Archives for September 2019

Last Call to Join Pilot MSC Teachers’ Practicum

Join us and learn together to meet the inevitable bumps and surprises of teaching MSC whilst held safely by experienced senior teachers and in the supportive company of fellow teachers in training.


This is a last call to register for one of the upcoming pilot Teacher Training Practicums (TTP). The new TTP has been developed and designed by a group of senior MSC teachers with the specific intention of providing opportunities to begin to practice your new-found teaching skills with each other in a safe, structured, online environment comprised of up to 15 fellow teachers-in-training and two TTP Trainers.

If you’ve taken your Teacher Training recently or perhaps some while ago but have yet to teach your first group, this is a wonderful opportunity to get to grips at depth with the detail of the whole 8-week program in the safety of a supportive learning environment before taking the course out into the wider world. Join us and learn together to meet the inevitable bumps and surprises of teaching MSC whilst held safely by experienced senior teachers and in the supportive company of fellow teachers in training.

The practicum will become an integral component to becoming a trained teacher of MSC in 2020 and this is a one-time opportunity to take the practicum at half price ($550) and also to be influential in helping us refine and develop the details.

There are three pilots practicums to choose from:

Option 1 (English): Ali Lambie (Senior Practicum Trainer) and Zoe Shobbrook-Fisher (Practicum Trainer) Thursdays, Oct. 3-Dec. 12, 2019 1400 UTC (No session on 31 October) | REGISTER

▸ Option 2 (English): Tina Gibson (Senior Practicum Trainer) and Anna Friis (Practicum Trainer) Tuesdays, Oct. 8-Dec. 10, 2019 2200 UTC | REGISTER

Option 3 (Spanish): Marta Alonso (Senior Practicum Trainer) and Mariela de la Fuente (Practicum Trainer) Tuesdays, Oct. 15-Dec. 17, 2019 1400 UTC | REGISTER

Making the Invisible Visible: Using Art to Deepen MSC Practice

Have you ever had difficulty articulating your inner processes or insights during a meditation or self-compassion practice? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your participants also struggle, searching in vain for just the right word or phrase? This is in part because so much is stored in the body, and cognitive access is limited. But through the creation of pictures, sculptures, dance, poetry, music and dramaturgy, we find that at last, we can playfully build hands-on bridges to connect with these embodied inner messages.

As an artist, art therapist, art educator, and teacher of metta and MSC, I’ve seen the immense potential of intertwining art, meditation, and self-compassion practice. I’ve developed artistic processes which can be incorporated in short form during foundational MSC classes or in longer form during art-based retreats. 

I’ve learned over the years that one of the greatest powers of incorporating art in MSC and meditation is that it enables us to have experiences that go far beyond our purely cognitive-linguistic comprehension. Through art, we can get into intense contact with our own body, feelings, and emotions, transcending the limits of spoken language. (See exercise below for an example.) Participants often discover creativity as an expression of aliveness and as a way of experiencing, awakening, and cultivating spiritedness. Some people gain unprecedented access to their own being. Art makes the invisible visible without intentionally searching for it, and it opens additional levels of reflection for the individual and within the group. 

Just as meditation and MSC are adventures, so are artistic processes. Our work as teachers is to support the participants in immersing with curiosity, amazement and open-mindedness, free of fixations on aesthetic or technical requirements. Many times, this also means teaching fierce self-compassion! 

To see examples of the intermingling of creative process and MSC, please have a look on my website, POWERful-heART. You may also contact me, Helga Luger-Schreiner, in Vienna, Austria. I am looking forward to an inspiring, mutual exchange with everyone interested in creating new space through art to deepen the practice of MSC.

 

Practice Invitation:

Body Picture (also called “Body Landscape”)

Purpose: This exercise helps you to get in deep contact with body sensations and makes them visible and memorable. You can do this artistic process in combination with other MSC practices, including “Compassionate Body-Scan” or “Affectionate Breathing.” 

Materials:

  • I propose painting, drawing or collage (use watercolors, wax crayons, coloring pencils, scissors, glue, colored paper or old calendar pictures for collage, finds from nature, and so on). You may decide for yourself what appeals to you more, but you can also combine all the techniques. 
  • Likewise, the format is individually selectable. You can choose a format that fits your life-size silhouette, allowing you to create a one-to-one picture of yourself and your body sensations, but you can also work on small-format paper. If you wish, you can draw your body contour on your paper before the meditation. 

Prepare your materials and lay them out in front of you so that you can easily go directly into the artistic process in between or after the meditation. 

