Jul 16

Personal Compassion as an Empowering Response

In the face of recent events, it is easy to feel hopeless, powerless and overwhelmed. This is especially so, if you are particularly empathic. Neurobiological research shows that when we feel empathy, our brains respond as the person who is feeling the pain. This can lead to empathic burnout. Ironically, it can also lead to distancing ourselves from one side or the other in a conflict, actually leading to a more divisive view of the world.

So many of my deepest hearted friends have tuned out or burned out recently, because of the overwhelming amount of hate, violence and anger in the press and social media. At a time when humanity needs every bit of loving kindness it can get, the most loving people become overwhelmed.

The answer, I believe (and science backs me up) is compassion. Empathy is feeling the pain of others. When we feel empathy we feel the pain. In contrast, compassion is feeling concern for another's pain, along with a motivation to help. The same research that shows how empathy creates a mirrored response to pain also shows that feeling compassion (via compassion-focused meditation) does not activate the same pain-associated brain pathways. Instead, the parts of the brain involved in social connection and thoughtful action are activated.the heart of the earth

In empathy, we can drown in the other's pain and emotion. In compassion, we sit in awareness of the pain but are not overwhelmed by it. We are connected and are in a much better place to help or make positive change.

In compassion, I am motivated to do my small part to heal the greater wounds of our world. For me, in this moment, that involves staying mindful of my own judgments, my own prejudices. It involves having the courage to speak up in love, not anger, when I see injustice or blindness. It means keeping in my awareness my human connection with both sides of every seemingly dichotomous issue.

What I am doing specifically to heal the world, in my small way, is to pledge 30 days of compassion meditation and mindfulness. Please join me.



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Jan 16

Mindful Falling

I fell off my horse. A half-somersault over the left side of her neck, landing flat on my back after a full 180. From canter to zero in one very long split-second. It was one of the most powerfully validating experiences I have ever had.

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As a rancher and horsewoman, accidents and injuries are nothing new. Typically, I'm not a stoic, big-girls-don't-cry accident victim. I go into shock easily. And because I tend to hold a lot of emotion tied up in my body, a physical injury often triggers all the frustration, disappointment and self-doubt that I normally hold at bay.

What made this accident different was the way I experienced it. I really WAS the Zen Cowgirl. I stayed present in my body before, during and after the fall. I was present and aware; I didn't panic, even as the fall was happening. I don't even remember being scared. It was as if I was just observing it. After I landed, rather than catastrophizing, I objectively inventoried: I was winded but not in excruciating pain, the horse was standing by me patiently, all parts seemed functional for mounting and riding home (at a walk). I breathed deep and released the threatening tightening in my back and my mind. I was aware of pain, but somehow there was no judgment of it as bad; it was just information my body was sending me.

I was aware that if I could mount and ride home balanced and with my muscles relaxed, the natural movement of the horse would help to realign my battered spine and ribs. I consciously turned away all the negative messages that automatically popped up in my mind; "you're incapable, too old, stupid, etc". There was no fear, only acceptance. There was no anger; neither at myself for falling nor at the horse for 'causing' the fall. Later, I was able to clearly recall every detail of the fall and identify what went wrong and why it happened.

Several years ago, I began to make contemplative time a priority in my life. Each morning, typically at least an hour before I expect anyone else to be awake, I sit. I do some inspirational reading, I journal and since August, I have included some sort of formal meditation or contemplation (even if just 5 minutes).

More recently, as part of a new business venture, I have been researching the effects of various mindfulness practices on the brain and the corresponding benefits to a person's life. This whole experience validates my research. My daily practices of body awareness, breath, relaxation, non-judgment and acceptance were there, naturally, in this time of crisis! The positive changes in my daily life have been enough to keep me dedicated to my practice. In a rather dramatic way, this fall showed me the incredible power these simple daily practices bring to handling a crisis. I just hope I have learned well enough that I don't need to be shown quite so dramatically next time.




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