Archives for January 2019

Ultimate Courage

A startling number of men suffer in silence. They hide their pain, often from even themselves.

This covert male suffering is manifested in numerous ways: Loneliness and/or social-emotional isolation (they’re definitely not going to talk about it); drinking and/or taking drugs to excess; dangerous activities; fits of anger; dissociating from emotions. While most men may not recognize themselves in the more extreme forms of covert male suffering, they can usually identify their reluctance to reach out for connection and emotional support. Certainly, the women in their lives recognize their lack of outreach.

Lots of men experience depression at times. While it’s commonly accepted “science” that women suffer from depression more often and more intensely than men, it’s also true that statistics can conceal more than they reveal. The problem is that, while accurate according to common definitions of depression and the psychological tests that measure it, these findings don’t account for the particular ways that males demonstrate depression. This depression is manifested more outwardly through actions or inwardly through emotional withdrawal. The bottom line is that men tend to suffer covertly in the shadows.

I’m not suggesting that women don’t suffer greatly. Of course, they do. However, women are much more likely to seek help than men. And men need help.

Consider these statistics:

  • Men commit suicide four times as often as women.
  • Men die an average of 4.9 years earlier.
  • Men are much more likely to be the victims of violence.
  • Men have higher rates of alcoholism and drug addiction.
  • Men are more socially isolated.

Even without the more extreme manifestations of male behavior, it’s clear that most men feel generally isolated—even with lots of people around. Those of us versed in male psychology believe that the problems begin early in life; boys are taught to hold their emotions in and “prove” their masculinity.

In fact, there are decades of scientific research with consistent findings: males who learn to rigidly identify with “traditional masculine ideology,” a term coined by a preeminent thought leader in male psychology Ron Levant, are psychologically and physically less healthy than those less identified.

(To be clear, I’m not suggesting that all aspects of how males are conditioned to be masculine are negative.) This ideology includes the belief that showing emotions, particularly softer ones like sadness and fear, makes guys less manly. Indeed, depending on the context, it could make them appear feminine.

Boys learn to so fear being called a girl early in life that they will go to great lengths to avoid this. Think blustery, aggressive defenses.

While playgrounds feel safe and fun to many boys, others can experience them as far more threatening. Bullying is sadly common. Home can even feel like a scary place to some. Stoicism and surliness become survival strategies. The fear of being bullied, shamed, or worse leads most boys (and men) to not express their vulnerable, authentic human emotions. Instead, their faces become increasingly stoic or even stone-like. This emotional shutdown underlies silent suffering—the kind that in its extreme leads to the fourfold difference in male suicide rates.

Most guys have learned that expressing these more vulnerable emotions can lead to abandonment, rejection and/or humiliation. Shame and a general experience of threat act to keep guys mum and enclosed. Sadly, this leads to loneliness and emotional isolation. Some guys, as they grow older, become more aware of the conundrum they face: either they continue to “man up,” hold it in or strike out and “be a man,” or go against the grain of traditional masculine ideology and follow a path of health. For example, they speak vulnerably and openly when they feel disconnected (neither blaming nor self-pitying), and they earnestly and vulnerably act on their essential human values that include connection, compassion, and collaboration. This takes courage.

In my 35 years of leading men’s groups and workshops as well as coaching and consulting with individual men, in both personal and professional settings, I have found that the most direct route for men to evolve beyond traditional male ideology and develop thriving habits of mind and behavior is through two related, yet distinct, sets of practices:

  1. Addressing their covert (and overt) suffering by learning to be self-compassionate
  2. Building positive emotional muscles through self-acknowledgment and self-appreciation

When practiced in tandem, particularly over time, men experience greater motivation, resilience, and overall life success—including better physical health, relationships, and capacity to just get things done.

It takes courage for men to practice self-compassion because it involves being present with their real pain—actually dealing with their covert suffering; this naturally includes emotional vulnerability.  

Men can take heart and feel assured that their sincere efforts will be rewarded, as witnessed through the overwhelming evidence that being self-compassionate is healthier (and stronger) than just “toughing it out” and resisting their painful feelings. Paradoxically, compassionately being with painful feelings does not lead to a hopeless state of feeling stuck but actually frees men to evolve and transform more quickly.  

While compassion always involves bringing awareness and kindness to yourself when you’re feeling pain, you can focus on building positive emotional muscles when you’re not necessarily in pain. This includes focusing on positive aspects of yourself. Some guys need to dig a bit. There’s a big difference between healthy self-acknowledgment and arrogance bordering on narcissism. Guys tend to hide from others the degree to which they are self-critical. They haven’t lived up to some often unattainable male standard, so focusing on the ways they are respect-worthy and lovable can feel very challenging.

