compare until you’re sure you’ve gotten a raw deal as compared to everyone else? Now that you’re on the comparison train, do you move from feeling annoyed to feeling downright angry? Does this anger keep you from noticing the tears in the eyes of the woman eating cheesecake? Does it cause you to turn a blind eye to your coworker’s obvious anxiety that he will be laid off? Do you ever notice that comparison often interferes with any compassion you might otherwise feel for those around you?

It’s easy to jump on the comparison train even when we know it never takes us to a positive destination, and often our comparisons are based on perception and assumption rather than knowledge. How well do you know the colleague you believe is less encumbered? Is it possible that you don’t really know them at all? Is it possible that they are deliberately projecting a certain image in public that hides their grief, sorrow, shame, loss, confusion, or anger? Have you considered that although they can eat desserts you can’t have, their life overall may not be easier or better than yours?

Since it’s sometimes hard to keep perspective, let’s play a game about perception that might help us next time we’re tempted to compare.

The following chart lists descriptions of real people in the left column and their real characteristics or actions in the right column. Match the description in the left column to the action in the right column you believe fits each description best.

Description – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –Action

Award Winning Financial Advisor – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Chairs yearly high-profile charity event for a nonprofit organization.

Perfectly Coiffed, Suit Wearing Executive- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Home is filled with trash and rotting food.

Highly Educated Teacher with 3 Advanced Degrees – – – – – – – – – – – – – -Pooped on sidewalk outside hotel.

Successful Business Owner who sits on Multiple Governing Boards – – – – – Daughter wears doo-rag to church funeral.

Single Mother Earning Poverty Wage – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Volunteers time to adult literacy organization.

Married Woman Pregnant With Baby From Affair – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -Frequently travels to Europe to value antiques.

Mechanic at Tire Store – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Blackens his wife’s eye, sprains her fingers, and holds her down on regular basis.

While you were making your choices, were you focussed on actions that you would expect from the description? Did you stop to think for a moment about the things you do in private that might seem incongruous with the persona you deliberately project to the public?

Now take a look at the real matches:

Description . . . . . . . . . . .. . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Action

Award Winning Financial Advisor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pooped on sidewalk outside hotel.

Perfectly Coiffed, Suit Wearing Executive. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Daughter wears doo-rag to church funeral.

Highly Educated Teacher with 3 Advanced Degrees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Blackens his wife’s eye, sprains her fingers, and holds her down on regular basis.

Successful Business Owner who sits on Multiple Governing Boards. . . . . . . . Home is filled with trash and rotting food.

Single Mother Earning Poverty Wage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Volunteers time to adult literacy organization.

Married Woman Pregnant With Baby From Affair. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chairs yearly high-profile charity event for a nonprofit organization.

Mechanic at Tire Store. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Frequently travels to Europe to value antiques.

How did you do? Were there any surprises?

If even one of the answers surprises you, perhaps you can carry that memory with you and review it each time you’re tempted to judge anyone’s road as easier than yours.

Life brings each of us unique opportunities for sorrow and joy; periods of difficulty and periods of ease; difficult choices that build our character; difficult choices in which we can demonstrate love; failure and success; abundance and scarcity. No matter who you choose to believe has it easier than you, rest assured that they too have faced, or will face, difficulties. It is a commonality of the human experience.

I am enough. You are enough. You are good enough. We have the raw materials within us for a life filled with compassion, gratitude, and peace. I hope we all give up the temptation to poison ourselves with comparison.

August 2, 2014

Why is it so hard to take care of ourselves? A Lesson from Stewart…

Why is it so hard to take care of ourselves? It’s a question I frequently ask myself. Why does it seem like too much trouble to cook dinner when I’m home alone even though I’d happily throw something together for the kids? Why will I run an errand after work for a client while my To Do list grows and grows?

