Nov 17

the touch of self-compassion

john2014Do you sometimes get down on yourself for not being perfect? Do you notice yourself being unkind to yourself when you make mistakes? Or maybe you get caught up in frustration when something does not turn out as you had hoped? Can you be self-critical or overly demanding of yourself? Or maybe you are struggling right now with incredibly difficult life challenges. If any of this resonates with you, or if you would like to simply be a bit happier, then this article is for you.

I think we all can relate to questions like the above and I most certainly have had such moments of self-berating and struggle. Recently in my work as a research psychologist, I became interested in exploring how self-compassion may be related to mental health (mh) outcomes. There is a fascinating, growing body of psychology literature that suggests a relationship between being self-compassionate and positive mh outcomes. I boiled the field down into just a few morsels of wisdom that I think may be useful for others. Therefore, in this article I have three aims: 1) describe the psychology of self-compassion; 2) briefly describe the research; and 3) offer a few tips on how to bring more of it into your own life.

The Psychology of Self-compassion

Self-compassion, as defined by a leading scholar in the field, Kristin Neff, PhD, is one’s willingness to be contacted by and receptive to one’s own suffering, rather than turning away from it (Neff, 2003). Being self-compassionate involves a desire and willingness to be with this suffering and committed to healing it with a soft kindness. Self-compassion is a practice of approaching one’s challenges, limitations, and shortcomings with a loving acceptance and recognizing them as a universal part of our basic human condition. It is a remembrance and honoring of one’s innate, human worthiness and an invitation to forgive ourselves for our imperfections and slippages of virtue.

Neff (2003) suggests that self-compassion has three facets: (a) self-kindness- the application of kindness and understanding to oneself instead of harsh judgment and self-criticism; (b) common humanity- remembering and feeling that one is a member of a larger human tribe, rather than a isolated and separate being; and (c) mindfulness- to embrace fully the painful aspects of one’s experience with equanimity, rather than becoming enmeshed in them.

Practices to Cultivate Self-compassion

In this last section, I discuss how to utilize Neff’s (2003) three facets of self-compassion to practice and inspire self-compassion in your own heart. Next time you have a difficult experience or are struggling with challenging emotions, consider trying out these practices:

1. Practice self-kindness: Soften into your own pain, and move deeper within to connect to yourself in a way that acknowledges and honors something really good about you. Know that it is common, when experiencing intense emotions, to not be able to think of something good, so in that case, do something that brings you happiness and joy. One of my practices is to take myself out for a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe with a really good book or a caring friend. In meditation, you can offer yourself supportive phrases of encouragement that honor the suffering and hold intention for its resolution.

For example, you can offer to yourself Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Love Mantra’s: 1) Darling, I am here for you; 2) Darling, I know you are there for me…and I’m so happy you are truly there; 3) Darling, I know you suffer… that is why I am here for you; and 4) Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.

By turning this practice towards oneself, one is able to empower more self-reliance and confidence in being able to skillfully manage challenging emotions without turning toward external (or in some cases, unhealthy) coping mechanisms. We establish our own heart as our place of true refuge.

2. Connect to a common humanity: When in strife, remember your sacred membership to an abundant planet of fellow human-beings, animals, plants, natural resources, and a larger universe of stars, planets and all things cosmic. It is common when something traumatic or really difficult happens to us, that we may feel as if we are alone in the experience. Finding safe ways to get more connected to a positive community builds self-compassion by fostering feelings of warmth and affiliation. Broadening one’s perspective outward beyond the self puts one in contact with others who have walked a similar path and this may relieve feelings of isolation. In meditation, one can imagine being fully and beautifully interwoven into this inseparable web of life and sending well-wishes of healing, love, and kindness toward the self and outward to all beings, plants, animals and the universe.

3. Practice mindfulness: Perhaps an oversimplified way of describing mindfulness is that it is present-moment awareness, held with intention, in a way that is discerning, yet non-judgmental, and compassionate. Mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways including yoga, meditation, art, and all of the variety of mind-body practices. Even many of our everyday activities can be practiced with mindfulness, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. Mindfulness builds self-compassion by providing a lens to notice self-judgments, and it offers us a framework to intentionally let go of the desire for things to be other than what they are. As we develop a radical acceptance of all things, including ourselves, exactly as we are, we are essentially laying down fertile soil for a flowering of the seeds the practices sow for positive self-transformation. It may sound paradoxical that change comes through acceptance, but imagine how much easier it would be to move through the world without the ten thousand pounds of self-judgment that you may have been carrying around all of these years.