Process:

Begin your guided meditation as usual and then…

Remain in silence and continue to be in touch with your body sensations. Using your materials, bring your feelings and body sensations to your paper in whatever way feels most natural to you. Let your hands move freely, without an idea of what your painting or drawing should look like in advance. Choose colors and shapes, and begin to fill in your body contour. Be as playful as possible in the creative process.

Finally, appreciate yourself for your creativity. Or give yourself compassion when you have had a hard time. Perhaps you could let go of your ideal and find something inspiring in what it has become?

You can repeat this exercise often. If you have worked in life-size format, you will find enough space to continue on the same image. If you have worked in a small format, you can create a body sensation picture book with several works.


The Case for Surgical Self-Compassion

by Dr. Michael Maddaus
Retired Thoracic Surgeon, Public Speaker, and MSC Teacher-in-Training

I walked into my first Surgical Complications Conference through a barely cracked-open door at the back of a room filled with surgeons, residents, and medical students. It was as if I had just walked into a police interrogation. A chief surgical resident was up on the “stage,” behind the podium, wiping his visibly sweating forehead with his hands, rocking side-to-side, stuttering and sputtering attempted answers to the machine gun fire of questions from an internationally famous surgeon parked in the front row. Leaning forward in his seat, the surgeon was thrusting his arm and his pointed finger in the air at him, yelling, “Look at him up there shuffling and sweating and making excuses!” and then demanding more answers about what happened. 

What happened is that the resident, apparently tentative and obfuscating, was being humiliated and shamed. The story created in my mind as a brand-new surgical intern was that telling the exact truth about what I did wrong was critical to my survival as a surgeon. What my story was really about was the need for belonging and a fear of shame. My newly erected fence was raw, in your face, truth-telling, no matter what. Someone else observing this scene may have ended up creating another story and a different fence; perhaps something like “All surgeons are mean-spirited, hyper-critical assholes,” which could really be about kindness and acceptance. It all depends on the psychological gear you are carrying when you show up to the event. 

When a patient gets hurt

From that moment on, I was determined to be ruthlessly honest with myself about any error I made. This is not easy considering the psychological pain associated with making a mistake that has led to a patient complication. The mind, having a mind of its own, automatically tries to lessen the pain of a mistake in one of two ways. The first way is rationalization. Here, the mind looks for “reasons” or excuses outside of the mistake itself such as, “Well, he had cancer and was going to die anyway,” or “The tissues were weak,” or “If so and so hadn’t done____ (fill in the blank), then this wouldn’t have happened.”

The trouble is, sometimes there are mitigating factors that do contribute to a complication. However, the danger of rationalizing is a failure to take full responsibility for both the exact error made and for the responsibility to improve and prevent it in the future. Complications conferences are, in general, very effective at weeding out rationalizations and excuses. Current complications conferences are now civil affairs that do serve the purpose of seeking the truth of what happened combined with learning from the mistake. Thus surgeons, overall, are not excuse-makers. 

The second response to the mistake is to be internally hypercritical and shaming since that is, after all, what is deserved and because it seems to be the necessary path to improvement and avoiding future errors. Whipping oneself with this mental cat-o’-nine-tails (a medieval whip with nine tails) generates a physiologic stress and threat response just as surely as if someone else were standing in front of you yelling the same criticisms or threats, with all of the negative consequences of a chronic stress response.

Chronic whippings with one’s personal cat-o’-nine-tails can, over time, lead to a very rational and perhaps subconscious survival strategy of avoidance of emotions by shrugging one’s shoulders and saying “whatever” to the error and moving on. The danger here is emotional disconnection with yourself and with your patients. Both lose.

Suffering in silence: the dread of isolation

These days, before the knife cuts the skin of any patient, there is a mandatory “time-out” where all involved check in with each other to ensure that everything is in order. There is no similar time-out in most physicians lives. 

I still remember going home late one night after the unexpected death of a young woman on the operating table. It was one of the most devastating complications of my career and one not even caused by a direct error on my part. Yet I felt so responsible. I made the decision to operate on her. I was responsible.

After telling her grief-stricken husband, I tossed and turned all night, then got up the next morning for my day’s cases, and as I walked by the main desk of the operating room I felt like all eyes were on me – since the stories of big complications spread through the social field of the operating rooms like wildfire. But, as always, we all pretended it didn’t exist, I went on with my day and my cases, psychologically alone. I suffered from negative personal ruminations about the case for over a year before I could fully accept what had happened and move on.