The focus of Ultimate Courage, a workshop co-created by Steve Hickman (executive director of the Center for MSC), David Spound, and me, is on developing self-compassion and building on the positive specifically. Guys who have participated have consistently enjoyed a sense of positive male community that’s beyond anything they’ve ever experienced.
 

Men get real about acknowledging their life challenges in relationships, finances, or doubts at work. They find that the experience frees them to honor and appreciate themselves as well as bring care and kindness to themselves when in pain.

It takes courage to even register for the workshop because it will clearly thrust them in a more direct relationship with both themselves and other men. To a man, the choice to participate and the actual experience have been worth it. A consistent response we’ve received can be summed up like this: “I had no idea that guys could be so caring and supportive. I never dreamt that I could trust a group of men so much.”

 

Shame and the Wish to Be Loved

By Chris Germer

Co-founder, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
January 30, 2019

Chris Germer 2017

As you teach MSC more often, you may notice how invisible threads emerge that connect different parts of the curriculum. Most of these threads were not intentionally woven into the curriculum but rather reflect our deepening practice and understanding of self-compassion.

One thread that is carried throughout the curriculum are the 3 components of self-compassion – mindfulness, common humanity, self-kindness.  I recently discovered that the 3 components of self-compassion are the underlying framework of the 3 paradoxes of shame.  The 3 paradoxes are:

  • Shame feels blameworthy, but it is an innocent
  • Shame feels isolating, but it is a universal
  • Shame feels permanent and all-encompassing, but it is transitory, like all emotions, and it is a burden carried by only part of who we are

The first paradox elicits selfkindness (which is easy to feel toward an innocent being), the second is common humanity, and the third is mindfulness.  This is how shame looks through the eyes of self-compassion. Together, the three paradoxes can take the sting out of shame – they help to de-shame shame.  That’s why we introduce them before leading students in the Working with Shame exercise.

Teachers can bring these paradoxes explicitly into the shame exercise. Students can be reminded during the exercise that what they are feeling is shared by many others (common humanity), that the experience of shame will pass like any other emotion and that shame is a burden carried by a part of who they are – not all of who they are (mindfulness), and that shame comes from the wish to be loved (self-kindness).

The most transformative paradox, in my opinion, is that shame is an innocent emotion that arises from the wish to be loved. The wish to be loved is the engine that drives the train of shame.

In a nutshell, when we are in the grip of shame and have the capacity to know that we’re caught up in shame (i.e., we’re mindful of shame), then offering ourselves the understanding, “And I only feel like this because I just want to be loved!” can reframe the entire experience.

We would not feel shame if we didn’t wish to be loved. In fact, shame can be defined as the emotion that arises when we believe we are too flawed to be loved and accepted by others. We have mostly forgotten our universal wish to be loved because our innocent efforts to be loved have been rebuffed.  The pain of being conditionally loved has pushed underground our awareness of the universal wish to be loved.  When we reclaim our wish to be loved (and perhaps go through a bit of backdraft), shame becomes surprisingly workable again. Even people who are convinced that they are unlovable do not disagree that they wish to be loved.  Reclaiming that simple intention with which we were all born begins the process of freeing ourselves from the grip of shame.

Shame and the wish to be loved are two sides of the same coin. We just need to turn over the coin.

Of course, the proof is in direct experience.  Therefore, we invite all MSC teachers to weave the 3 paradoxes of shame into the exercise Working with Shame, especially by guiding your students to connect with the wish to be loved – “I only feel this way because I just wanted to be loved, and I still want to be loved!” – when they are feeling shame most acutely.  This practice is also a lovely informal practice for those times when our sense of self is under threat during the day.  If our students can identify moments of shame in their daily lives and remind themselves of their wish to be loved, the transformative potential of self-compassion may be revealed.

-Chris Germer

Updated Language for Course Readings for Your Participants

With the recent publication of the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, MSC teachers now have a rich new resource to share with participants. As we noted in the last Teacher Bulletin, this workbook will replace the full handout booklet that has been provided in the past in PDF form (the full handout booklet will no longer be supported). There will be a new trimmed-down version of the handout booklet for teachers to share, but we hope that teachers will either provide the workbook to participants or strongly recommend that their participants purchase it for use during the course.

The following is the language that CMSC is using for CMSC-sponsored MSC programs:

Highly recommended while participating in the MSC course:

It is recommended, but not required, that participants read the following two books before participating in MSC:

If teachers wish to provide a link to purchase the new workbook directly from Guilford Publications at a discounted rate, you can forward this one to them, suggest that they check online retailers as well.

