Going back to the Body

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.

Painting, Forsyth Park

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
internal peace.

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. 

Compassion, for myself!

We’re not even a week in, and I’ve already missed a day. Guess it’s a good thing we’re discussing ‘compassion’ this month, eh? That’s something upon which I need to work – compassion towards myself. I do believe I have a guest post later this week on that very subject so, for now, I will stick with this:

Leonie Sawson, Incredible Year, Workbook

I have been working through Leonie Dawson’s ‘Create Your Incredible Year – Life edition’ workbook for a few weeks now, and I am loving it. One of my favorite parts is that it starts with a ‘release’ of 2012 – oh, how I needed that! Then it starts in with just one form of self-compassion right after another. There are motivating things, plans, brainstorming, etc., but there are also constant reminders to be compassionate and loving to yourself.

One of my favorite parts of the workbook, which I add a little to every day, is a ‘to-do’ list for the year. It’s not the normal kind of ‘to-do’ list, but a list of fun things or goals. I have everything from ‘clean out cabinets’ to ‘dance in the rain’ and ‘Paint on Forsyth’ (which happens to be a park in Savannah in which I will step foot this weekend! – consider it done!). This list gives me things to which I can look forward and reminds me to take time out of my day to do something other than work or school. When I’m done with this workbook, which shouldn’t be too long now, I’m going to do the business version, and then move on to the Business Goddess Mastermind E-course. I love being a part of Leonie’s Amazing Biz and Life Academy because, not only do we have an incredible group of women to support us, but we have an endless stream of resources like these that help us create and realize our own dreams instead of just learning how everyone else realized theirs. It helps me remember that my dreams are my own, and they’re worth it, even if no one else thinks they are.

Leonie, Workbook, Incredible Year


What are some of your dreams that you would like to achieve? I found myself browsing historic farmhouses tonight with big doe eyes, dreaming of my future eco-friendly farm, far, far away.

Compassion: One World


In my Values and Society class, we have discussed something called the ‘sphere of moral concern’.  We are reading Peter Singer’s work entitled ‘One World’ and, in it, Singer asks us to question what and who we accept into our sphere of moral concern. For most people, that answer is generally restrained to those things that personally affect them – family, close friends, etc. But what about the things and people located outside of that tightly-knit circle? What about people in another community? Another continent? What about animals and trees? According to Singer and his proposed view of ‘One World’, all sentient beings on the planet should be equal, take equal shares of the environment and, if integrated with Karen Armstrong’s philosophy of dethroning ourselves from our world, should all be shown compassion equally.

Later this week, I may post part or all of my most recent paper in this class – it’s directly related to this. I made a B+, though, and have a few edits to make first. In the meantime, I ran across this incredible hand-created map made by Children Inspired Design. She has a lot of beautiful work, and donates 100% of the proceeds of the compassion map to a children’s nutrition program in Bangladesh. Why? Because she’s compassionate, and wants to inspire compassion. I think this map is beautiful because, other than the land/ocean divide, there are absolutely zero boundaries. Instead of sectioning us off into political nations and geographic regions, the emphasis is placed upon the fact that we are one world, and we all inhabit it together. No matter what nationality, race, religion, or even species, we are all in this together.

For more information about the incredible compassion map, here’s a video!


The Charter for Compassion

Karen Armstrong, Compassion, TED


Today is Day 2 of our Compassion blog series and our search for the answer to ‘What is compassion?’.  I want to introduce you to one of my heroes, along with something extra special. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Karen Armstrong. I was introduced to her several semesters ago via her book A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Earlier this semester, my Values and Society professor had us watch her TEDTalk on compassion, and I was blown away. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, take a listen. It’s more than worth your time:

So, Karen mentions the Charter of Compassion repeatedly throughout the talk, and you can find that here. The Charter has been translated into 30 languages, so far, and has over 90,000 signatures on it. What I love about The Charter is that it emphasizes that we should ‘dethrone ourselves from the center of our worlds and put another there,’ and I find that to be something so lacking in this world – especially in first world societies. Our lives revolve around ourselves – improving ourselves, how things make us feel, how things affect us. It’s becoming a rarity to find someone who has genuine, attachment-free feelings of empathy, or even happiness or love, towards another sentient being. We love things/people because of how they make us feel. We are empathetic and sympathetic because we feel guilty. But, genuine compassion? Removing ourselves from the center of our own world? It doesn’t happen so often. Compassion is something which a great part of the world could work towards. It’s a beautiful goal – a compassionate society.

What do you think about Karen Armstrong’s call for humanity to ‘dethrone’ ourselves from the center of our world? 

Compassion Defined – New Series!

Compassion, heart, butterflies

Compassion has been a recurring part of my life for nearly a decade now, but has made an appearance in conversations and even class-related studies for the last month or so. The subject has been stuck in the front of my head for weeks now, so I decided to dedicate an entire month to exploring compassion – yay! I have a series of guest-bloggers coming on from a wide variety of backgrounds to discuss many different topics in relation to compassion, so this is a series you won’t want to miss! You can subscribe to the Compassion Series by subscribing to the list here – this list will be deleted after the series is over, so you don’t have to worry about getting Vagabond spam!

First, we’re going to explore what compassion means. Lets start with the Wikipedia definition of compassion:

‘Compassion is the understanding or empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood… More virtuous than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering’

and, ‘In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule often embodies by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you.’

So I have an exercise for you. No, don’t go running away! It’s a very simple exercise: Today, as of right this minute, what does compassion mean to you? We will answer this question again on March 31st!