During an exercise early in the day that taught us how to feel compassion for another person and compassion for oneself, I was surprised to notice how hard it was to be compassionate toward myself while feeling compassion toward my partner in the exercise was quite easy.
The young woman who was my partner for the exercise said she, too, experienced the same thing: she naturally felt compassion for me, but struggled with allowing compassion for herself.
Later in the day, Dr. Neff introduced a loving-kindness meditation. She had us close our eyes and imagine someone we loved and felt very warm toward. We directed our loving-kindness toward that person and repeated silently:
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy.
May you live at ease.
Then she had us imagine ourselves sitting with the person we loved and we said to both of us silently: Read more…
I’ve heard this several times in the last few days so I think you and I ought to start paying attention.
1. Breaks and circular thinking (rumination)
Among research I was doing for another blog post, I learned that taking a break is one of the best ways to interrupt rumination – that insidious circle of repetitive, brooding thoughts that you can get into when feeling depressed or facing stressful circumstances.
The problem with rumination is that you do it because you think if you pay enough attention to your problem, you will solve it. But that’s not what happens. Rumination only increases negative thinking which leads to pessimism, depression, and reduces your ability to problem-solve effectively.
So the very thing you’re doing to solve a problem is actually inhibiting you from solving it. And your mind just keeps going around and around in the same thought-cycle, trying to work things out but only making matters worse.
Researchers have found that distracting yourself via enjoyable activities such as going to a movie, spending time with friends, jogging, or going for a walk can disrupt your ruminative thinking which then allows you to solve your problem more effectively.
Take a break from all that thinking! Do something different to get your mind out of its repetitive pattern.
2. Breaks and grieving
Finally, taking a break and distraction can be very helpful for people who are grieving. During the painful spasms of grief that occur early in the process, giving yourself a break from the constant thoughts of your loss can be a great coping mechanism.
The important thing to remember is that, when you take a break from grief, it doesn’t mean that you have forgotten your loved one or are in any way disrespecting her. You are actually honoring her by honoring and taking care of yourself for a bit.
Spend time with friends, laugh, engage in a favorite hobby. It’s okay to take a break from the pain.
3. Breaks and creativity
Ever wonder why you can be stumped by a problem during the day and then wake up at 3 am with the solution? Or come up with a brilliant idea for a new software program while you’re in the shower?
Jonah Lehrer has one idea about how these experiences occur. He’s the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer writes that scientists are discovering that the simple act of being relaxed and in a good mood sparks creativity and innovation.
When you look at where insights come from, they come from where we least expect them. They only arrive after we stop looking at them. If you’re an engineer working on a problem and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you’re going to be really frustrated. You’re going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time. Instead, at that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax. - Excerpted from an interview of Jonah Lehrer from Npr.org
So there you have it. Taking a break is a good thing. It promotes creativity, innovation, and good mental and emotional health.
Go on. You deserve it.
Takeaway points: Taking a break and distracting yourself from your inner world can be just what you need to solve a problem or feel better. Give yourself permission to take a break and have fun or just relax.
Is it easy or hard for you to allow yourself breaks?
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Vulnerability is not about weakness
This month’s edition of Bounce Boosters is about vulnerability.
How is vulnerability related to resiliency and bouncing back in life?
The majority of the audience raised their hands.
Brown continues, “Now, when you think about the presenters you’ve seen here at TED, how many of you have looked at their vulnerability as courage?”
This time the entire audience raised their hands.
Dr. Brown looked intently at her listeners.
“Vulnerability is not weakness.”
Vulnerability creates change
Then she told a story about how, after her first TEDx talk, she received many calls from businesses and corporations asking her to come speak.
“’But, Dr. Brown, we don’t want you to mention shame or vulnerability.’
“What would you like me to talk about?
“’Innovation, creativity, and change.’”
She smiled and looked fully at her audience again.
“Let me just go on record: Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
So many times we think that when we are feeling vulnerable it means we are weak and being weak means we are not resilient, that we can’t bounce back.