I suspect that to the outside world I seemed just fine. I was showing up everyday, doing my cases, clinics, and academic work. I didn’t tell anyone how I sometimes found myself stopped in the middle of a dog walk at night, standing still, so deeply locked up in the rumination that I failed to recognize I had stopped moving or that my dog was standing there, looking up at me, waiting to see what the next move was. 

I also suspect that, if asked, a majority of the public would think that surgeons are not internally hypercritical of themselves, given their perceptions about a surgeon’s resilience and strength. My experience is opposite to these perceptions. In fact they may even be harder on themselves. 

Rethinking “failure:” the role of compassionate community

I meet with a group of surgeons every two weeks outside of home and work where we can share our personal and professional struggles in strict confidence. They are exceptionally hard on themselves, and they each have their own personal set of cat-o’-nine-tails used not only for surgical complications but also for a range of so called personal “failures,” “mistakes,” and “shortcomings.” When I started the group it became clear that most were deeply steeped in the internal habitual hypercritical response to perceived failures or mistakes and they believed (the fence), to their core, that it was an essential part of improving. Being in a group has given them a much needed place to breathe emotionally and a place to start to break down their fences, allowing them to learn new skills such as self-compassion and acceptance. It is as if they are finally taking the time to stop outside their mental house, pause, take a look around, and intentionally start to redesign it. It is the critical time-out that they so desperately needed. 

The ubiquitous story that the road to excellence and high performance should be paved with external or internal criticism and shame is a fence — a psychological barrier — that needs to be broken down in the world of medicine. 

Because young physicians show up at the start of medical school or residency with their own psychological gear, it is vital that we help them construct the right fences early in their training. By intentionally teaching young physicians that kickstarting the engine of self-compassion as soon as possible after an error or complication will 1) provide them with more positive internal resources that will allow more rapid acceptance and ownership of the error, and 2) a greater capacity and willingness to improve in the future, we can participate in the preservation of their wellbeing over time as the realities of medicine assault them. It is constriction or expansion. It is more limited performance or higher performance. It is a choice, but only if they are aware.

About Michael Maddaus

Michael is a high school dropout, ex juvenile delinquent, and retired academic thoracic surgeon who found MSC through his daughter, Maya, while she was a student at Boston College. She shared a video of a student project on gratitude that referenced MSC, he looked it up in the literature, found Kristin on the web, and signed up! Through the MSC Intensive and Teacher Training, he came to realize just how ubiquitous the lack of self-compassion is in the medical community.

Academically, Dr. Maddaus is the author of more than 100 scientific publications and 30 medical book chapters, and the principle investigator of national clinical trials in lung cancer. Because of his many contributions both locally and nationally he was honored with the Garamella-Lynch-Jensen Chair in Surgery, the Medical School Alumnus of the Year Award (2003) and the Wangensteen Award for Excellence in Teaching (2008). Dr. Maddaus is also editor of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and was recently elected to membership in the American Surgical Association, the most prestigious surgical society in North America. He is featured in the PBS Program, Nova, in a series called “This Emotional Life: My Transformation from High School Dropout to Surgeon.” You can connect with Michael through his website, www.michaelmaddaus.com

Break the Cycle of Anxious Thinking and Get the Sleep You Need: Mindfulness for Insomnia

