Updated: May 22
My training in self-compassion began in late 1979 or 1980. I travelled from New Orleans, Louisiana with my boyfriend Patrick, the bearded philosopher to visit Jesús, the thespian, in Austin, Texas. We stayed in a house which was walking distance from 6th Street. I remember hiking Mt. Bonnell, going to Joe “King” Carrasco’s show, and visiting friends on UT Campus.
An other's life. An exciting life. But what shape was my life meant to take? That is the question that I carried with me throughout my late adolescence.
This was a period in my life of psychological intensity and soulful wandering. A time of excitement and adventure. I left home after a failed attempt along the planned trajectory. I was in the process of extricating myself from the values and belief system of my nuclear family. For me, this involved moving out of my parent’s home and making my own way. Patrick and Jesús were important role models for me. They were creating a future for themselves which looked and felt so different from the future that was planned for me. It was a future more closely aligned with what I eventually learned to imagine for myself.
I was a sheltered 21-year-old, and quite naïve to the ways of the world. Guts and courage have always been my allies. As early as I can remember I was willing to take risks. In fact, I had no choice except for to take risks; at times my very survival depended on it. Truly, I say to you. The tribe, as well as the geographical region I was born into was perilous. For as long as I was able, I remained connected to spiritual energies as a primary source of nourishment. Embodiment was a huge challenge for this soul! Progressively, spirit connected to soul, and I began to take root in the physical manifestation I chose. Human physiology provided a primary defense mechanism, fight or flight, as it was known at that time. I am a lover, not a fighter. From my earliest beginnings, flight was my default setting. During childhood, flight took place in the imaginal realm. It was in this realm that I felt safe and nurtured. A conversation with the Natural World began. And slowly over time, my body - in connection to the natural world - became a welcoming place for spirit, at least on the good days.
The morning after our night out in Austin, I awoke to find Jesús sitting crossed legged on the couch, spine erect, prayer shawl covering his shoulders. Eyes closed. I came to understand that he was engaged in the practice of Vipassana Meditation. I was intrigued. I got a copy of the recommended guide; A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine and I began to contemplate the ideas therein.
Consciousness is choiceless open awareness that allows everything to unfold as it must. ~ Stephen Levine
The practice of Mindfulness Meditation (as it is commonly referred to today) is a cornerstone for not only my personal practice, but for the Yoga and Health Education Curriculum. It is the primary practice, which over the course of my life, established in me a capacity for compassion. This event in my life, and the willingness to begin an exploration of consciousness, was an important prerequisite for all other phases and stages of my life.
Currently, I am involved in two weekly Mindfulness groups. I am being led through a six-week program sponsored by the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion called Self-Compassion Training for Healthcare Communities (SCHC) Program. If you are interested in beginning your own Self-Compassion Training, I recommend Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. New York: Guilford Press. It is a great resource for individuals and groups who want to develop compassion for themselves, and then towards others. The second group is the Yoga and Health Zoom Discussion Group. We are currently co-creating a six-week program of Self-Compassion Training using various resources and life experience.
We began the Zoom Discussion Group format at the beginning of the pandemic when the Austin area went into lockdown in March of 2020. Together we have completed a one year study of The Yoga Sutras, and an eight week study of Subtle Energy and Chakras. Future topics will include the Foundations of Yoga Practice and the Foundations of Ayurveda. The zoom discussion group format is such a convenient opportunity to connect deeply with others in our community and to have conversations that really matter. If this 64 year old technophobe can learn to navigate and appreciate a virtual community, anyone can! It is a format that we plan to continue.
The motivation for this blog post arose from our community group called Seeking Soul: A Contemplative Circle. Together, each week we settle into body, breath and sensation. A meditative reading of a selection of prose or poetry is offered. And then a period of silence. This is an opportunity to float mindfully and meditatively in the imaginative realm, simply noting what arises as it arises. Ideas that arise during the period of silence often point to deep truths and answers to questions we have been seeking. We each then have an opportunity to share our reflections and realizations within the safe boundary of the group.
This is the selection of poetry from this week's Contemplative Circle. It is chosen from our collection of Prose and Poetry because it points to the feeling and experience of mindfulness practice in action. I hope you enjoy!
Meditate within eternity, don’t stay in the mind. Your thoughts are like a child fretting near its mother’s breast, restless and afraid, who with a little guidance, can find the path of courage. ~ Lalla
Lalla, or Lal Ded, was a Kashmiri mystic who lived in the 14th century
Mindful Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for - to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world - to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant - but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these - the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean's shine, the prayers that are made out of grass? ~ Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in in 1984.
Our True Home Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment: to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. Peace is all around us in the world, and in nature, and within us: it is in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. it is not a matter of faith. It is a matter of practice. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, an internationally know author, poet, scholar and peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.