loving kindness

With the COVID virus, shootings, loss of jobs, and closure of local businesses, these are truly difficult times. So many are dealing with losses of loved ones to their own physical capabilities due to age or illness. The ongoing dramatic events and societal changes have left many of us that the rug is being pulled out from under us. We have lost what we called our everyday reality. Frustration arises when we notice how the conditions we face are not what we designed and not what we wanted. No wonder so many of us are feeling overwhelmed. How do we live with feelings of loss, anxiety, and just being overwhelmed?

Notice the Sensations

The first step is to notice how our feelings are always arising and ceasing. If we take a moment to notice the sensations that they cause in the body, we shift our attention to impacts instead of internal dialogue. It is the internal dialogue that leads to judging a situation and often before we have all the information. An example of how to avoid the judgment trip is to notice when experiencing along with an emotion, the tightening of muscles in our gut. We can notice the sensation and given that it is associated with a particular feeding, we might tell ourselves, “I know this sensation.” After noticing the tension in the shoulders, clenching hands, or other condition in our body, we can simply breathe in and as we breathe out, can send loving-kindness to that spot.

With such a practice we can experience what we are feeling instead of letting it carry us away. We can listen to our bodies. Then with a few deep breaths, we can send loving-kindness to places where we hold tension. Noticing the feelings as sensations and dealing with the sensations takes us out of our head.

Ask Questions

However, there are those times when our emotions are so strong, they grab hold of our thoughts and lead us around. In such situations, we are no longer using logic as a resource and allowing our emotions to lead us into labeling. We find ourselves calling feelings, actions, and ideas as good or bad. Such labeling may pull us into blaming and shaming self or others. At that point, our attention is only on our feelings and judgments. Even in the midst of such turmoil, we still can make a choice.

We can stop and assess whether we want to follow through on the actions we are contemplating. To do so we want to listen to advisors other than just our emotions. Doing so, we begin listening to our intellect, our body, and our spirit as well as our emotions. Many advisors give us the opportunity to assess how we are feeling and the causes of some of our conditions. Instead of judging the feelings or emotions we are experiencing, we can notice them, and then using input from an analytical mind and a sensing body, we can ask ourselves, “Does this (name of emotion or feeling being experienced) help or cause harm to me and others? Doing so we can consciously place our attention on thoughts, feelings, and actions that are beneficial instead of harmful.

By asking questions, we can take a break from the internal dialogue led by destructive emotions such as anger or fear. It only takes a few seconds to ask ourselves if we are feeling challenged or threatened. During the moment of contemplating the question, “Am I feeling challenged?” we can use our thoughts to assess how we want to respond. Sometimes, we might determine that we are being threatened. In such situations, the best course of action might be to leave the situation or do nothing. Other times we might notice that we are playing a tape from experiences we had in a prior lifetime. In such cases, we may want to discuss with others around us what they see happening. Asking questions of self and others around us gives us views to consider in addition to the feelings and body sensations we are experiencing.

Choose How to Respond

Anxiety in these pandemic times is not the problem. Anxiety is a normal human condition. A typical one is how we respond to inter-office communications. I had one recently where I wanted to fire off a response to a fellow employee. I wrote up my response. Then I went and had some coffee. After sitting down and looking at my email, I decided it was to the point but would not change anyone’s opinion. Also, it would further an ongoing debate. I deleted and never sent the email. I even then found a way to thank the fellow employee for something he was doing that I did appreciate. What I was able to remember was that I do have a choice about how I respond to my frustrations, anger, etc. Sometimes, I can even find a way to respond with kindness.

Find moments in your day to respond with calm pleasure …. unless you prefer otherwise.

tranquility

 

Peace is Attainable

Peace can be elusive in these pandemic times.  The news reports that the United States will have tens of millions of vaccine doses to distribute this winter. And yet, anxiety and worry settle back down around us. When will the vaccines be available? Who will get them? How much does the storage equipment cost?  But did we take time to celebrate the scientists that created the vaccines or those brave souls that volunteered for the vaccine trials that we might be safe? Instead, our attention went back to frustration or the politics of wearing masks, hand sanitizing, and social distancing.

How do we find peace of mind in the midst of all this anxiety? I suggest two techniques. One is remembering interconnectedness and the second is practicing gratitude. 

Interconnectedness

Interconnectedness is key because in actuality we exist because of it. We just think we are independent and separate.  Our biological mother and father made us who we are and passed on their DNA which combined to become ours.   We cannot hide from our DNA. Science is even explaining how the bond between nature and nurture travels through time.  As explained by scientists for the past ten years, the effects of trauma can be passed on in the genes.  As Andy Coghlan explained in New Scientist, “genes chemically silenced by stress during life have been shown to remain silenced in eggs and sperm, allowing the effect to be passed down to the next generation.

The good news is the behavioral traits in our genes are only a predisposition, not a life sentence. We can and do change as we age. Even “hotheads”, those quick to anger, can change. Such behaviors, even if passed down in the genes can be changed. We can transform reflexive behavior like anger into a practice that relieves stress and anxiety.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude helps us relieve anxiety. Everything we encounter can be used to further our gratitude practice. Being grateful for our friends and even physical objects can help us transform our inner anxiety. Reach out and touch a desk or even our coffee cups when the news or people around us start dragging us down. Take a moment to ask, who made this computer, the desk, or the coffee and appreciate their efforts. 