The opposite is true: vulnerability creates change, it shows strength and vitality, and it’s really the only way to move forward in life.
I hope this month’s quotes inspire you to honor and practice your own vulnerability.
I understand now that the vulnerability I’ve always felt is the greatest strength a person can have. You can’t experience life without feeling life. What I’ve learned is that being vulnerable to somebody you love is not a weakness, it’s a strength.
2. Madeleine L’Engle
When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.
3. Brené Brown
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
4. Criss Jami
To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.
5. Stephen Russell
Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. The new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.
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Do you ever feel bogged down with the daily grind of life? Like you’ve been walking through your days with your head down, just looking at where your next step is going to land?
But I learned something several years ago that helps me to release my narrow focus and get a fresh perspective.
I was at a seminar being led by a Native American shaman. He was explaining the ways of his tribe, the Ojibwa people, and ended by telling a story about a walk he took in the woods.
As he plodded along, looking at the ground, lost in his thoughts, he heard a voice inside him say, “Look up!”
Suddenly, he realized how much of his present experience he was missing. He looked up and saw the way the tree branches laced together over his head. How the sun peeked through the forest, dappling the growth and his path before him. How the squirrels chattered and played overhead, leaping with breathtaking grace from limb to limb.
Ever after, he always remembered to look up.
A narrow focus
And I have tried to remember this simple, wise directive as well.
I find that my mind too often becomes narrowly focused, worrying about the next thing or lost in replaying a past event, rather than being right where I am in the present. In these times, I’m often looking down at where I’m walking or at whatever is in front of me.
When my shallow breathing and downward gaze come to my awareness, they are my cues that I’ve allowed my inner world to exclude what is happening around me. I hear the emphatic phrase, “Look up!” and I follow its wise command.
What do I see? I’ve never seen a vision or anything extraordinary.
But the true essence of looking up is that I’m reminded that there is more.
Looking up allows me to see more of my world. I notice that there is more than what is just in front of me.
There are trees and buildings and the Google blimp (really!) and reflections off windows and clouds scudding across the sky and cobwebs in corners and funny patterns in the ceiling plaster.
And I realize that there is more to this moment than what is going on inside my head. There are possibilities and opportunities and things to be grateful for and lessons to be learned and the chance to take a deep breath.
I find that I have more choices in what I do and feel. I don’t have to walk with my head down, feeling the grind-ness of my day. I can choose to look up and around and remember that there are always, always options and each day brings a new batch of them.
And sometimes, just sometimes, when I look up, I see a hawk or a great bird of the sea soaring high above me and I am thankful, even more, for the wise shaman’s advice to look up!
Takeaway points: It’s so easy to become narrowly focused on the routine of our day, where we’re going, or where we came from. The exercise of literally looking up reminds us that there is so much more to our experience.
What does looking up do for you?
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Looking for a way to boost your everyday resilience? Look for the tiny miracles. You can read more about it here on my PsychCentral post, Tiny Miracles: 5 Little Things To Notice So You Can Feel Better.
How about a brief overview of three skills you can use to bounce back from bad moods to major disasters? Check out my guest post on PicktheBrain.com, The Top 3 Skills You Need to Bounce Back From Anything.
That happened to me eight years ago when my partner, Ruth, died of metastatic breast cancer. Even though I knew she was going to die, even though we had talked about it and prepared for it the best we could, even though we had learned invaluable lessons during her illness, my spirit and heart were completely crushed when she took her last breath.
We all have ways that we view our worlds that are ensconced in our minds and based on our experiences. We view the world as safe or unsafe, fair or unfair, hopeful or hopeless, and so on. My world was always safe, predictable, orderly, and full of richness.
Until Ruth died.
I had never lost anyone before so the experience was completely new to me. Suddenly, my long-held worldview was shaken up.
If people you loved died, it meant the world wasn’t as safe as I thought it would be. Without Ruth, the richness was gone and certainly life wasn’t predictable if death could interrupt it.
