Archives for August 2021

When All Else Fails…

There is an oddly prescient quote from American talk show host, Conan O’Brien, that seems quite apropos for our time:

“When all else fails, you always have delusion.”

Conan’s offhand tip to Harvard University graduating students may at first seem nihilistic. But let’s remember some of the wacko events that we have collectively been through in the last year: a pandemic that not only killed 4+ million people world-wide, but also wreaked havoc on world economies from which we still haven’t recovered, polarizing politics, forced isolation through COVID lockdowns, climate-related disasters, racial/class tensions.… I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, it’s been a doozy of a year. “Doozy” might be an understatement.

These are major, disrupting societal events. Life altering, in some shape or form, for everyone. And, how about the more personal struggles that many of us endured, at the very same time? Losing a job, getting sick, losing loved ones, traumatized kids (and parents) trying to do school, the list goes on and on. Maybe Conan was right; delusion might be the right choice, right now.

A common theme to the aforementioned (and not mentioned) traumas, tragedies, and catastrophes is that they are destabilizing. We feel shaken like a ragdoll in the mouth of a Rottweiler. It feels like the floor falls out the bottom. It feels, and it most certainly felt, hopeless at times. We come face to face with what we thought to be true about the world and about the self, is in fact, not … true. Wow, delusion is starting to sound better and better.

When I was faced with all the above as well as a progressively worsening health condition, I felt like I was tumbling in space with nothing to hold on to. Because guess what? There WASN’T anything to hold on to. The things that used to feel solid were disintegrating. I couldn’t rely on tried-and-true sources of connection, of strength, or support. Until one day, as I found myself, once again, on the floor, not able to move, in so much pain and fatigue from a failing body, I discovered (or more aptly, I remembered) some simple strategies that might bring relief to this suffering. So simple it’s easy to forget them.

  1. Finding Your Ground … Literally
  2. Increasing Relaxation in Body and Mind
  3. Noticing You’re Alright Right Now
  4. Showing Yourself Compassion and Kindness

If it feels like there is no ground, then find the ground that is there.

Literally. Put two feet on the ground. Feel yourself in your chair. Recognize and absorb the fact that gravity is holding you on the earth. In Tai Chi, it’s called “finding your root.” Plug into the stability, steadiness, and awesomeness of the earth and let that connection stabilize you. 

At the same time, increase relaxation in the body and the mind.

Swirling, unsettled outer conditions tend to spin up rumination and worry. Finding or generating relaxation in the body generally leads to a calming of the mind. Concentrate on the breath, taking deep in breaths and slow, deep outbreaths. Gentle progressive relaxation throughout the body helps.

Consciously recognize that we are alright right now.

When we face the kinds of societal and personal upheaval like we have in the last year, our negativity bias can take over. Right now, with feet on the ground and the body relaxed, we are OK; alright. We might not have been in the past and may not be in the future. But, instead of time traveling, we stay right here and purposely recognize our “alright-ness.” (This is an adaptation of the work of Rick Hanson.)

As best we can, open to receiving some compassion and kindness from ourselves.

Body and mind grounded. Relaxed. Alright in this moment. What do we need? A bear hug, holding our face with two hands, hands on heart, we then can internally say kind words to ourselves. Can we tell ourselves those messages? 

Four simple steps. They don’t need an acronym. There is no fancy incantation or complex ritual required. There is no special transmission or secret mantra given. In fact, it is so simple that advanced practitioners of self-care and psychological well-being often forget them. 

I forgot them. Until, that day, in desperation, I just put my feet on the ground and took a really deep belly breath. And the crazy circus ride I was on slowly came to a stop. No big fireworks, no fanfare, just a moment of stillness; of quiet. At first it was so quick, that I almost missed it before all the whirling and swirling started up again. But I didn’t miss it this time.

I grabbed a hold of that stillness, that equanimity as if I was grabbing a hold of the dorsal fin of a blue whale, silently diving underneath a calm ocean. Together, we plunged deep into the waters of tranquility, peace, and compassion.

What I have found for myself, and what my students have shared with me after leading them through these steps, is a small shift. Just enough of a shift to bring us back to ourselves. Avoiding the delusion, we can then take realistic, actionable steps to improve our situation — or at least improve our outlook of it.