Here I have described several ways in which practicing self-compassion can be a powerful way to bring more happiness, freedom, and grace into your life. The tools of self-compassion are simple, yet they hold the potential to make profound, meaningful, and positive contributions to your well-being. Now is the perfect time to begin to practice. As you finish reading, I invite you to take a few moments to honor yourself for your commitment to your well-being and reflect on how you may deepen this commitment by offering self-compassion and kindness to yourself every day. You can write your thoughts down and create a self-compassion action plan.

References:

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Sep 20

Friday: Fall Equinox Restorative – Sep 23

meditationrestorepaloalto

Jan 28

Spinning

hiking-trail-336561_640
Today, I see your face,
the stones start spinning.
Out of the empty, vast landscape
You suddenly appear.
All my studying wanders.
I lose my place.
This river water turns pearly.
This Fire dies down
and does not consume.
In your presence
I do not want
what I thought I wanted,
those three little hanging lamps.
Inside your eyes
all the ancient manuscripts
seem like rusty, old mirrors.
I feel your breath soft
warm against my bearded cheek
    in my mind
unseen new shapes appear.
Your music in my ear
is all I desire and
this song’s wings
are as widespread
as spring
You take my hand
You move me
like an old great wheeled wagon
rolling along this old war torn trail.
I turn to you
and I can’t help
but
to ask you
to please
Drive slowly.
Original by Rumi
rewrite by John

Dec 11

Poem Response to Rumi

earthWhat will
our children do in the morning?

Will they wake with their hearts wanting to play
their arms wide open and outstretched
perfectly enough
like wings
so they may take flight?

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered
enough strength from planets
to teach us to care for
Mother Earth
and her wonderful charms?

Will our eyes be open enough to see
in her beauty,
a reflection of our own?

Will our ears be open enough to hear our children’s laughter?
Will we have the wisdom to join their rambunctious play
to again learn the secret ways of our heart?
Will we honor its pure longing and simple want
to again be alive?
Will we give to this world a Love
that is simply so lovely
that it endures everything?
A true Love that even outshines time
never failing or faltering not even becoming
a dim flicker

Will we remember to keep looking up,
to keep open to a soft Mother Earth kiss
descending down from her baby blue sky?

Can we see how our children take in her cleansing breath?
Little lungs giggling
Wind through trees touching their cheek?
Will we have the sense to hear from her clouds
sweet song lullabies
sung all
so kind?
Alas again, I ask-
what will our children do in the morning
if it is not us that first have the courage
to fly?

Nov 27

Thank you!!!

Dear Friend,

I write to you today to say thank you for your ongoing support and presence in our mindfulness and yoga community. I continue to learn, grow, and be inspired each time I see you on the yoga mat. Words are never as good as the warmth of an in-person smile or hug, but I will of course again say, “thank you!” I collected some of my reflections on gratitude here and put together a brief contemplative practice to support you in creating more gratitude in your own life.

Nine Steps to Gratitudephoto

Throughout human history, gratitude has been revered as a high virtue. This is evidenced in many classical and sacred texts propounding its importance across traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Western philosophy among others. Indeed Cicero’s proclamation that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others” exemplifies this. The specialness of gratitude even lives within the word itself. Examining the Latin roots of the word “gratitude” reveals the sacred dimensions of practicing gratitude. One interpretation of the Latin Gratia, means grace- which, in my interpretation, reflects the bestowal of Divine blessings upon oneself and all beings. Therefore, offering gratitude opens us up to becoming full of grace and then shining that gracefulness and gratefulness outward.

The psychological literature even reflects several health benefits of gratitude including strengthening relationships and enhancing happiness, pride, hope, and boosting prosocial behaviors. Given the wisdom of the sages over the centuries and the modern discovery of these health benefits, it seems clear that the practice of gratitude is a worthy pursuit. So you may ask, “how can I experience and offer more gratitude in my life?”

Drawing from the disciplines of Mindfulness and Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology, I offer you the following contemplative meditation practice to support you in cultivating gratitude.

