Self-care and selflessness: a contradiction?

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June 10, 2013

In the research for the dissertation I’m writing on the ways in which spiritual belief and practice can serve a defensive function, I’ve come across the writings of Miles Neale, a Buddhist-oriented psychologist in New York City (who I ended up interviewing as part of the study). Miles recently sent me an article he just published which covers an important area in the ongoing dialogue between psychological/ therapeutic and contemplative approaches to health and well-being. One of the hot topics in contemporary psychospiritual inquiry has to do with the understanding of the “self,” i.e. its ontological status, what it is, how if at all it might be worked with, and how practitioners might be able to reconcile self-development/ self-love/ self-acceptance/ self-care with the contemplative discoveries of no-self, selflessness, shunyata, and so forth.

During our free video series on the Self-Acceptance Project, more than one participant asked, “So what is this ‘self’ that we’re accepting, anyway?” Or, in other words, how can we accept a self that isn’t actually there upon investigation? All fair questions, of course.

I’ll leave you with the first part of Miles’ paper below. If you find it interesting, you can head over to his website to download the entire piece, which I quite enjoyed. Or just go straight to Miles’ website and read the entire article.

Self-care and Selflessness: A Contradiction?

The nearly half century dialogue between Buddhism and Western psychology has created a potential forum for a mutually enriching exchange. It has also raised productive questions about the points of overlap and dissonance between the two traditions. One of the most apparent differences is in the way these disciplines relate to the self.  Psychotherapy emphasizes genuine care for the self and its feelings, needs and wounds, helps to restore a continuity in the sense of self when it begins to fragment and investigates how self-denial creates profound psychic disturbance and dysfunction in relationships.  Buddhist meditation establishes attentional equipoise, facilitates direct observation of the impermanent, insubstantial nature of the self and culminates in an intuitive insight of emptiness that ends the habits of self-reification and self-grasping at the root of suffering.

Is there a contradiction between the goals of self-care and selflessness, and what does each tradition stand to learn from the other’s approach?

“Spiritual bypassing”: spiritual practice as pain-avoidance 

Psychotherapy encourages meditators to take a more care-ful approach to their traumatic wounds rather than circumventing them.  I’ve frequently observed meditators devaluing their own personal traumas in pursuit of more exalted and seductive spiritual virtues like the bodhisattva ideal of saving others from suffering. Likewise, some yogis aim for mystical heights of ecstatic bliss hoping to transcend their ordinary human fragility, only to come crashing down to their painful reality once practice is over. This phenomenon of using spiritual tools and teachings to avoid psychological issues, traumatic wounds, and unmet developmental tasks occurs so frequently, that in the early 1980’s Dr. John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to characterize this tendency. Frequent scandals involving so-called spiritual masters who have had inappropriate relations with their students as well as students who see little psychological progress after years of spiritual practice stand as testaments to the deleterious effects of neglecting basic human needs. Indeed it may be possible to have profound spiritual insights, and at the same time neglect other areas of our complex being – including emotional, psychological, interpersonal or somatic dimensions. If we don’t take all of these dimensions seriously and incorporate them into “the work” of human development – then the shadow-side of our split identity can reemerge outside of conscious awareness, when we least expect it and with painful consequences.

Common forms of spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing occurs when we unconsciously attempt to avoid pain, shame and the unpleasant side of our humanity and can manifests in a myriad of ways. The most common forms I have observed in myself as well as in my clinical work with yogis and meditators include: when fear of rejection, fear of burdening others or conflict-avoidance masquerade as being easygoing, patient and accommodating; when co-dependency poses as care-giving and compassion; when guru-devotion leads to subservience and conceals unresolved childhood dynamics such as over-idealization or fear of reprisal; when the spiritual virtue of detachment is misunderstood as disinterest and one attempts to avoid pain by disconnecting from feelings and relationships; when spiritual success and accomplishment end up reinforcing narcissism and the very inflated self-images they were designed to see through; when ultimate truths such as selflessness and emptiness are misunderstood and privileged over relative truths and one consequently falls into the nihilistic extreme of self-denial or apathy. All of these examples share one thing in common; they are unconscious adaptations of pain-avoidance concealed in the fabric of spiritual practice.  Without a skilled objective observer such as a therapist or teacher to alert us, we can miss our unconscious attempts at bypassing, just as we do the blindspot in a rearview mirror.

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Six Summer Reads You Won’t Want to Miss!

After the stillness of winter and the slow waking of spring, summer is a time for getting up, getting out, and getting our hands on what inspires us the most. Here are some recent Sounds True releases for tapping into a life well lived.