The world doesn’t seem to be any less disorienting and our personal lives may start to appear to be a runaway train. What do we do? Instead of pursuing delusion, perhaps whisper into your own ear, “When all else fails … just put your feet on the ground.”

David is a Trained Teacher of Mindful Self Compassion through the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. He began his exposure to Mindful Self-Compassion through an initial
eight-week MSC course, followed by three consecutive rounds of the 8-month Community for Deepening Practice (CDP) course, from 2019-2021. David is also a teacher of Lung Gar Pai Tai Chi.

When not meditating or teaching, you might find him singing in his one-man karaoke show, discussing the fine art of video games with his daughter, or avoiding snakes and coyotes in the wilds of Colorado. In a former life, David was a ballet dancer, singer, and health care administrator.

David, along with his co-teacher, Jennifer Ayres, Ph.D., will be teaching an 8-week online MSC class September 14-November 9, 2021, 7-9:45 p.m. EDT. Limited scholarships are available. For more information and to register, go to

STOP and SLOW: Self-Care and Compassion Practice for Educators

Below is an excerpt from Self-Compassion for Educators: Mindful Practices to Awaken Your Well-Being and Grow Resilience, by Lisa Baylis, MEd.

The past year through the COVID pandemic was the most challenging year of my career as an educator and school-based counsellor. I found myself at the end of the school year wiped out and needing more time than usual for recovery. Now with the imminent return to school, I have had to really prepare myself both physically and emotionally for being ready for another school year. And I know I’m not alone.

Teaching in our current school system is hard work, especially after riding the waves of the current pandemic and social movements. There has never before been a time when educators are expected to take on so many roles, with more expectations and less support. As many teachers are heading back to schools after a summer break, they may be feeling less ready to tackle another school year. Does the thought of going back into your classroom give you a bit of panic or worry? What has helped me manage these overwhelming feelings of stress, worry and fear is my practice of self-care and self-compassion.

Educators are often told to manage the stress of the job by leaving their work at school. We are encouraged to draw clear boundaries between students and ourselves and to not let students’ problematic emotions affect us. However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to just leave my work at school. I think of my students in the evenings, on weekends, on holidays, and sometimes even in my dreams. In addition, educators do much of their planning, marking, and correcting at home.

We’re also advised to alleviate burnout by practicing a variety of self-care strategies, such as:

  • Exercising
  • Eating well
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Getting a massage!

While self-care is essential, there are limitations to these strategies. The most significant barrier is that self-care tends to happen off the job and doesn’t help us in the moment when we’re in the classroom and super stressed. We can’t say to a student, “Whoa, you’re freaking me out. I think I’ll go get a massage!”

Self-care can also be a frustrating message to hear when you’re working hard to support your well-being, but the system is doing very little to assist you. Many of us find ourselves challenged by aspects of a system that we have little control over, so it can be very insulting to be told, “Just care for yourself,” as if that’s how we will all be okay.

The ultimate act of self-care is a self-compassion practice. “Self-compassion” means meeting ourselves during difficult and stressful times with the kindness and tenderness that you might offer to a dear friend or a small child. Kristin Neff suggests, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

If we want to change a system to support us, we need to care for ourselves to make changes. You can’t have one without the other. When we strengthen our resilience, we strengthen the collective, and together we can create systemic change.

So instead of fighting the things we can’t change now, what if we gave ourselves permission to tend to our well-being and discover ways to be gentle and kind amongst the struggles?

Here’s where compassion (especially self-compassion) has a role. When we have compassion, we are moved by another’s suffering and experience the desire to alleviate and prevent that person’s distress. Although compassion is related to empathy, there is a difference between the two. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling, whereas compassion involves the willingness to relieve another person’s suffering. Compassion is empathy in action.

As an educator, perhaps you feel that you sometimes have too much compassion for your students and that you are experiencing compassion fatigue. Perhaps you struggle when your students struggle because you can feel their pain. Ironically, although we often use the term compassion fatigue when we are depleted and exhausted, what we need is more compassion—not less—to alleviate the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.