Right now millions of people are trying to sleep, struggling to get the rest they desperately need. They are tossing, they are turning, their minds filling up with catastrophic thinking that only serves to make them less likely to fall asleep. “When it’s two-thirty on those mornings,” says Stanford professor and authority on stress physiology Robert Sapolsky, “I always have a brain tumor.”There are few things that can bring out our common humanity more than the maddening struggle with sleeplessness. And a distressingly large number of us wrestle with sleep:
  • The average person in the United States today sleeps 20% less than they did 100 years ago.
  • More than 30% of the US population suffers from insomnia.
  • Between 40% and 60% of people over the age of 60 suffer from insomnia.
  • More than half of Americans lose sleep due to stress and/or anxiety.
So how can we get more sleep? Creating an external environment that’s conducive to sleep can help. Making sure our bedrooms are dark, quiet, and cool, as well as following a regular sleep schedule, and banning screens from the bedroom, all lead toward more restful slumber. But focusing only on the external environment is not enough. We also need to address the internal environment. That’s where Mindful Self-Compassion can help.We can’t just make ourselves fall asleep. You can lie in bed telling yourself go to sleep now, but it is the particularly maddening nature of insomnia that the more you try to bully yourself into going to sleep, the more your mind and body rebel. Think of lying down with a toddler who’s just not interested in taking a nap. No amount of commanding or pleading can make the child fall asleep.
What we can do, however, is create the conditions, internally as well as externally, that make sleep more likely to happen when we do lie down. You can allow natural sleep to come by working mindfully and compassionately with your mind and body.
This is work that has to happen during the day as well as when we’re lying in bed. Developing mindfulness and self-compassion throughout the day teaches us to adopt a more gentle and kind way of relating to our inner selves. That can help change the condition of our mind and heart when we do lie down to go to sleep. Rather than trying to directly change our sleep through behavioral approaches, we can help ourselves and others suffering from insomnia by learning how to be more accepting of our experience when having difficulty sleeping. It may seem paradoxical, but this willingness to accept the experience of poor sleep can lead to less anxiety and better rest.This gentle training in encountering life in this way is like stopping a war – the exhausting war with life that we all wage by unconsciously grasping and resisting, trying to make things different than they are. This war is waged in our own minds and bodies, and it wreaks havoc on our well-being – including on our ability to sleep. Each time your mind creates catastrophic stories about the future because of how frustrated you are about not sleeping, you are continuing this internal war. The brain interprets this train of thinking as a threat and reactivates the stress response.To really rest, we need to feel safe and at peace. Humans are programmed that way: our cave-dwelling ancestors survived because they kept one eye open for saber-toothed tigers. Mindfulness and self-compassion practice can give us that experience of peace because it’s a peace that does not depend on an absence of difficulty. We can learn to encounter ourselves, encounter our lives, with acceptance and compassion, and in doing so, bring about the conditions where we can let go into rest.

On the Road to Empowerment: Fierce Self-Compassion for Mothers

by Alison Rogers
Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher, and Author

“This is a wonderful gift to any new mother. When we cultivate inner warmth, kindness, and health it not only helps us as mothers, but also helps everyone around us, including the new life we bring into the world. This book will help you care for your body with gentle yoga poses, and to relate to yourself with more wisdom and compassion so that your experience of motherhood is as fulfilling as possible.” – Dr. Kristin Neff, Author of Self-Compassion

Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering—that of others or ourselves— and can be ferocious as well as tender.

-Kristin Neff


Mothers are both fiercely and tenderly compassionate towards their children, but not as often towards themselves. Kristin Neff wrote the words above in response to the Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement. But it feels just as pertinent when we think about mothers today. Self-compassion can be an antidote to the intense self-critiquing and cultural judgement of new mothers. Sometimes mothers need tender self-compassion, and sometimes they need to be ferocious about resisting shame, caring for themselves and asking for what they need. New mothers often feel conflicted and uncertain about the many significant decisions they are required to make. They are faced with layers of conflicting and contradictory social and cultural expectations with few realistic options for meeting those expectations. Work or stay home? Breast or bottle-feed? Crib or co-sleep? Any one of these choices can make a woman feel like the wrong sort of mother.

And this type of double bind — doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t — results in many women feeling powerless, ashamed, and conflicted. No wonder many new mothers feel anxious, exhausted and lonely. 

Mindful Self-Compassion practices encourage mothers to take time to listen to their feelings and thoughts without becoming over identified with them, to feel kinder and more protective towards self, and to realize that all mothers struggle with conflicting feelings, unrealistic and contradictory expectations, and at times, isolation.

In a recent article in Elle magazine on the resistance to mother shaming, there was reference to a national poll conducted in 2017 by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that found that 6 in 10 mothers have been judged for their parenting, most often by family members. And that in another poll that year, sponsored by the baby food company Beech-Nut, found that 80 percent of millennial moms said they’ve been criticized by someone they know. “Guilt and shame are the watchwords of today’s mothering,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and a senior fellow on the Council on Contemporary Families.

In 2011, I conducted a small pilot project for mothers diagnosed with postpartum mood disorders. Each workshop consisted of guided mindful yoga, a sharing circle and self-compassion practices. At the end of the workshop series, 8 of the 10 participants had higher scores on the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) and lower scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Women in the workshops reported that they felt more relaxed, capable and less alone after the workshops. I attribute many of the benefits to the practices of self-compassion that were woven into every aspect of the movement, discussions and meditations.

In our forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers, Erin White and I invite new mothers to take short pauses to practice self-compassion through breathing, and short mindful yoga.

In 10 chapters we offer mothers practices to increase awareness, and self-compassion, so that they can find their own authentic voice as they make the challenging and deeply meaningful transition into motherhood.