9 Steps to Cultivate Gratitude

  1. Begin by simply meditating on the breath
  2. Allow your thoughts to arise and skillfully, yet compassionately scan these thoughts for negative, unwholesome, unappreciative, or thoughts tinged with entitlement
  3. Acknowledge, allow, and appreciate even these more difficult thoughts as a part of your present moment experience and notice their effect on your body, emotions, and spirit
  4. Deepen your breath and specifically breathe into your heart- the seat of love, kindness, and compassion
  5. Set your intention to consciously and kindly shift the unwholesome thoughts toward brighter, more radiant thoughts infused with love, gratitude, and an appreciation for all beings and all things; if this is challenging, simply think of a person or animal that you feel unconditionally loved by.
  6. Feel the effect of generating these positive thoughts on your body, emotions, and spirit
  7. Intentionally direct and send this positive energy outward emanating it in waves from your heart
  8. Savor this experience and resettle your awareness back to the breath preparing to let go of this practice
  9. Place your hands onto your heart and offer gratitude toward yourself for taking this time to cultivate this healing energy not only for your benefit, but for all beings

I wish you love and blessings this holiday season and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Namaste,

John

Aug 24

Re-interpret of Hafiz poem from classes 8/22/14

My Eyes So Soft

Do not
Surrender
Your saddnesstomaleswater so quickly.

Rather

Let it move in
and cut more 

Deeply.

Let it ferment and season you
As very few human 
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something is oh so astray
and missing in my heart tonight

This bearing witness
This seeing
Has made my eyes all so soft,

My lonesome voice all
so 

Tender,

My need to feel that sacred touch of Spirit 
Washing all over me all
so
Absolutely

Clear.

Original by Hafiz,
(Sufi Mystic 1320-1390 A.D.)
translation by Daniel Ladinsky

rewrite by John

Aug 10

October Retreat Online Sign-up at Retreats Page

frontpageannounce

 

Sign Up here: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=dxpka8fab&oeidk=a07e8yfhgwhf6a8fbdb

Jul 26

All Is Made Holy

allismadeholy

Jul 22

Tread This Path Lightly: Reflections and research on self-compassion as a healing practice

john2014Do you sometimes get down on yourself for not being perfect? Do you notice yourself being unkind to yourself when you make mistakes? Or maybe you get caught up in frustration when something does not turn out as you had hoped? Can you be self-critical or overly demanding of yourself? Or maybe you are struggling right now with incredibly difficult life challenges. If any of this resonates with you, or if you would like to simply be a bit happier, then this article is for you.

I think we all can relate to questions like the above and I most certainly have had such moments of self-berating and struggle. Recently in my work as a research psychologist, I became interested in exploring how self-compassion may be related to mental health (mh) outcomes. There is a fascinating, growing body of psychology literature that suggests a relationship between being self-compassionate and positive mh outcomes. I boiled the field down into just a few morsels of wisdom that I think may be useful for others. Therefore, in this article I have three aims: 1) describe the psychology of self-compassion; 2) briefly describe the research; and 3) offer a few tips on how to bring more of it into your own life.

The Psychology of Self-compassion

Self-compassion, as defined by a leading scholar in the field, Kristin Neff, PhD, is one’s willingness to be contacted by and receptive to one’s own suffering, rather than turning away from it (Neff, 2003). Being self-compassionate involves a desire and willingness to be with this suffering and committed to healing it with a soft kindness. Self-compassion is a practice of approaching one’s challenges, limitations, and shortcomings with a loving acceptance and recognizing them as a universal part of our basic human condition. It is a remembrance and honoring of one’s innate, human worthiness and an invitation to forgive ourselves for our imperfections and slippages of virtue.

Neff (2003) suggests that self-compassion has three facets: (a) self-kindness- the application of kindness and understanding to oneself instead of harsh judgment and self-criticism; (b) common humanity- remembering and feeling that one is a member of a larger human tribe, rather than a isolated and separate being; and (c) mindfulness- to embrace fully the painful aspects of one’s experience with equanimity, rather than becoming enmeshed in them.

Psychological Research on Self-compassion

Being self-compassionate appears to be connected to numerous positive mh outcomes. A meta-analysis study, which is an aggregate analysis of many similar studies, conducted by Macbeth and Gumley (2012) surveyed the larger field of compassion and mh. They found that having higher levels of compassion were related to lower levels of mh symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. A study published two years ago by Van Dam & colleagues (2012) of about 500 adults with mixed anxiety and depression remarkably described the role of self-compassion in predicting mh outcomes. The researchers found that participant scores on a measure of self-compassion predicted participant reports of depression and worry. In a subsequent analysis, they combined measures of self-compassion and mindfulness and discovered they could predict not only depression and worry, but also anxiety and quality of life. When they further teased apart their findings, they discovered that self-compassion was actually a more robust predictor of anxiety and depression symptom severity and quality of life than “dispositional” (or innate) mindfulness. They calculated that self-compassion accounted for as much as ten times more unique variance in mh outcome variables than mindfulness. Findings such as these speak to the importance of self-compassion as both an independent practice and perhaps as an essential ingredient to be included in mindfulness training and practice.

