Mindfulness with Compassion: Essential Tools for Inner Work

What is mindfulness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zin, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

We ALL have tons of thoughts every minute of the day.  Do you ever feel like your thoughts/feelings are out of control and creating anxiety, depression or just way too much stress in your life?  Learning how to navigate this territory can make a huge difference in our lives.

Benefits of Mindfulness: 

  • Better enjoy our food, routines, friends, relationships, and work
  • Reduces anxiety and fights depression
  • Notice destructive habitual patterns and change them
  • Understand ourselves and our relationships more deeply….being less reactive and more empathic
  • Enjoy just being, in addition to doing

What REALLY is mindfulness?:

  • Mindfulness is originally a Buddhist term
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, who has brought mindfulness to the attention of westerners, has defined mindfulness as:
    • “…the energy of attention.  It is the the capacity in each of us to be present one hundred percent to what is happening within and around us.  It is the miracle that allows us to become fully alive in each moment.  It is the essential basis for healing and transforming ourselves and creating more harmony in our family, our work life, and our society.”
  • Mindfulness has also been popularized in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the US medical doctor who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts
  • His working definition of mindfulness is: “…paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally….as if your life depended on it.”

1. Paying Attention (differently):

  • Listen to, watch or consider what naturally exists without trying to deny, avoid or alter it
  • Attending to things we might habitually ignore, like our internal process of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, memories, beliefs, etc…

2. On Purpose:

  • Turning off the auto-pilot
  • Intentionally increasing our awareness of our experience let’s us see all of the options available to us we might not have seen before
  • Can bring unconscious material to the light of day

3. In the Present Moment:

  • It requires a focus on the here & now…the only place that true happiness can reside
  • Can get stuck in the resentments/regrets of the past and the hopes/fears of the future whereas we can only really LIVE in the present moment
  • Nothing we can do about the past (but learn from and take responsibility for) and we can’t predict the future

4. Non-judgmentally:

  • More objective/curious stance where we radically accept whatever arises into our awareness without judgement
  • Judgements keep us unconscious because it becomes unsafe to look more deeply whereas curiosity allows us to see things and connect the dots

5. As if your life depended on it:

  • Carpe diem:  why waste time ruminating about what we can’t change (past/future) instead of opening up to all that life has to offer us, including a sense of aliveness and connectedness to our present moment experience

How to develop greater mindfulness in your life:

  • It’s like learning another language.  It requires us to practice that language.  Meditation, yoga, and some forms of psychotherapy can be ways of learning the language of mindfulness.
  • However, we can also learn mindfulness by going back to our body, our five senses and using our daily lived experiences
  • Mindful eating, mindful washing dishes, mindful walking, mindful brushing our teeth, mindful showering, mindful waiting in traffic or in line…slowing down, doing one thing at a time, and noticing all the nuances of movement, using all of our senses to really feel what it is that we’re doing instead of multi-tasking and losing the experience of the present moment

Here’s a video I created a couple of years ago on mindfulness:

Mindfulness without compassion is like a bird with only one healthy wing.  We need both wings — mindfulness AND compassion — to find the freedom live a more expansive and authentic life.

What IS self-compassion?:

  • Self-compassion involves both BEING and DOING.  Compassion is BEING with ourselves — our thoughts, our emotions, our bodies, our lives — with empathy, understanding, care, support, kindness, warmth and love.

What is compassion?

  • Self-compassion operates best when we are mindfully accepting whatever exists in the present moment and breathing compassion into these places, especially the places that scare us, make us uncomfortable or that we generally don’t like very much.
  • Self-compassion also involves DOING, taking action.  From a compassionate place we need to care for ourselves with adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise and quality time with supportive people.  It’s kind of like being our own best friend or strong ally where we give ourselves limitless support.
  • Self-compassion is also generated when we help others and feel compassion toward them.  When each of us is operating from our most authentic self, we’re not being critical or judgmental toward others, we’re actually being more loving and compassionate.
  • Self-compassion is NOT pity (which is isolating/distancing) or some cheesy idea that feels disingenuous.  Self-compassion is NOT complacency or disowning responsibility for our lives.  Quite the contrary, when we are truly compassionate with ourselves, we take more responsibility for our lives with spaciousness and gentle force.
  • Carl Rogers, a famous US psychologist, appropriately stated, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
  • The origins of the word, compassion, is Latin for, “co-suffering.”  This recognition that someone is suffering, breads empathy (understanding & care) and a desire to alleviate the suffering of another through action(s).
  • Tara Brach writes in her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, “…compassion is our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive. Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child. Compassion honors our experience; it allows us to be intimate with the life of this moment as it is. Compassion makes our acceptance whole-hearted and complete.”
  • Pema Chodron, a fabulous Buddhist nun, says, “Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”
  • Kristin Neff, Associate Professor at the Educational Psychology Department of the University of Texas in Austin, describes self-compassion as having three core components, “First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness-that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.”
  • When we have compassion, we fully imagine the experience of “being in someone else’s shoes,” recognize/relate to their pain, experience our shared humanity and have a desire to alleviate their suffering.  Atrocities of the world, genocides and social injustices can occur only when there is a lack of compassion for others and ourselves.  The antidote to violence in the world, is compassion.

Here’s a video I created a couple of years ago about self-compassion:

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