Free “Compassion and Social Justice” Webinar Offered for MSC Teachers

Through a collaboration with the Courage of Care organization, CMSC is proud to sponsor this free webinar for MSC teachers to explore an important and timely topic. Please consider joining us on February 11, 2019 from 5-6 pm Pacific Time for this Zoom webinar offered by two leaders in the field.


“Justice is what love looks like in public”

– Cornell West

We are living in trying times. We at Courage of Care believe we have the capacity to respond to the enormous social, economic and environmental challenges before us from a radical stance of love and compassion. Many great teachers have pointed to the importance of deep spiritual work for sustainable social change. If we do not cultivate our capacity for compassion and care, we may end up recreating the very structures of oppression we wish to dismantle. Likewise, without a critical systems lens, spiritual practitioners may recreate patterns of oppression and othering that limit liberation for all. Our mission is to empower both personal and social transformation by providing deep contemplative training coupled with powerful tools for systemic change.

In this session, participants will engage with our blueprint for transformation – Love, See, Heal, Re-Envision and Act – through experiential practices that include envisioning the beloved community, receiving care and support, recognizing and challenging oppressive stances, undoing internalized oppression, and healing—for all people, wherever they fall in oppressor/oppressed dynamics.

Compassion and Social Justice:
What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Free Zoom Webinar Offered for MSC Teachers

February 11, 2019
5-6 pm Pacific Time

 

Through a collaboration with the Courage of Care organization, CMSC is proud to sponsor this free webinar for MSC teachers to explore an important and timely topic. Please consider joining us.

Reserve your spot now.

PRESENTER BIOS

Veta Goler, PhD, has been a faculty member at Spelman College for 30 years. A longtime meditator, she is committed to helping others discover the ways contemplative practices can enrich their lives. Veta is a Courage of Care Coalition faculty member and a Center for Courage & Renewal facilitator.

Kelly Conroy Moore, PhD has worked as an educator, psychotherapist and social worker for over 25 years. As a longtime practitioner, she has incorporated contemplative practices in her work with students, faculty and parents. She is currently a Courage of Care faculty member and facilitator and leads workshops and groups in the Seattle area.

Sign up to reserve your spot in this important free webinar. If you cannot attend live, please sign up anyway and you will receive a link to a recording of the webinar within a few days.

Sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0c4aa4af29ab9-compassion

2019 MSC Teacher Guide Now Available for Purchase!

By Chris Germer

Co-founder, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
January 9, 2019

Purchase the 2019 Teacher Guide

The 2019 version of the MSC Teacher Guide (TG) has finally been released! The delay was caused by last minute efforts to get the MSC professional textbook into production. After the textbook was completed, refinements from the textbook were migrated into the Teacher Guide. The TG is usually released in September, but we missed the 2018 deadline this year and the TG was released in January 2019 instead.

Why a Revised Teacher Guide?

As you know, the TG is revised each year based on what we learn from teachers and students about how to best teach the MSC program. The basic structure of the MSC program, including the topics, practices and exercises, and the sequence of these components, has remained the same from 2017 to 2019. However, there were many changes to the wording of all these components to make the program easier to teach and easier for students to understand precisely what we are doing and why. We therefore recommend that you buy the new TG if you are teaching MSC in 2019. It is always sold for the cost of printing and shipping and CMSC does not receive any profit from sales of the TG. We have this policy to encourage teachers to always teach from the latest TG.

Translations

Currently, there are 17 different translations of the TG in use. Teachers who are working with translations and speak fluent English, and translators of the TG into other languages, are encouraged to get the new TG as well. Since the bulk of the changes was in wording rather than content, it is up to the discretion of translators and non-English teachers to decide whether an updated translation is necessary in your language. CMSC would also like to receive your impressions after you explore the new TG. Translators all receive free copies of the new TG from CMSC, upon request. For issues related to TG translation, please contact Mirjam Luthe, at mirjam@centerformsc.org. Mirjam coordinates all of the translators and translations of CMSC documents.

Teacher Guide vs. professional textbook

The 2019 TG shares a lot of content with the curriculum section of the forthcoming professional textbook. However, the professional textbook was written primarily for professionals who are not MSC teachers and the textbook is not easy to use in the classroom. In contrast, everything about the TG was written for easy use by teachers while teaching. (Even Kristin and I sometimes still use the TG, especially when leading complicated class exercises which were carefully worded to be both safe and effective.) This is why the TG duplicates some of the material in the published textbook, albeit in a different format (usually bullet points versus prose). Most improvements in the 2019 TG were the result of going through every word in the 2017 TG very carefully before integrating it into the professional textbook.