An excerpt:

Yoga is Embodied Self-compassion

“Mindful yoga is a physical expression of self-compassion. We offer compassion to our body, mind, and heart by giving it some loving attention through stretching, soothing, and opening. Yoga moves us out of our heads and into our bodies by yoking the breath with movement and focusing attention on the body and its sensations rather than the thinking mind. Yoga gives you the tools to relax and reset your nervous system. As the nervous system relaxes, it becomes easier to pay attention with gentle compassion toward yourself.” 

From Comparison to Kindness 

 Self-compassion reduces anxiety and the sense of isolation in mothers. Self-compassion is not self-pity. We’ve come to understand self-compassion as a kind of friendship with ourselves. From an early age, women are taught how to be good to our friends, to listen to their stories, to bolster their spirits in difficult times. To look at them with generous eyes. This is how we can see ourselves. We can be curious, loving, patient, impressed with all we have accomplished, excited by the great adventure of our lives. At first it can be hard to see ourselves this way! But early motherhood is the perfect time to learn how. In this period, we have more capacity for love than at any other point in our lives. So why not include yourself in that expanding circle of love, protection, and care? Sylvia Boorstein says, “let me greet the present moment as a friend,” which seems like a great place to begin a practice of compassion. Because if you can greet this moment as a friend, you’re greeting it with generosity and love. And by greeting it, you are, in a way, greeting yourself. Not the self that you were—or that you hope to be or wish to be or think you should be—but your present-moment self. 

As mothers, we need connections, not comparisons. And we need compassion. The shift from a comparing mind to a kind mind is more important even than mindfulness. You can practice self-compassion by pausing and resting long enough to ask yourself how you feel—and long enough to wait for an honest answer. “

When a woman feels less anxious, more aware of her own emotions and more tender and fiercely compassionate towards herself and others, she is empowered to resist shame and step out in her own unique imperfect, and good-enough version of motherhood.

This article was excerpted in part from the forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers; Rest, Stretch and Smile—One Yoga Minute at a Time. By Alison Rogers with Erin O. White. North Atlantic Books. Find more at: www.theyogaofparenting.com

The transition to motherhood offers endless opportunities for harsh self-judgment. But the opportunities for growth and a new and profound form of love are just as endless. Love for your baby, but also love for your imperfect self, your imperfect life. 

For some of us, self-compassion is a new concept, but there is no time like the transition into motherhood to learn the skills of self- compassion. We can learn to be as gentle with our new motherself as we are with our new baby. Self-compassion makes it easier to have compassion for your own parents, partner, friends, and colleagues.”

 

Project Huruma: Supporting Kenyan Women and Children in Need

The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion would like to share with you the Project Hururma initiative (Huruma means compassion in Swahili) to respond to the needs of 300 Mt. Elgon women and children in Kenya, following a brutal attack by neighboring insurgents in March 2018. This project is organized by Lorraine Hobbs, Randolph Oudemans, Yaffa Maritz, Autumn Totton, and Lillian Muthu.

The team is seeking financial assistance through this crowdfunding event to sponsor a team of MSC and MFY (Making Friends With Yourself- the teen version of MSC) teachers to go to Western Kenya this October (less than 2 months away). They will be delivering a 5-day retreat to guide and support affected families as they begin to turn toward their grief and suffering. Over the course of their few days together, these mothers and their children will learn the essential principles and practices of self-compassion and start developing the skills they so desperately need to recover from the tragic and traumatic events that they have been forced to endure. 

Learn More or Donate 

Where Shall We Begin? Cultivating a Compassionate Workplace

The Compassionate Leadership Summit is an event focused on how we go about bringing compassion and mindfulness more effectively into our organizations and communities, and takes place at the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov 8-9, 2019.  The Summit is designed for leaders and aspiring leaders in our community who are committed to developing cultures of compassion, consciousness and civility in their workplaces and the contexts where they have influence.

With extensive opportunities for networking and individual connections, the intention is to bring together those already engaged in this work and those who want to learn how to begin. Designed to share tools and methods, leaders from various sectors including corporations, non-profits, government, education and communities of faith will lead interactive learning sessions.
All proceeds benefit the Brighton Jones Richer Life Foundation. The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion community will receive 15% off 2-day tickets using code 2D15, 15% off 2-day tickets using code 1D15. For groups larger than five, please reach out to bonnie.gerlaugh@brightonjones.com for an additional discount.

Learn More or Buy Tickets