This week, I’ve been asking this question a lot. My granddog, Stewart, is staying with me for the first time. He has no problem prioritizing what he needs. When he’s hungry, he eats. When he’s thirsty, he drinks. When he wants to go for a walk, he stands at the door, looks me in the eye, and moves his head forward. When he wants to go for a ride, he runs to the car and stands by the door. If he wants to sit on my lap, he scoots my laptop with his head to make room. He glares when he’s mad. He growls and entices when he wants to play. He’s cooperative when I tell him no, but he remains clear on his goal.

Yes, I know Stewart’s life is simpler than a human’s. Yes, I know that I can choose myself as a priority and say no more often, but watching Stewart proudly stride toward the gate at the Governor’s mansion during his walk as though he has total confidence that he belongs there reminds me that we all come into the world with this sort of belief – this level of presence. Then most of us learn to be less than.

Once we’ve embraced the concept of limiting ourselves, we encourage others to be less than. When they choose their truth as a priority, we often talk amongst ourselves about how they should behave differently. We call them selfish or self-centered and as a result limit ourselves to the shoulds we have bestowed upon everyone else.

Stewart has no concern about how much another dog eats, how far he can walk, whether he barks more or less. He may be curious, but it doesn’t affect how he manages his time or prioritizes his needs. He is happy to accept other dogs and other people as he experiences them in the moment. I can’t help but be struck by the simple wisdom there is in living in each moment and allowing those around us to do the same without condemnation.

I know that my choices are more complex than Stewart’s, but what decisions can I make that will bring me closer to living fully instead of as less than?

In this moment, when I am hungry I will feed myself fresh, delicious food. If I am limited on time, I will feel satisfied to eat raw fruit or vegetables, nuts, cheese, or leftovers. When I am feeling stiff, I will go for a walk or a swim. When I feel sad, I will sit with my sadness. When I feel afraid, I will not bury my fear in busyness, or a To Do list of shoulds. Instead I will sit with my fear with the confidence that it will dissipate before it consumes me.

I will accept the flaws in others because this will give me the capacity to accept those in myself. I will allow myself to be compassionate toward others when they fail me so I can feel compassion for myself when I fail. I will refuse to accept the notion that any of us are less than. I do not accept the idea that making a healthy choice limits my options. I will not use my time to make things more difficult than they are. I will humbly and strongly speak my truth secure in the knowledge that I am contributing to the collective wisdom around me. I will express gratitude because I am truly grateful.

I will practice, practice, practice because I will never be perfect. For that, I am grateful.

As always Stewart’s look says it all, “Are you crazy? I know I’m perfect!”


March 20, 2013

Inspiring Lessons of Connection from Parents with Critically Ill Children

The past few days, I’ve had a chance to see both the best and worst of humanity. The stark contrast presented by a unique week of interaction has me pondering the importance of connection, personal power, fear, and our contributions to our own misery.

Okay, admittedly that’s a lot of territory so, for now, let’s look at the best and see if there’s anything we can learn that will help us improve the quality of our lives so that our families can thrive.

My week started with a photo shoot of several families who have children that are critically ill, injured, or have recently received a transplant. As I asked each family if they were having a good day, I received varied answers. One family’s son had just had his chest tubes removed after his third open-heart surgery. He is three. The mom told me that she was grateful to have learned it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. When you are told your child may die, it only matters who you are and what’s in your heart. A family that had arrived in town because the mom went into labor on an airplane and we had the closest airport, moved carefully because of her recent Caesarian. Her new daughter is still in NICU, she is having to shower in a communal bathroom, and her husband has been unable to start his new job. She calmly instructed her 3-year-old son who has to wear his blue sweater several days per week because there’s been no chance to locate other clothes. She wasn’t much for talking; her quiet smile said it all. One young mom wrestled her 4-month-old son who recently had a heart transplant. He has gorgeous red hair, a feeding tube, a mask over his face, and he cries incessantly. He was frightened by the photographer’s strobes. As he wriggled and screamed, his young mom remained relaxed and gentle with him. Her unflappable serenity shines through in the photos.