The TG will also be updated every year whereas the published professional textbook will not be updated for 5-7 years. Fortunately for everyone, changes in wording and content of the MSC program are diminishing with each passing year.

New Handouts Booklets

Also, please note that new Handouts Booklets have been created for use in your MSC classes. (It can be found on PowerSchool Learning.) The Handouts Booklet for use in the English language is slimmer than before because it only has material that is not in the MSC Workbook. However, until the workbook is translated into your language, please continue to use the Handouts Booklet which contains all the MSC practices. A new version of that Handout Booklet, updated to correspond to the new Teacher Guide, can also be found on PowerSchool Learning. Translators may or may not want to translate the (slightly) updated Handouts Booklet into their own language.

Purchase the 2019 Teacher Guide

New Years Message

By Chris Germer

Co-founder, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
January 9, 2019

Dear MSC Teachers,

Chris Germer 2017

Dear MSC Teachers,

I had the privilege of hosting the MSC Circles of Practice on New Year’s Eve day with MSC graduates and teachers from all over the world. It was so touching to practice as a global community on the cusp of the new year and to hear the participants’ sharing afterwards. I was left with a deep feeling of gratitude for what we are creating together.

We did a little reflective exercise for the new year based on core values and loving-kindness meditation. It went like this:

  • First we connected with the core value that we would most like to express in 2019, such as living with more balance, connecting with others, finding one’s voice and speaking up, seeing our own beauty, and so forth.
  • Then we explored the many little ways that we are already doing this, often without realizing it.
  • After that, we allowed ourselves to feel in our bodies how it is when we’re not living in accord with this core value.
  • Then we asked ourselves, “What would you say to a friend, knowing how important this core value is to them and how it hurts to ignore it?” For example, you might say, “I love you, please give yourself this gift. You are worth it!”
  • Then we practiced saying those same words to ourselves, in the same, loving way, bathing in the words and the intention behind the words.
  • Finally, we wrote this message down on a slip of paper to be reminded of this core value during the year, especially when we find ourselves off track.

After the exercise, participants shared how sensing their own preciousness is itself a precious gift, how feeling valued and valuable is the foundation of meaningful personal change, and how self-appreciation is only possible when we realize that we arise out of the earth and are inseparable from one another. Also, how making a difference in the world requires tapping into a deeper appreciation of what truly matters to us and speaking up even when we’re trembling in fear. As a community, I think we stepped beyond the usual new year “fix this and do that” and into a shared space of potential and power.

As an MSC community, we are also rich in personal resources. Probably over 60,000 people have taken MSC thus far, either face-to-face or online, and about 1,900 MSC teachers have been trained since 2014. We have a well-functioning center for supporting our teachers and practitioners (thanks to Steve and the team!), and we are determined now to bring self-compassion training where it is needed the most, which means underserved populations wherever they may be. Our finances are often precarious but we are careful to balance our dreams with our resources. Multiple adaptations of MSC are either happening or in the works. The MSC workbook has been published and is selling like crazy, multiple translations are underway, and a professional textbook will be released in August 2019—all to share the gift of self-compassion with others and promote self-compassion training.

Indeed, there is great hunger for self-compassion around the world and the wave of interest in self-compassion has only just begun. Fortunately, we have a remarkable community of inspired and committed teachers to meet the challenge (thank YOU!) and our administrative infrastructure is in place for rapid growth. Our CMSC Board of Directors also provides wise and innovative guidance to our efforts as an organization, adding the viewpoints of Joy Huang from China, Marta Alonso Maynar from Spain, and Kristin Neff and Jim Douglass here in the U.S.

The commitment of the Center for MSC and the founders is to become increasingly decentralized, steadily diminishing the focus on Kristin and myself, by recognizing and supporting each MSC teacher’s talents and interests, and by helping MSC teachers support one another. Our CMSC Board of Directors also provides wise and innovative guidance to our efforts as an organization, adding the viewpoints of Joy Huang from China, Marta Alonso Maynar from Spain and Jim Douglass from here in the U.S. Therefore, we hope that you will stay informed about new developments, and keep the Center for MSC informed about your needs, as the future unfolds.

On behalf of the Center for MSC and the Board of Directors, sending warmest wishes for the new year,

Chris

Chris

6 Ways Dogs Teach Us Self-Compassion

—✦—

New research suggests that being a dog owner may be a way to access and cultivate the warmth and comfort provided by self-compassion through connecting with the loving presence of a canine friend.

