As I write this, I’m sitting in the Admiral’s Club of American Airlines, waiting for a flight to California. I’m flying business class today, on miles, and I’m struck by the difference between the experience I’m having right now—complimentary coffee and food and a comfortable place to sit—compared to what it’s like when I fly economy. What this brings into my awareness is how easy it could be to overlook the quality of life being lived by people who don’t have the economic privilege I do. I find myself wondering how I would cultivate a deepened empathic awareness of people in need if my everyday life were regularly as generous and comfortable as the situation I’m in at the moment.
I remember reading some recent research that suggested that the more money people have the lower their scores on tests of empathy. Sitting here this morning, I can understand how that could happen. So, the question I have deals with any and all areas of privilege, be that economic privilege, racial privilege, gender privilege, ethnic privilege, religious privilege, or any other kind of privilege that comes automatically to certain classes of people. How do we expand our awareness to include those who don’t have access to whatever kinds of privilege we may take for granted and not even recognize as privilege? Read More “713th Week: Cultivating Empathy”
I ended last week’s practice with a suggestion to come back to the present moment and to this current breath as a way to manage some of the stress of this time in our collective lives.
One of the practices that I used to teach in the Somatic Experiencing® trainings was to invite people to notice how they “add fuel to the bonfires of activation”. Many of us have grown up in cultures that don’t focus on tracking how we allow our thinking to drag us hither and yon, an experience that generates enormous amounts of suffering. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be able to notice when we increase our suffering by allowing our fear-generated thoughts to dominate our attention and experience.
One of the practices that can be difficult but is powerfully important is to hold the intention to come back to the present moment, to the breath you’re taking right now, and to focus awareness on this breath, on this moment. In terms of self-talk, one of the things that’s helpful to say while doing this practice is something along the lines of, “In this moment, right here and right now, I’m okay enough.”Read More “782nd Week: This Breath, This Moment”
I recently read an article written by a brain scientist, explaining a dynamic that we all would do well to understand more deeply. It has to do with the ways in which our brain resonates with particular words and concepts, strengthening them even when they may be something with which we consciously disagree. Read More “Week 644: Feeding the Outcomes You Seek”
For mental health practitioners and others in the healing arts, it’s helpful to have a way to sit with people’s suffering and distress without getting caught up in it ourselves. In reality, for everyone, regardless of the focus of your work, it’s helpful to have a way to cope with the suffering and distress in the world so that you don’t become swept away by it.
For me, doing therapy with an open heart is essential and yet having my heart open means that I can’t ignore, deny, or distance myself from the suffering of others. Instead, I use the Buddhist practice of Tonglen to metabolize and manage the emotional experiences—my own and those of others—that touch my heart or threaten to overwhelm it. What I want to share is my version of this practice. In Sanskrit, Tonglen means taking and sending, and it’s a breathing practice that focuses on neutralizing activating emotions in oneself and in others in the world who feel the same way.Read More “754th Week: Psychological Support in Troubled Times”
Often as I walk through Central Park, I thank workers along the way for the help they offer in keeping the park a wonderful place to spend time. Yesterday I thanked a worker and he said, “We love this park, so we love this work.” This morning I thanked a garbage man for helping to make our city more livable. I always thank the postal carriers at both my office and at home when I see them, along with people from all the various delivery services that bring packages filled with things that make my life work. Without these people, life would be very different.
As I move through New York City, I pay attention to people whose job it is to support the rest of us, people who help make our lives easier to navigate. For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to do the same and, if you are already someone who thanks people along the way, ramp it up a bit and see how that feels. Gratitude brings its gifts not only to those we thank but to us, as well. It has the power to lift our spirits, as well as those who receive gratitude from us.
Our sense of well-being is nourished when we engage in expressing gratitude to the people around us. We are more likely to remember that we are part of a community and that, without the whole community, we wouldn’t be able to live our lives in the ways we do. This awareness of community can also remind us of the underlying interdependence that is fundamental to human existence. We depend on one another for just about every aspect of our lives and taking the time to thank people we don’t know and may never see again helps to reinforce an awareness of just how much we need one another.Read More “744th Week: Expressing Gratitude”