Finding ways to support all these aspects of well-being in your life is the key to staying well. All these dimensions are interconnected and important to a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle. If you are struggling to productively handle the daily stressors in your life, it is possible that you may be focusing on one part of your well-being but not on others. For example, maybe you’re doing a great job looking after your mental well-being, but your physical well-being needs some attending to.

Now, even though I just wrote about the importance of maintaining a “balanced” lifestyle, I will admit that I’m not a fan of the term balance. I think it’s a fallacy that doesn’t exist, and yet we are all constantly striving for it. And it’s actually in our attempts to achieve balance that we push ourselves beyond our capability instead of being compassionate with ourselves.

I believe life is a little more like a symphony. We can’t allow all aspects of our life to sound off at the same time, or it will sound (and feel) terrible. In trying to achieve balance, we attempt to give the same amount of attention to each part of our life. This just isn’t possible. Like a symphony, sometimes we need to turn down some parts of our life to hear the other parts that need attention. Sometimes we need to turn down the trumpets so we can hear the strings.

Therefore, the trick is not to achieve balance but, more so, to discover a rhythm. Using our mindful awareness, we can find more profound wisdom that enables us to notice when some part of our life feels out of tune. It is then we again ask ourselves the compassionate question: “What do I need right now?” Our answer helps guide our rhythm and our wellness wheel. And therein lies the goal of sustainable well-being: (1) to know when you’re under stress or suffering (mindfulness) and (2) to respond with care and kindness (self-compassion).

So let’s not strive for balance. Instead, let’s lean into this new school year clearly hearing what parts of our lives need to be turned up or turned down.

Teaching is a caring profession. Caring too much can have its problems, as can not caring enough. Somehow we need to find the capacity to care without burning out. If we want to sustain our well-being, we need to put ourselves first. And that doesn’t mean we need to live the epitome of health and well-being. It does mean we need to have enough in our wellness tank to be present in the world. This is how we will manage this coming school year. We need to stop, slow down and recognize what it is we need to truly care for ourselves in a loving and kind way.

So let’s talk about educator well-being and resilience. Let’s bring the discussion to the foreground. Let’s remind people that if we want our students to be well, we need our educators to be healthy, present, open, and well. As educators, we model and inspire our youth, and when we do it from a place of kindness and compassion, we will all grow to be healthier and happier human beings.

The STOP and SLOW Practice:

One of the easiest ways to calm and recenter yourself amid a stressful situation is to simply stop and slow down. The STOP acronym helps you remember to incorporate a brief mindfulness practice throughout the day, while the SLOW acronym is a great reminder to arrive gently into your body. Both take just a few seconds. Try each of them now.

Stop what you are doing.

Take a few breaths.

Observe your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations.

Proceed with what you are doing.


Soften your jaw, your eyes, and your face.

Lower your shoulders.

Open your breath to your chest and belly.

Wiggle your toes and feel your feet on the ground.

You can use STOP and SLOW before or after entering the classroom, before having a challenging conversation with parents, and during any other stressful situations. It gives you a little space and attention to be mindful and self-regulate.

About the book:

book cover - self-compassion for educatorsThere has never been a time in history when educators have felt such overwhelming levels of stress, burnout, and exhaustion. Still, we depend on teachers to be a positive guiding force in our children’s lives – often playing simultaneous roles as educator, parent, mental health counselor, and caring friend. For educators to fulfill these vital roles, it’s abundantly clear that they need to develop resiliency both inside and outside the classroom.

Written by educator and MSC Teacher, Lisa Baylis, MEd, this book provides educators with simple, accessible, and easy-to-use practices that will inspire them to care for themselves – instead of adding to their chaos – so they can continue doing the profession they love.

Within Self-Compassion for Educators, busy and overwhelmed teachers can learn how to:

  • Reduce feelings of shame, criticism, and self-doubt
  • Anchor themselves to the present moment
  • Develop greater compassion for themselves and others
  • Mitigate the effects of chronic stress and develop resilience
  • Cultivate a sense of gratitude
  • Practice self-care routines that create sustainable well-being
  • Avoid exhaustion and burnout