Sunset Mind

I had grand plans to write about every episode of The Self-Acceptance Project offered by Sounds True. Well, that didn’t happen. But today I did have time to watch the episode* featuring psychologist Steven Hayes, Ph.D., one of the co-founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I took away a lot of good stuff I want to share with you.
7993149186_8c5d7a7fbe_z1. Sunset mind. Our brains have the capacity to critically analyze situations, which is great. We need that. But critical mind isn’t appropriate when it comes to things like self-compassion. Instead of critical mind, we need sunset mind. Imagine you’re watching a sunset. Do you say, “Oh, that pink just really isn’t the right shade,” or “I think that blue clashes with the purple.” I can be critical, but even I don’t judge sunsets. I admire and appreciate their beauty, their vastness, and all the intricacies of the merging shapes and colors.

New perspective/intention: Try sunset mind when it comes to thinking about myself.

2. Be willing to stand in the hurricane to do what you think is important. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT-pronounced like the word “act”) is all about taking action in spite of anxiety or discomfort, and doing what you value. I’ve always been good at this when it comes to standing up for others. Here’s an example. I’m typically not one to complain or make trouble, but once when my son was going to see a favorite band, the venue was changed on short notice. The new place required you to be 21 to enter (and this was his high school graduation present–he wasn’t 21). I called the old venue, the new venue, and worked my way up until I had reached a high-up media person with the band. They weren’t able to get my son in, but they arranged for him to meet the band, hang out at a record store where they were doing a promotion, and they gave him free tickets to the Bonnaroo music festival and be a guest in their tent. I know this story might not seem like a lot, and granted, it’s not like I saved anyone’s life or anything, but I would have never been so assertive on my own behalf. I certainly have the skills to make things happen; why don’t I do this for myself?

New perspective/intention: Be willing to stand in the hurricane to do what is best for myself.

4332176853_c30acde1f4_z3. Emotions are here to be felt. You wouldn’t think this would sound revolutionary to a psychologist, but more often than I care to admit, I spend a lot of energy trying to squelch my emotions. My inner dialogue might sound like this:
  • I’m too sensitive.
  • My feelings are too intense.
  • I don’t want to feel this way.
  • I wish these feelings would go away!

Dr. Hayes pointed out (what I already knew intellectually) that a lot of emotions are painful, but also very useful. They can be clues to what you truly care about. For example, guilt, although unpleasant to say the least, can lead you to correct behavior or make amends with someone. He gave an example of a parent who had been on drugs and let some horrible things happen to his child while he was high. The guilt was intense, but needed to be felt. It led to sadness and loss, and eventually connected the father with the will to “walk a higher path” and be a better father in the future. This was not a quick or easy process, but it started with allowing and experiencing painful emotions.

New perspective/intention: Lean into the painful feelings, and see what they’re trying to tell me. And note to self–do this slowly, gently, and back off when you’re overwhelmed.

You can still hear all of the episodes from The Self-Acceptance Project for free online. This was Episode 22: The Human Capacity to Take Perspectives. Tami Simon speaks with Steven C. Hayes, PhD, Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. Steven has authored 35 books and over 500 scientific articles. His career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering. His work has been recognized by several awards, and in 1992, the Institute for Scientific Information named him the 30th “highest impact” psychologist in the world.

Photo credits: Sunset by Yokopakumayoko via flickr; Hearts by Ladydragonfly via flickr

Waking Up from the Trance of Unworthiness: Part Two

images-4I am loving this Sounds True audio/video series on self-acceptance. For those who learn better by reading, here is part two of a rough transcript of the session with Tara Brach, Ph.D. (I watched on one computer, paused it as I went, and dictated into my phone.) I am breaking it into two posts, as it got a little long. You can still listen to this interview online here. And if you didn’t read part one, you can do so here.

Tara’s first book Radical Acceptance helped me so much on a personal level, and I frequently recommended it to my clients over the years. Her newest book is called True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. I have already read it once, and I highly recommend it.