1. The Biophilia Effect – Clemens G. Arvay 

Summer Super Sale - The Biophilia Effect

This is a book that celebrates our interconnection with nature and shows how to deeply engage the natural world wherever you live to dramatically improve your health. Clemens G. Arvay presents fascinating research, practical tools and activities,

inspiring stories, and more in this accessible guide to the remarkable benefits of being in nature.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-biophilia-effect.html

 

 

 

 

2. The Healing Code of Nature – Clemens G. Arvay

The Healing Code of Nature - Clemens G. Arvay

Human beings are inseparable from the natural world, coevolving with all of life. In order to thrive, we need to nourish this bond. In his latest book, biologist Clemens G. Arvay illuminates the miraculous ways that the human body interprets the living “code” of plants, animals, and our larger natural habitat for healing and sustenance.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-healing-code-of-nature.html

 

 

 

 

 

3. Book of Beasties – Sarah Seidelman

Summer Super Sale - Book of Beasties

From an ancient perspective, everything—including all natural things, like rocks, flowers, trees, insects, birds, and mammals

—is alive and infused with conscious energy or spirit,” writes Sarah Seidelmann. If you’re one of the many people looking to reconnect with the creativity, wisdom, and vital energy of the natural world, here is a fantastic guide for tapping into the power of animal totems, or “beasties.”

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/book-of-beasties.html

 

 

 

4. No Recipe – Edward Espe Brown

Summer Super Sale - No RecipeMaking your love manifest, transforming your spirit, good heart, and able hands into food is a great undertaking,” writes renowned chef and Zen priest Edward Espe Brown, “one that will nourish you in the doing, in the offering, and in the eating.” With No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, Brown beautifully blends expert cooking advice with thoughtful reflections on meaning, joy, and life itself.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/no-recipe.html

 

 

 

 

5. Yoga Friends – Mariam Gates & Rolf Gates 

Summer Super Sale - Yoga FriendsFrom the creators of Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga comes a beautifully illustrated city adventure that introduces children to the delights and benefits of partner yoga.

Perfect for teaming up with a friend, sibling, parent, or caregiver, each easy practice shows how cooperation helps us to imagine, move, and have fun in a whole new way.

Includes a back-page guide for parents and caregivers, showing how to do each pose and how to connect them into an easy-to-follow flow.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/yoga-friends.html

 

6. Happier Now – Nataly Kogan

Summer Super Sale - Happier Now

What if you could be happier, right now, without radically changing your life? As nationally recognized happiness expert Nataly Kogan teaches, happiness is not a nice feeling or a frivolous extra. It’s a critical, non-negotiable ingredient for living a fulfilling, meaningful, and healthy life—and it’s a skill that we can all learn and improve through practice. In Happier Now, Nataly shares an illuminating, inspiring, and science-based guide to help you build your happier skills and live with more joy, starting now.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/happier-now.html

 

 

 

 

 

Have other books you’ve read by the poolside or under a shade tree ended up changing the way you see the world? Tell us about those summer reads that ended up being more than you expected!

 

Singing Bowl Meditation Sounds True Spotify Playlist

Sounds True is on Spotify!

Need some tunes for rest and relaxation? Check out our Singing Bowl Meditation Playlist! A variety of artists who make a soothing mix of infinite rhythms using Tibetan singing bowls. Perfect throughout a meditative practice.

 

November New Releases and Giveaway

NOVEMBER NEW RELEASES

 

 

The Integrity Advantage by Kelly Kosow

Are you ready to open up to new levels of self-trust and self-love, to get where you want to go?

You vowed to speak up at work, and then sat silent in the meeting yet again.

You told yourself “this time the diet is going to stick,” only to watch the scale inching up.

You felt that something just wasn’t right about someone that—until you learned the hard way that your instincts were right.

“Every time you bite your tongue,” teaches Kelley Kosow, “you swallow your integrity.”

Before Kelley Kosow was a renowned life coach and CEO, she constantly second-guessed herself, let her “to-do” lists and others steer her dreams and passions, and played it “small and safe.”

Inspired by the groundbreaking principles of her renowned mentor Debbie Ford, who hand-picked Kelley to be her successor, The Integrity Advantage is Kelley’s step-by-step guide for facing the fear, shame, and false beliefs that cause us to lose our way.

Through life-changing insights, true stories, and proven strategies, this book will show you how to live on your own terms—according to you—from the inside out.

 

Daring to Rest by Karen Brody

As modern women, we’re taught that we can do it all, have it all, and be it all. While this freedom is beautiful, it’s also exhausting. Being a “worn-out woman” is now so common that we think feeling tired all the time is normal. According to Karen Brody, feeling this exhausted is not normal—and it’s holding us back. In Daring to Rest, Brody comes to the rescue with a 40-day program to help you reclaim rest and access your most powerful, authentic self through yoga nidra, a meditative practice that guides you into one of the deepest states of relaxation imaginable.

