Happy Friday, Vagabond readers! If you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve probably seen this photo two or three times. I’m using it to day because, well, I’m hoping as I write this on Wednesday night that I will be sitting in that spot with that exact brush when you read this on Friday. I have loads to do this weekend while in Savannah, but I have special time cut out just to sit under the Spanish moss and paint. Why? Because painting is one of my forms of meditation – and that’s what this post is about! Please welcome my friend Kiki, with her beautiful views on compassion and returning to the body.
Reading about reasons to meditate, I came upon the information that calming the mind helps us because it counteracts the brain’s natural negativity bias, a protective mechanism we inherited from our ancestors, who had to spend far more time than we do anticipating and mentally rehearsing responses to predators and numerous other dangers. It behooved them to pay attention, careful attention, to details in their surroundings and to evaluate, evaluate, vigilantly.
Well, I thought, nice to know where that comes from…been trying to ignore that venal, internal critic my entire life. Who knew my mind was simply prone to judging every single thing in its immediate environment to assess its potential to harm? And all for such a compelling reason! Survival!
When I am not meditating, what am I supposed to do with this insistent creature inside my head? I cannot completely rid my life of it; it has important things to convey, such as, When are you going to learn that the less said, the better, at times? Do you have to be right, make your point, get it all in? You don’t have to externalize every thought, it reminds me. It has taken me more than a few decades to regulate my mouth. Now I am working on my brain.
A trusted counselor helps me with this and he tells me: It takes compassion. We talk a lot about how Buddhist and Taoist practices can inform our relationships, about becoming aware, accepting ourselves as we are. One of the phrases we use is: no second arrow. This has become my cue to practice compassion with my Self.
My mate and I solicited this help to improve our communication skills. So if I find myself apologizing for yet again getting all up in my husband’s stuff about not cleaning or I let my phobias run away with my tongue or my hot buttons got pushed or my abandonment stuff got activated—geez there’s a lot of mines to step on in this here field—if I find myself apologizing, with no “buts”, mind you, none of the, “I’m sorry…but you do it, too”—no. Just apologize. Sincerely. I’m to cowgirl up and take responsibility for my part without accusing my husband of anything. And in so doing, to not entertain sticking another arrow into my own heart—not say, either internally or externally, I effin did it again, I always do that, why can’t I quit sabotaging my own dang self? None of that. That’s second arrow. The first arrow being that yes, I effin did it again.
Reader, have a bit of compassion for yourself. When we think of compassion, we ordinarily place ourselves in relation to another, having compassion for someone else. Seeing that we have these negativity biases embedded in our bodies, it’s very wonderful when we can find some kindness in our hearts to pass along to another soul in need. I contend that, like other wells of emotional depth, we need to replenish our cisterns of compassion, and we need to do that by being kind to ourselves. Being gentle with our flaws, our unregulated mischievous humanity, places us in a different internal mindset. Our energetic imprint, if you will, gets elevated—think of how it feels when you do something extra nice, go out of your way to help or extend a hand, listen to a pal who’s hurting, give deeply of your time, energy, or whatever you have that’s needed. Now think of how it would feel within your body to forgive yourself and accept that you went against your own best efforts and messed up again. What kind of energy is generated by that simple act of self-care?
If meditating soothes the mind’s negativity bias, compassion directed at one’s self goes one small but conscious step further: It raises positive internal energy. Most of us are run by our heads (and, of course, egos); our minds gather protective information and funnel it down to the heart and body. The sensate mind takes note of voice inflections, gestures, postures, facial expressions, then interprets and translates it into feelings and responses. Practicing compassion towards the self reverses this process, as it redirects conscious attention to the heart. The heart,
then, holds the reins and passes information to the brain for a response. A very different sort of energy is created and released.
Saying someone pushed your hot buttons is a fairly accurate way to describe the head-to-heart process. We feel someone attacked or reject us, disregarded our needs and our ego formulates a rather automatic response, often a counterattack. Becoming aware, i.e., noticing the ego’s methodologies, gives us the moment we need to step back. Administering a little compassion in that interval allows us to make a different, conscious choice about how to respond. That is more of a heart-to-head process.
I have described the physical process in detail because one of the other Buddhist practices I am learning is to go back to the body, either to the breath or to internal sensations experienced, so as to ground myself in the present moment. For example, you feel angry; fear is usually not far behind anger, and you find where in your body you actually feel the emotion. In the noticing, you can talk to it (“hello, fear, I see you’re here…what’s this really about?”). This is an act of compassion towards the self. You pause long enough to understand there is no current harm confronting you, no reason to counterattack. You can see your part in whatever drama is occurring, take responsibility and move on. Without reinjuring yourself with blame and judgment, you now have the energy to grant another person warm respite or understanding. The potential for a moment of recognition occurs—you come to know within your bodily experience that the internal evaluator can be effectively quieted with no harmful results. You come to know because you can literally feel it, that kindness to yourself is more compelling to your heart than perpetuating the ego’s agenda, because it contains the key to enlightened self-acceptance and greater
Simply put, when we practice compassion towards ourselves, the ability to pass it along increases. It reminds us that we all want the same things: to love and be loved, to belong, to connect authentically and feel safe in our choices to do so.
Kiki is a writer living and bettering her communication skills in SoCal with her husband and two cats.