As a scientist, I must acknowledge these studies are limited by their cross-sectional designs, homogenous participant demographics, and researchers readily acknowledge the challenges associated with defining and measuring such complex, theoretical constructs such as mindfulness and compassion. Despite these and other limitations, I think these findings are worthy of igniting enthusiasm among practitioners and cause for reflection on how to include compassion training in yoga and mindfulness programs.

Practices to Cultivate Self-compassion

In this last section, I discuss how to utilize Neff’s (2003) three facets of self-compassion to practice and inspire self-compassion in your own heart. Next time you have a difficult experience or are struggling with challenging emotions, consider trying out these practices:

1. Practice self-kindness: Soften into your own pain, and move deeper within to connect to yourself in a way that acknowledges and honors something really good about you. Know that it is common, when experiencing intense emotions, to not be able to think of something good, so in that case, do something that brings you happiness and joy. One of my practices is to take myself out for a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe with a really good book or a caring friend. In meditation, you can offer yourself supportive phrases of encouragement that honor the suffering and hold intention for its resolution.

For example, you can offer to yourself Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Love Mantra’s: 1) Darling, I am here for you; 2) Darling, I know you are there for me…and I’m so happy you are truly there; 3) Darling, I know you suffer… that is why I am here for you; and 4) Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.

By turning this practice towards oneself, one is able to empower more self-reliance and confidence in being able to skillfully manage challenging emotions without turning toward external (or in some cases, unhealthy) coping mechanisms. We establish our own heart as our place of true refuge.

2. Connect to a common humanity: When in strife, remember your sacred membership to an abundant planet of fellow human-beings, animals, plants, natural resources, and a larger universe of stars, planets and all things cosmic. It is common when something traumatic or really difficult happens to us, that we may feel as if we are alone in the experience. Finding safe ways to get more connected to a positive community builds self-compassion by fostering feelings of warmth and affiliation. Broadening one’s perspective outward beyond the self puts one in contact with others who have walked a similar path and this may relieve feelings of isolation. In meditation, one can imagine being fully and beautifully interwoven into this inseparable web of life and sending well-wishes of healing, love, and kindness toward the self and outward to all beings, plants, animals and the universe.

3. Practice mindfulness: Perhaps an oversimplified way of describing mindfulness is that it is present-moment awareness, held with intention, in a way that is discerning, yet non-judgmental, and compassionate. Mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways including yoga, meditation, art, and all of the variety of mind-body practices. Even many of our everyday activities can be practiced with mindfulness, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. Mindfulness builds self-compassion by providing a lens to notice self-judgments, and it offers us a framework to intentionally let go of the desire for things to be other than what they are. As we develop a radical acceptance of all things, including ourselves, exactly as we are, we are essentially laying down fertile soil for a flowering of the seeds the practices sow for positive self-transformation. It may sound paradoxical that change comes through acceptance, but imagine how much easier it would be to move through the world without the ten thousand pounds of self-judgment that you may have been carrying around all of these years.

Here I have described several ways in which practicing self-compassion can be a powerful way to bring more happiness, freedom, and grace into your life. The tools of self-compassion are simple, yet they hold the potential to make profound, meaningful, and positive contributions to your well-being. Now is the perfect time to begin to practice. As you finish reading, I invite you to take a few moments to honor yourself for your commitment to your well-being and reflect on how you may deepen this commitment by offering self-compassion and kindness to yourself every day. You can write your thoughts down and create a self-compassion action plan.

About John’s Teaching:

SF+Berkeley: John teaches weekly Restorative yoga classes at Yoga Tree and offers numerous Restorative yoga workshops throughout the year at numerous YT locations and will be teaching an Advanced YTT- The Psychologically-minded Yoga Teacher, on Nov. 15 at YT Portrero. His weekly teaching schedule is: Sunday 6:15 pm @ 6th Ave; MW @ 8pm Telegraph; Fri 8pm @ Valencia.

Mountain View: John teaches two Power yoga classes at Yoga Belly: Tue @ 4:15pm & Fri @ 4:30pm

Bio:

Dr. John Rettger is the Director of Mindfulness in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Early Life Stress & Pediatric Anxiety Program. John’s current research is focused on developing mindfulness and yoga-based wellness programs for youth, teachers and mental health and wellness professionals. He has taught, consulted, and lectured on mindfulness and yoga for mental health in a variety of settings including professional development groups; a law firm; an International Workgroup on War, Violence, and Trauma at Stanford; the Stanford School of Medicine’s Residency program & Psychiatry Grand Rounds; the Stanford Dept. of Religious Studies; elementary schools; retreats; local school district staff development trainings; and psychology clinics. He is a lover of poetry, hanging out with friends and drinking awesome coffee.