All day long, I kept expecting to see people at their worst – exhausted, frightened, struggling, hopeless. What I kept discovering was that I was seeing people at their best. They may have felt exhausted, frightened, and helpless, but what I experienced was calm strength and total presence in the moment. Without time or energy for the usual niceties or pretense, connection was natural, easy and inspiring. Over and over again, I felt an immediate connection. With each meeting of our eyes, each smile or look of empathy, I knew my presence made a difference. I felt honored, humbled and powerful.

For these families, life has been stripped down to the absolute essentials. Their challenge is to embrace each bit of kindness, joy, or relief that appears while surrounded by the most difficult of life’s realities. If they choose to spend five minutes wondering why their child must suffer when others don’t, they know that’s five minutes they aren’t fully relishing the time they have with their child. What a choice!

It’s easy for most of us to draw a contrast between our everyday lives and that of these families, but maybe there’s something we can learn from them and apply to our everyday interactions:

Because these families are painfully aware that the time we get in this life is limited and uncertain, they focus on making the most of each day. We can all benefit from this type of focus. Our priorities will then allow us to rid ourselves of the activities or friendships we have chosen that do not feed us or contribute positive energy to our lives.

While they have real reasons to worry, these folks recognize that worry is a distraction that keeps us from being present in the moment and thereby prevents us from fully connecting with each other. It is through this connection that we can give and receive empathy, care, comfort, and love. 

Although presented with heart-wrenching circumstances, the families I observed show up each day to face the situation and make difficult choices. We too are faced with everyday choices that affect our health and quality of life. Do we choose to cower in denial or do we gather our courage and make the choice that best serves our overall well-being even if that’s not the easiest choice?

In the role of parent, the adults recognize that they must function as adults. If they weep and wail and act helpless, their children will become frightened. If they are disrespectful to the nurses or staff, they may inadvertently jeopardize their child’s care. If they decide that they just can’t handle the stress of the hospital, their child will be left alone. These loving parents do not choose to burden their children with adult matters so they summon their best selves and find the strength to cope with each difficult day. How often do we fail our children by neglecting to summon our inner strength to set and enforce limits on sugar consumption, screen time, rude behavior, or frivolous spending?

When parents are separated for days or weeks by taking shifts to provide a continuous presence in a child’s hospital room, the importance of adult time to connect without the children cannot be taken for granted. Are we remembering to value our connection with our partner? Do we make time and space for connection on a regular basis? Do we present a united front to our children?

As days turn into weeks and the world begins to shrink to the size of the hospital room, these parents must find small ways to care for themselves and keep a connection with the larger world in order to remain inspired. There is no energy to feel guilty for a few “selfish” moments; in fact, there’s a realization that feeding their own spirit is not just important, but critical. Some of them make sure to take a walk and watch the sunrise or sunset. Others read a book that allows them to empathize with the characters. Some schedule a meal out once a week so they can get out and people-watch. Some moms just take a long bath and a nap or get a massage. Do we measure our worth in self-sacrifice that causes us to lose our identity or feel guilty when we take care of our spirits?

This week in the midst of tragedy, I had the privilege of seeing the best. I also had the experience of seeing the worst. This contrast reminded me that life-changing events are a chance for people to reveal their real character. Sometimes you learn that your partner, sister, aunt, mom, or dad is too fearful to be supportive, too needy to put another’s interests first, too interested in comparison to have compassion, or too threatened by real connection to let down their walls and be there for you. Can we have compassion for their weakness and the courage to let go of our expectations of more from them so that we can recognize and be open to receiving what we need when it presents itself? 

When we allow ourselves to see the truth, we may be faced with other difficult life decisions. Can we be grateful for a chance to face our fears, embrace grief, loss, and change in order to move forward and heal ourselves?

While we may never have a critically ill child, we will all face trying circumstances. Some of us will choose to live in chaos, pain, worry, and dissonance without ever recognizing that we’re making a choice. If you are struggling at the moment, can you tell yourself the truth and begin experimenting with tiny changes in your behavior? Can you take inspiration from what resilient parents have learned? 

 If so, are you willing to share your story? We’d love to hear it.