In this episode, Tami Simon speaks with Tara Brach, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. Tara has been practicing and teaching meditation since 1975 and has led Buddhist meditation retreats at centers throughout North America. Her audio programs with Sounds True include Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame and Finding True Refuge: Meditations for Difficult Times

Tami: Do you think our trance of unworthiness has something to do with our contemporary society, or is it something that’s always gone on?

Tara: I think both. We are hard-wired to feel separate and to look for  something to go wrong. It’s called our “negative bias” and it’s designed to keep us safe. But it’s a very quick step to thinking that something is wrong in the environment to thinking, “I’m wrong.” So there is a deficiency mind-set that comes with being human.

But there’s also a cultural component. Particularly in the West, we have very few natural ways of belonging in which we can experience our basic goodness. We live in a fear-based culture that over consumes and is competitive. We are not invited toward feeling contentment. We’re not invited to relax and say, “This moment is enough.” That would stop the economy in its tracks. Our culture feeds the sense that I should be better. I should be more.

images-7The tend-befriend aspect of our wiring is there, too. It’s just not as well cultivated, and it takes training. But once we get that we’re suffering because we are at war with ourselves, there can be a very deep, sincere commitment to embracing our own being and embracing life everywhere.

One way to wake up the “compassion neural networks” is the idea of conscious community: A place where we share our vulnerabilities; we mirror back each other’s goodness; we take inevitable conflicts and turn them into deeper understanding; and we listen deeply. There is a sense of belonging to each other.

Tami: Do you still struggle with self-acceptance in your own life? Do you still go into the trance of unworthiness?

Tara: Yes. Sometimes I will find I am in a bad mood and I’ll scrape below the surface and I realize I’m down on myself. Sometimes I feel I’m falling short as a friend or in caring for my aging mother.  Or I think I wasn’t as present for a talk as I would’ve liked to be. Sometimes if I know I’ve hurt someone, it can feel very “sticky.” The difference between then (say 15 year ago, although it’s been a gradual shift) and now is there is less lag time. I more quickly recognize that I am caught up in the trance–in the thoughts and beliefs of an unworthy self. The other difference is that I recognize the thoughts and feelings, but I don’t believe them as much. The feelings are there and the thoughts are there, but the sense of who I am beyond the self that I am judging is much more alive and accessible. I know that there is a loving heart, a being here, an awareness that isn’t so identified with the unworthy self. But I still have to find my way back.

One of the ways I find my way back, and I talk about this a lot in my teaching, is by thinking about this metaphor:

Photo by macinate via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by macinate via Flickr Creative Commons

Imagine you are walking through the woods and you see a small dog. You think the dog is cute and you approach the dog, wanting to pet it. It suddenly snarls and tries to bite you. The dog no longer seems cute and you may feel some fear and anger. As the wind blows, the leaves on the ground are carried away and you see the dog has one of its legs caught in a trap. Now, you feel compassion for the dog. You know it became aggressive because it is in pain and suffering. (I also wrote about this story in the piece, Leaving Judgement Behind.) You go from being angry, to this poor thing.

I pause and get that in some way my leg is in the trap. The thing I’m judging is coming from a place of pain. Then I soften and I can be present with feelings  and offer kindness to myself. I’m able to loosen the grip and arrive more fully at that sense of who I am when I’m not trapped in the trance.

Tami: I want to tell people about this tool of RAIN that you are known for. Will you explain it?

Tara: When we’re stuck in the trance,  we may have a vague sense that we are there, but it’s so hard to get out that state. We get reactive and we stir things up more. So this acronym of RAIN is this easy to remember handle. When we’re caught in the trance of unworthiness, we can say to ourself, “OK, just pause.”

R, is to recognize what’s going on. All those thoughts of unworthiness are going on right here.

A stands for allow it to be there. We don’t try to get away from what’s going on. We deepen the pause.