References

MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545-552.

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. J Anxiety Disord, 25(1), 123-130. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.08.011

 

Dec 24

Winter Mindfulness Intensive: Cultivating Mindful Relationships

bluebannersmallAs my practice and teaching of mindfulness and yoga evolves, I have become more passionate about joining these practices to my training in clinical psychology to promote health through the direct application of spiritual techniques toward creating a more loving and compassionate society. I have therefore chosen January-March as a time to focus on mindfulness and relationships. With the start of a New Year, it is the perfect time to reflect and develop positive relationship skills to evolve our relationships toward a greater experience of love and freedom.  I believe in the sacred nature of interpersonal relationships and the power of intimacy as a transformative and spiritual path. My sense is that the health of human relationships plays a vital role in shaping modern culture and society. Whether it is a romantic partnership, business relationship, or the relationship between nations- mindfulness can provide a set of skills and awaken a wisdom that promotes health. The Buddhist psychologist, John Welwood, once wrote that “in a relationship … we cannot avoid having to face all our rough edges. Intimate person-to-person contact also stirs up a whole range of unsettling feelings, along with all our fears, going back to childhood, about love, power, abandonment, betrayal, engulfment, and a host of other interpersonal threats.” John candidly gives voice to some of my own challenges in relationships and I am sure most others resonate with these kinds of experiences as well. Mindfulness in its ability to awaken witness consciousness, in its power to provide us the ability to be still among waves of emotion, in its ability to bring physiological harmony and homeostasis seems to be a perfect practice to transform old, unhealthy, habitual relationship patterns and to lay down a vital foundation for wholeness. Psychological science lends support to these ideas as well.

In 2007, Karen Wachs & James Cordova published a study in the JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY suggesting that couples who practice mindfulness may be more likely to experience increased relationship health and stability, increased satisfaction and affectionate behavior and a deepened sense of inter-partner harmony on a number of life issues. In particular, they noted that mindfulness appeared to be associated with enhanced emotional skills in the areas of empathy, emotional identification and communication, and a more skillful experience of anger. The researchers especially felt that decreases in impulsivity and hostility surrounding the experience of anger was of particular importance and decreased anger reactivity appeared to mediate the relationship between mindfulness and relationship quality.

If you are seeking positive relationships in the New Year, or hoping to heighten your capacity for self-awareness, compassion, or to be able to offer and receive love with more freedom and grace, or maybe you are just seeking spiritual community or getting healthy, then our Tuesday night mindfulness Sangha may very well be the right place for you to come and practice. Check out the details below:

At the end of January, we will begin a nine week mindfulness journey focused on applying mindfulness in relationships. This class will be based on a book by David Richo called “How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving.” The Tuesday night weekly class themes are as follows. Class is from 6:45pm – 8:45pm.

Syllabus

2/4 – Week One – Getting Rooted in Mindfulness

Week Two – Mindfulness and Love

Week Three – Mindfulness in Relationship

Week Four – Mindfulness and Romance

Week Five – Mindfulness in Times of Conflict

Week Six – Being Mindful through Challenge & Disappointment

Week Seven – Mindfulness and Letting Go of Ego

Week Eight – Mindfulness and Loss

Week Nine – Deepening Commitment

The book is required reading for the course. You do not need to currently be in a relationship to take the class. It is helpful for partners to take the class together and to complete the exercises in the book. No previous experience with mindfulness is required. It is possible to drop-in on specific topics, however, participants should be committed to attending all sessions and completing the weekly assignments. Mindfulness is a daily practice and as such requires compassionate discipline to the path of meditation; an essential ingredient on the path is showing up for practice. Many students find group membership to be a critical component in establishing a daily practice and to feel supported on their life path.

Class Structure:

6:45pm – Opening meditation

7:00pm – Group check-in

7:15pm – Didactic and Discussion

8:00pm – Mindfulness Meditation

8:35pm – Closing

$275-$315* sliding scale/person for all sessions

$18-$38 sliding scale drop-in single session

$495-$565 for couples

Limited Enrollment – it is advisable to sign up ahead of time.

*a limited number of scholarships are available to students who demonstrate financial need. Please be sure to purchase the book ahead of time as assignments will be given on the first day of class.

Enrollment Instructions: To be enrolled, please contact John at 650-930-0170 or sign up with him at one of his public yoga classes.

Location: Blue Elephant Yoga & Mindfulness Ctr. 744 San Antonio Rd. Ste. 19B Palo Alto, CA 94303

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