Questions For Reflection

One form of gratitude practice is Naikan, or reflecting inward. Naikan is a Japanese word that means “looking inside” and refers to a practice of self-reflection based on three questions: 

  • What did I receive? 
  • What did I give? 
  • What troubles and difficulties did I cause?  

Reflecting on our response to these questions will give us a deeper appreciation of the world around us. As Gregg Krech, Executive Director of the ToDo Institute, explains in his book: Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, “We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the ‘little’ things we are receiving. But are these things really little? … They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere.” Habitually, our attention may drift to what we lack or dislike. We may become judgemental. Yet, with these simple questions, we return our attention to what we have received from others and awaken to our dependency on others. 

Naikan’s three questions are used as a self-reflection exercise to help us remember some of the people, things, and places involved in simple events.  For example, purchasing vegetables at the grocery caused me to just sit back and reflect. After a few moments, I was overwhelmed by all the beings and people who had made such a simple event possible.

Practice Gratitude

Sitting with gratitude will put a smile on your face. Being physically isolated does not mean you are alone. Appreciate your connections. Reach out and call a friend or relative. You might even send a note to a loved one.  You might leave a card on the door of a neighbor.  Thank those who help you live your life such as grocery store clerks and the drivers who pick up your garbage. Expressing your gratitude to your pets, whether a cat, dog or another animal will be richly rewarded. Even plants respond to kindness.  Watch a wilted one perk up when you water it!

Take a moment to breathe in and breathe out, notice some objects around you, and be grateful for all the causes and conditions that made your moment possible.  In that precious moment, enjoy peace.

References

Self Reflection

  • “Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Elder Kindness

During this pandemic with such a focus on ‘distancing’, how do we connect?  How do we build relationships when society tells us, do not touch, do not sing, and most of all do not hug? Although at times it feels as though the world is falling apart, my experience has shown me that in the midst of chaos, compassion still flows. 

In these stressful times, it is easy to become trapped by our own judgments. When looking for our expectations, we can miss Compassion when it arrives in strange and wondrous forms. A technique for stepping outside the spiral of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ thinking is curiosity. Being curious helps keep the heart open. It is in those moments of an exploring mind-heart that  Compassion sneaks in. Although it may not be in the form or shape we expect, it arrives. It can do so even in everyday interactions as it did for me recently.

Wanting to visit relatives dealing with terminal conditions despite the pandemic, I booked flights and a rental car with some trepidation. The day before departure I realized that a midsized car was not going to provide the room needed for us to drive two elders with their health aide, a wheelchair,  and a walker. The blow to me was the matter-of-fact voice of the car rental agent explaining to me that because I had paid through a travel service, I would have to go back online, cancel and reserve a new vehicle as well as pay change fees. 

As I dejectedly said, “OK”,  the agent asked why I needed to switch vehicles. His question led to a discussion about the sadness that goes with the appreciation of being able to make one last in-person visit to a loved one. We connected as he said, “I know what you are going through because I’m experiencing it too.”  He ended our call by telling me not to make any calls or go online. He told me to show up and expect a minivan waiting for us. Compassion had arrived in the form of a young man working at a rental car agency. Being open with my sadness had led to a connection with kindness.

Staying open is a way to receive and share kindness. Take a moment to step outside and breathe. Notice the trees or some plants. Thank them for breathing out oxygen for you. When at the grocery store, you might stand in the florist department. For a moment experience the array of colors shared by the flowers. Thank the clerks for setting out beauty for shoppers to enjoy. Notice their smiling eyes. We can sense smiles and share gratitude even with masks.

As David Reynolds explains in his Playing Ball on Running Water, “We have nothing but now. That moment and this reality are all that is presented to us for action.” What many Moritist and Gestalt therapists explain is that our actions influence our world. I relearned at recent courses at the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute, how to notice our crazy thoughts and fears instead of acting on them. Making conscious choices we move with purpose to create constructive change in our lives. With open hears we can set aside fears and welcome in the kindness of strangers. We can breathe in the beauty of living beings surrounding us. By doing so, we connect with Compassion.

Zen stones with flower

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, M.Div., CAS, Psychotherapist and Spiritual Counselor
Certified Mindfulness Instructor
Prajna Healing Arts, Inc.
720-244-2299 
www.prajnahealingarts.com

rose with thorns

Longchenpa, a Tibetan teacher holds up for us a challenging path for living in his poem, Meditation on Afflictions. He captures how the challenges we face are truly gifts that guide us to liberation and happiness. His poem asks us to connect with Wisdom-Compassion flowing constantly in our lives, even in strange and wondrous ways.  I hope you enjoy his poem and the translation for ‘Dharma is ‘Truth’.  – Carol

 

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma and find the way to liberation.  

    Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma and find lasting happiness.

    Thank you sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits, we discover Dharma and find fearlessness. 

    Thank you ghosts and demons!

Through people’s hate, we discover Dharma and find benefits and happiness. 

    Thank you, those who hate us! 

Through cruel adversity, we discover Truth and find the unchanging way. 

    Thank you, adversity! 

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma and find the essential meaning. 

    Thank you, all who drive us on! 

We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness. 

  – Longchen Rabjampa