I  is for investigate. We investigate with kindness. We bring a gentle attention to what’s going on. This is where we start loosening the grip. For example, when I turn on myself for being “the sick person” I sink below the feelings– I get under the story line– and I realize I have this core belief that if I’m this bad at being sick, I’ll never wake up and be free…I’ll never be enlightened. I can really feel the fear in the body.

N stands for not-identified with the unworthy self. It sounds like a dry concept, but it’s very freeing and liberating.

So RAIN is a way to detangle the trance. And it really comes down to a mindful awareness with kindness.

Tami: In classic Buddhist teaching we are taught that we are not this solid self that we think we are. How do you understand this paradox that we have to accept and be kind to ourself, when there may not even be a self there?

images-3Tara: I make a translation and think of it that what we are accepting is the life that’s right here. In actuality, what we are accepting is this feeling, this hurt, this sadness, this fear, this anxiety, this whatever… We are embracing the lived experience. What happens is that when we do this, the sense of the separate self dissolves anyway. All of us are doing this together. We’re all doing this project of embracing the life that’s right here–it’s pleasantness, it’s unpleasantness, and in doing so, we get the liberating realization that we are way beyond any story we might’ve told ourselves.

Read Part One of Tara’s interview.

 

Small Blue Thing

Greg and I had planned to go to Kansas City tonight to see Suzanne Vega in concert. She has always been special to us, as we listened to her a lot in the early years of our relationship. We love the images in her lyrics and her simple singing style. When we bought the tickets a few months ago, it seemed so doable. But riding in a car really aggravates my pain, and Kansas City is a three-hour drive. As the time has approached, I realized that it would take a lot out of me–not just the drive, but then sitting for several hours for the concert, sleeping in a strange bed at a hotel, and then another three hours home the next day. To a lot of people, it wouldn’t seem like much. But when you have chronic pain, certain things take their toll and you have to weigh whether it will be worth it or not. A weekend like that would probably take me a month to get back to my normal level of manageable pain. I asked Greg to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he wanted to go. If he had said anywhere from an 7/8 to a 10, I would have gone. But he said a 6. I don’t know if he was being honest, or if he realized it would be hard for me. Anyway, we’re not going, and it’s okay. Really okay. That is the wonderful thing about being married to your best friend. Plans change and it’s okay. We’ll listen to her records instead. Greg is into buying vinyl records now…I think of all the ones we’ve sold at garage sales over the years, and now he’s buying them again 🙂

Here is a video of her performing our favorite song of hers, Small Blue Thing and the lyrics are below (they are not formatting right, and I’m getting frustrated trying to make it work–UGH).

Lyrics:
Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you
I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
Your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky

I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am
A small blue thing
Made of china
Made of glass

I am cool and smooth and curious
I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Small blue thing

Month One Update on My Word-of-the-Year

Lily and Larry, basking in the sunlight

Lily and Larry, basking in the sunlight

It’s late January, the temperature is in the low 70s, and the windows are wide open with the curtains blowing. I just noticed Lily and Larry basking in the sun. It made me think of my word-of-the-year, “open”.

So far, me and “open” just aren’t clicking.

I wrote in my first Word-of-the-year post how I was going to be more open at work and try to get to know more of my coworkers. Not a day after I wrote that, we got an e-mail saying that to “conserve agency resources” we were to minimize chatting about things unrelated to work. Now I’m pretty sure this e-mail was not directed at me; however, it raised my anxiety. I can’t believe I’m 50 years old, and I still have this irrational fear of getting into trouble. When I told Greg about it that evening, he challenged me to talk so much that I do get into trouble! So far, that hasn’t happened.