Ruth and I were blessed to learn so many life-changing lessons as we walked the path together with her cancer. We learned the art of non-resistance, the magic of being in the moment, and the truth that the things we used to stress about really were small stuff.
Early on in my journey with grief, I tried to access these lessons but it was as if I had emotional amnesia. I couldn’t remember them and, on the rare occasions that I did, it was as if I couldn’t access them or take comfort in them.
I was numb and those important lessons were out there, they just couldn’t get in.
Not knowing yourself
Without Ruth, without my usual world, and without the impactful lessons I had learned about life, I felt disconnected from myself.
Who was I now?
I thought I’d had a firm self-identity but suddenly it was scrambled. I felt like the snow in one of those snow globes after someone has turned it upside down and shaken it. My sense of self was scattered everywhere.
The good news
Aren’t you glad we’re finally getting to the good news?
I have a favorite clinical term that I use for grief: It sucks. And although it took me a few years, I eventually came out of the worst throes of it.
Here’s what helped:
1. Have patience and faith
One time, near the end of Ruth’s life, we’d just received some bad news about her prognosis. After thinking about it for awhile, I approached Ruth and asked her what she thought we were meant to learn from this newest information.
Ruth was quiet for a minute. Then she said. “Patience.” Pause. “And faith.”
And that’s what got me through my tumultuous grief. The patience of time passing in its usual way helped immensely.
As did my dim, but persistent, faith that I would come out through the other side of my grief. I kept telling myself that other people had, so I would, too, even if I couldn’t see how that could happen.
When your world shatters, allow the passage of time to heal you and be your guide. Even if it’s a tiny amount, let your faith in the process of recovery inspire you.
2. Allow others to remind you of the gifts and lessons.
Because your world is upside down and you may not remember the lessons and gifts that once guided you, let those closest to you remind you.
I treasured every card I received, every phone call from a friend who told me how much Ruth had meant to them and how our journey with cancer had taught them to lead a richer life.
Slowly, the loving reminders from people of the wonderful lessons I had learned with Ruth thawed my numbness and I was able to remember and embody them once more.
Use your friends. Tell them how lost you feel and allow them to be your anchor in your inner storm.
3. Welcome your new self.
As I mentioned in a recent post, you really can’t go back to who you were before your tragedy happened. You are different now because of the trauma.
I was not the same person without Ruth and with my new knowledge of a world where you can lose someone you love dearly.
I was different and you will be, too, as you heal from your trauma. And different isn’t always bad.
Like the snowflakes in the snow globe, my sense of self eventually settled, but the pattern that was formed was new and beautiful in its own way. My sense of empathy was greatly increased, my path of helping people bounce back from loss and adversity was more clear, and the lessons I learned from Ruth’s life, death, and the ensuing grief are treasures that I continue to take forward with me into a different and meaningful new world.
4. Release the pressure valve.
One of the keys to bouncing back from grief or other trauma is to not pressure yourself. I had a hard time with this myself because I kept thinking I had lost all of the lessons Ruth and I had learned. I thought this was disrespectful to her memory.
Now I know that my reactions and feelings were just normal aspects of grief. It’s very easy to feel isolated in your experience and this can add to your own internal pressure to just “get over it.”
Don’t pressure yourself. Release the pressure by talking to others who have been through the same experience. Or read books by people who have.
There are no rules, no perfect timing about when you are supposed to be healed from your trauma. It happens when it happens and it’s usually an ongoing process.
Have mercy on yourself.
Takeaway points: Grief and other kinds of trauma can shake your world to its very foundations. Even though you may feel completely discombobulated, remember to keep the faith that others have made it through similar experiences. Trust in your friendships to keep you anchored. Be okay with the new normal that is being pieced together for you and remember not to pressure yourself.
Going through grief right now? Read my article, 10 Tips to Bounce Back from Grief.
I’m available for counseling to help you recover from grief, loss, and other types of trauma. Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for an appointment.