Compassion Meditation and CPR Practice

“Time will come when with elation you greet yourself……

For several years now, research into the efficacy of mindfulness training has focused on which of the many components of the practices is most significant in producing desired outcomes. Which meditative practice, for example is most significant for healing? Which practice or practices yield the greatest sense of ease and freedom from suffering? If we are in difficult interpersonal situations, which mindfulness practice will reconnect us to a sense of calm and equanimity? What needs hearing to help us resolve our differences?

There are few studies to date actually designed to tease apart the many skills mindfulness students learn in the course of mindfulness based learning programs and mindfulness informed therapies. But what we hear from participants in our programs often gives us an indication how the skills people learn can transform their everyday experience. One common theme we hear is when our clients tell us that recognizing how self critical they have been toward themselves in their difficulties can be a shocking discovery. It is often a shock to hear for the first time the inner language that we have been directing at ourselves sub consciously over the years. Such new understanding can come for the first time in mindfulness groups. When this happens we have heard people say: “It is jolting to hear myself put myself down.” or “ I cried the first time I clearly heard how hard I have been on myself.” and “I don’t think it is helping me to get down on myself.” These moments of recognition are precursors to begin healing the broken heart ! The heart has to break open to self compassion.

And we resonate with Derek Walcott’s: Love After Love

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other’s welcome

And say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine, Give bread, Give back your heart

To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All you life, whom you have ignored

For another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,

Peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life

Derek Walcott

We have been teaching compassion meditations in our groups for quite a while. Our purpose is to tune in and hear our self talk and begin to reshape our relationship to ourselves. From critical and rejecting to honest and nurturing is the way we shift the attitudes and belief systems which we unconsciously hold toward ourselves. Knowledge is power. What we can’t hear and know will keep us enslaved. Psychologists know that change is difficult. Change comes from new perspectives. Changing attitudes is probably most challenging of all. Often the cultivation of compassion through directing aspirations for care and kindness to oneself and toward others is directly instrumental in attitudinal change. Freedom arises when we no longer enslave ourselves to self punishing beliefs. Or to beliefs that place the power for change in the hands of others.

In my own experience as someone prone to anxiety and worry with a family history of depression, I know that watching my own mind – the moods, the thought streams has yielded surprising and sometimes disturbing results. I had no idea how hard I was on myself, until I allowed myself to calmly observe the self judgement that goes on all day in my head. Life may be going on smoothly until someone reminds me that I forgot to do something, or did not get my facts straight, or I found myself not as sharp on the uptake in a conversation as someone else – BINGO ! The Self Critic is triggered and the self recriminations in the head come gushing forth— a real torrent of thoughts difficult to stop.

Mindfulness meditation lets me see that these thoughts bring with them a certain feeling of familiarity. There is almost a visceral feeling in my stomach, or head – and here come the self critical thoughts once again. The feeling is often the first sign. If I am lucky and catch that visceral sense and notice: “ooh here come self judgement… the self put downs….etc…” if I can catch the thoughts early, I can stop what I am doing and take a breath and go straight into a CPR practice:

Here is how CPR Practice may work for me

First come the feelings such as: “ You will never get this right!”- These difficult thoughts arise out of habit- they are not helpful and hinder me from being a stronger, more successful person…So I begin with directing thoughts of compassion towards me:

C=Compassion to self 1st step

“Here come the feelings and thoughts , let me breathe into the chest – the tightness in the head, let me just be with these feelings and thoughts for a moment.” Then I move to P…

P=paying attention to perceptions and quality of feelings.

Watching and tuning into the sensations of my body, the emotional tone I am feeling right now, the quality of mood in the mind, I know I could get down on myself with the habitual rant “You will never get it right, you won’t ever do this well enough, etc.” but instead I just observe right now whatever is arising in myself. Then I move to seeing that there is a moment of choosing..There are two ways to go –

R could be automatically Reacting

But that just keeps the negative cycle perpetuating and is counter productive.

A Better R

A Response I can choose instead: for me this may be “Let me accept myself just as I am” Let me be OK with the strengths I have, let me relax and tune in and see what coping skills I can bring to this situation. Let me Just stay with what is right here now!

When I do this, I disconnect my concept of who I am from any thoughts or beliefs about How I am Performing! My performance is what I am capable of in this moment- it is not who I am.

The three CPR steps can be followed by anyone.

There is no difference in how to care for ourselves when dealing with pain from how to care when we feel a sense of failure.. As I see it and have heard it from many people: one can not help but feel like a failure when the body is not working the way we would like it to work.

When the back or shoulder or knees or feet ache – it feels like some kind of failure – we shouldn’t be this way! We become our judge , jury and pronounce ourselves wanting. we may feel defective. And that is just not so, and highly unnecessary. When these beliefs arise, reinforced by habit and or repetition- we can breathe deeply into the chest. It is helpful to be caring and attentive and willingly open to the disappointment, with compassion. It can be so hard.. to stay with the sensations attached to these beliefs, these thoughts, these emotions. But turning to these inner experience is like embracing our core selves, our vulnerability. Turning toward creates a new habit path, one that is easier for the body and the mind & heart.

How will you respond in a way that is more kindly and accepting – because you know, you KNOW you are so much more than your pain, your aching body? And your aching body needs your loving attention, maybe some of your time in body scan , movement, yoga. You alone can decide which practice may be most needed.

I have found that spending 5 minutes in loving kindness meditation as I end my daily sitting meditation really helps calm down that critical judge that has really outlived its usefulness in my life. I can only be myself, not some other smarter, more efficient, more ambitious person. PLEASE listen to the featured video on the Greater Good Web site with Dr. Kristin Neff – hear an expert in the field explain in her words the importance of compassion, especially self compassion to start you back toward healing and your love of life.