To rest and trust in our own loving, connected presence is the essence of practicing self-compassion. It is the experience of tapping into our inner resources of wisdom and kindness and giving ourselves what we need to the best of our current capacity. Self-compassion is available to us at any moment by pausing and remembering all that is within us. Yet, there are many times when the demands of life get in the way of remembering this truth. Our busy, rushed schedules can lead us to go about our days feeling distracted and disconnected, and self-compassion can feel more like a distant idea than an intimate reality.

Buddy, a beloved teacher of savoring the joys and beauty of nature.

New research suggests that being a dog owner may be a way to access and cultivate the warmth and comfort provided by self-compassion through connecting with the loving presence of a canine friend. A recent study examined the effects of dog ownership on veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress (1). Veterans in the study participated in a program that gives veterans the opportunity to care for and train a dog that they ultimately adopt. The program focuses primarily on the healing experience of human-animal interaction. Results from the study demonstrated notable benefits for the veterans who engaged in the dog training program compared to veterans who were on a wait-list. In fact, veterans reported significantly fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms and significantly greater self-compassion compared to the wait-list group. Additionally, dog ownership did not increase veterans’ perceived stress levels. It seems that the benefits of companionship outweigh the responsibilities and potential challenges of caring for an animal.

The results from this study may not surprise many of us who have had the honor and pleasure of owning a dog. Dogs are master teachers of self-compassion in the way they invite us to be present and savor the delights of this moment. Dogs’ unconditional acceptance of us just as we are can reflect back to us our inherent worthiness, no matter how we feel or what we’re going through. Whether we have a dog or not, we can learn from the wisdom offered by dogs and integrate small, ordinary shifts in our lifestyle to slow down, pause, meet ourselves fresh in each moment, and remember our interconnectedness with life around us.

Ways Dogs Teach Us Self-Compassion

Dogs remind us to pause.

Maybe they’re sniffing a pile of gunk in the sewer, or maybe they’re relieving themselves. Either way, dogs invite us to pause frequently as we move about our day and notice the fullness of what is here, now. Dogs keep us mindful and present as we respond to their needs in the moment.

Dogs connect us with nature.

Whether we take our dogs on walks, to the park, or just let them out into our own backyard, dogs bring us closer to nature. With our dogs, we might find ourselves standing under the sky, basking in the sunshine (or becoming drenched in the rain), watching the trees and flowers, and feeling the breeze. These simple moments of touching the elements of nature can remind us of our interconnection with the earth and allow us see beauty that we might otherwise overlook.

Dogs show us what unconditional love looks like.

When we get home from a rough day, there’s nothing quite like the warm welcome of a dog greeting us at the front door. No matter how many hours it’s been or what happened last time we were home, our dogs meet us with fresh eyes, full hearts, and unconditional joy and love.

Dogs remind us we are not alone and we are okay just as we are.

Isolation can be a major barrier to remembering self-compassion. Even if no one else is around, being in the nonjudgmental presence of our dog can open us up to a bigger perspective and remind us we are not alone in times of difficulty. Without saying anything, dogs show us the healing power of radically accepting ourselves just as we are.

Dogs help us release oxytocin.

One of the ways we can practice self-compassion is to find a soothing gesture of placing our hands on our heart or anywhere on our bodies that is comforting to our nervous system. Stroking the soft fur of a pet is another way we can regulate our nervous system and activate the release of oxytocin, a hormone that gives us a feeling of connection and love (2).

Dogs show us our own generosity.

Caring for dogs is not always about playing fetch and snuggling. Dog ownership means picking up after them, whether it’s lint-rolling dog hair off our clothes or picking up their poo off the grass. It often means rearranging our schedules so we make sure they are fed and walked. Sometimes we face expensive vet bills or have to deal with fleas. And of course there is the heartbreaking reality of someday saying goodbye to our beloved dogs at the end of their lives. All difficulties aside, the path of owning a dog shows us the depth of our generosity and the expanse of our hearts. Loving a dog can reveal to us how big our hearts truly are and how much love we have to offer. Dogs give us the gift of knowing our own limitless capacity to give and receive love.


References

  1. Bergen-Cico, D., Smith, Y., Wolford, K., Gooley, C., Hannon, K., Woodruff, R., … & Gump, B. (2018). Dog ownership and training reduces post-traumatic stress symptoms and increases self-compassion among veterans: results of a longitudinal control study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(12), 1166-1175.
  2. Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 351-374.