I also wrote that I wanted to be more open to taking risks. I haven’t done too well with this either. Last week, I was asked to give a presentation.  I’ve had a long-standing fear of public speaking, which I have worked hard to overcome. I typically perform quite well in the actual situation, but make myself seriously miserable ahead of time. The last presentation I gave was 2 years ago and I swore I would never do it again. So when this invitation came up, I had an initial sick-to-my stomach reaction. I was proud of myself for being assertive and saying I needed to think about it (I usually just smile and say yes). I was even honest with the person asking me and told her about my anxiety. That was a different response for me. I’m sure I agonized way too much about it: Should I join Toastmasters again? Should I consult with someone who coaches people on their speaking skills?  Was I setting a bad example for people who read my books on shyness and social anxiety if I don’t keep doing things out of my comfort zone?  It was on a topic I knew well, but I realized I would still make myself a neurotic mess over it–-not to mention making my poor husband miserable, as well. Greg asked what it would take for me to want to do the presentation, and I couldn’t think of anything. I ended up saying no. This decision was fairly predictably  followed by days of cycling between feeling awful about myself and struggling to find compassion for myself. And a lot of tears.

Then I got mad. For several days, I wanted to change my word from “open” to “average”. I decided there is too much pressure on people these days to be above average. I get tired of reading that you should dream big (see my Tiny Dreams post). I get tired of reading that anything is possible if you simply put your mind to it. Sometimes I don’t want to have a good attitude. Sometimes I don’t want to think positively. And I’ve had so many fears in my life, I get tired of facing them all. I wonder if I’m up to it anymore.

Today I’m of the mindset that I’ll keep the word “open” as my word-of-the year, but I’m going to give myself some slack. I’m telling myself, “I’m being open to not feeling open.” Doesn’t that count?

Like the warm weather, this too shall pass.

 

Montage Magic

One really cool thing I’ve discovered this year is that you can take an e-course on about any subject you can imagine, and most of them are priced very affordably. I am two weeks into a 3-week video making class called Montage. The class teaches you the technical aspect of using iMovie on a Mac, but it also has a fun, creative side in which you learn to put your heart and soul into the movie and tell a story. I’ve made two videos so far.

Here’s the first one. All of the footage was taken at my brother and sister in law’s home in Gerald, Missouri. It’s just under two minutes. Short and sweet.

Leaving Worry Behind

This is the second one, also about two minutes. The footage was taken in my backyard. I feel more self-conscious in this one because I do some speaking. I don’t know, does anyone like hearing their own voice? Well, hope you like it.

Busy Be Gone

The class has been great and well worth the money. I think I’m really going to like having a new creative outlet.

To be notified of new posts, head on over to my Self-Compassion Project Facebook page and click “Like”. (It’s also on the sidebar, but no one ever sees it there.)

Long Days, Short Summer

Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long but the years are short.” That’s how I feel about this summer. Some of the days dragged for me, especially dealing with more pain than usual (see my post Tiny Dreams). But now I don’t know where the time went. Everyone is back in school and fall is near.

Despite the pain, there are definitely fun times I will remember about this summer. I feel a little silly sharing them–they’re not exciting things like going on vacation or anything like that. But they mean something to me.

* Watching the HBO series, Flight of the Concords, as a family for the third time. It’s hard to describe the show’s appeal; you’d probably either love it or hate it. The series revolves around a pair of folk singers from New Zealand as they try to achieve success as a band in New York City. It’s off-beat and quirky. I love it that we all three laugh out loud through every episode. (Well, I’ll be honest. Greg did fall asleep once.)

* Turning a large walk-in closet in the basement into a makeshift recording studio for our son. We pinned old comforters all over the walls and had blankets lining the ceiling. A folding chair and old table for his laptop, plus his guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, ukulele and some other new instruments ordered off the Internet (a melodica?) made for a cozy space. It was pretty insulated, but occasionally I’d hear some random clapping wafting through the vents. I’m so happy our home could be a place where he could create his own wonderful (also off-beat, quirky, and make-you-smile) kind of music.

*Spending lots of time sitting on the covered patio just watching the birds and hearing the neighborhood kids playing. I really embraced just being, and didn’t worry that I didn’t “accomplish” much of anything this summer (see my post Busy Be Gone).

I’d be tickled pink if you’d like my self-compassion Facebook page–you can click here. You can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here. I’m turning into a social media junkie 🙂

Here is Gretchen Rubin’s heart-warming one-minute video, The Years are Short.