It’s time to lie down and begin the journey to waking up

 

 

 

 

Breathe and Be by Anna Emilia Laitinen and Kate Coombs

Teaching mindfulness helps kids learn to stay calm, regulate their emotions, and appreciate the world around them. With Breathe and Be, author Kate Coombs and illustrator Anna Emilia Laitinen team up to present a book of poetry and art for young readers to make mindfulness easy, natural, and beautiful. Here is a book sure to delight parents and kids alike, blending lovingly illustrated nature imagery with elegant verse about living with awareness and inner peace.

 

 

 

 

Leopard Warrior by John Lockley

A Teaching Memoir That Crosses the Barriers Between Worlds

A shaman is one who has learned to move between two worlds: our physical reality and the realm of spirits. For John Lockley, shamanic training also meant learning to cross the immense divide of race and culture in South Africa.

As a medic drafted into the South African military in 1990, John Lockley had a powerful dream. “Even though I am a white man of Irish and English descent, I knew in my bones that I had received my calling to become a sangoma, a traditional South African shaman,” John writes. “I felt blessed by the ancient spirit of Africa, and I knew that I had started on a journey filled with magic and danger.” His path took him from the hills of South Korea, where he trained as a student under Zen Master Su Bong, to the rural African landscape of the Eastern Cape and the world of the sangoma mystic healers, where he found his teacher in the medicine woman called MaMngwev

 

 

Things That Join the Sea and the Sky by Mark Nepo

A Reader for Navigating the Depths of Our Lives

The Universe holds us and tosses us about, only to hold us again. With Things That Join the Sea and the Sky, Mark Nepo brings us a compelling treasury of short prose reflections to turn to when struggling to keep our heads above water, and to breathe into all of our sorrows and joys.

Inspired by his own journal writing across 15 years, this book shares with us some of Mark’s most personal work. Many passages arise from accounts of his own life events—moments of “sinking and being lifted”—and the insights they yielded. Through these passages, we’re encouraged to navigate our own currents of sea and sky, and to discover something fundamental yet elusive: How, simply, to be here.

To be enjoyed in many ways—individually, by topic, or as an unfolding sequence—Things That Join the Sea and the Sky presents 145 contemplations gathered into 17 themes, each intended to illuminate specific situations.

 

 

                NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY

 

WIN OUR NEW RELEASE BUNDLE:The Integrity Advantage, Daring to Rest, Breathe and Be, Leopard Warrior, and Things That Join the Sea and the Sky

TO ENTER: Simply reply in the comments with why you’d like to win!

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Reciprocity

Tending to the natural world is essential. We can no longer ignore or expect the Earth to just be there giving us all that we need, shutting out her cries. Her resources are limited. She is our mother, and she is burning, melting, and roaring in a call for help for us to tend to her needs. Animals are becoming extinct and others are abused and mistreated for profit, as are our trees—our sacred lungs here on Earth. We are meant to connect to the natural world as if it were a friend, a sister or brother, mother or father. We are all a part of the same Earth family. The trees need the air we exhale, yet we forget that we rely on them to breathe, as well. We forget, so easily, just how important this relationship is for our mere existence. Our connection is such a simple act, but we’ve completely lost our intimacy with the natural world as a collective and it’s begging for us to return to this harmonious kinship.

The Earth is our mirror—the truest reflection for our collective. Its self-destruction and decay shows us the separation we’ve created with it, with ourselves, with all that is Sacred, and with each other. When she burns, it mirrors the repressed anger we are holding from not meeting the needs of our Spirit, for not listening to truth. Her polluted oceans reflect the pollution of our inner waters—our disrespect and dishonoring of the emotions and intuitive wisdom of the feminine. The remedy is actually quite simple: conscious communication, love, and connection can help restore this balance. Once we each form a relationship with our elemental allies, our awareness will shift to honoring and protecting, and change the way we relate to the natural world as a whole, just like a connection with any growing relationship. Our future depends on how we tend to the Earth today.

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Working with the Land

When working with the natural world in our healing, we also must cultivate a relationship with the land that supports us where we live. We thrive when we are connected to and work with the land that holds us. Simple ways to do this include:

  • Spend time with the land. Listen to it. Get to know its natural features, its seasonal blossoms and cycles.
  • Research and recognize its indigenous origins. Who lovingly tended to the land before you? How can you honor these people? Are they still active in your community? How can you support them?
  • Join a local land conservation group.
  • Try to source fresh herbs in your community or in the wild, instead of bought in plastic imported to your grocery store. Look for community gardens, farmers markets, CSAs, or even plant them yourself! For dried herbs and plants not native to your bioregion, check out your local apothecary to support small Earth-conscious businesses. Always ask where they get their herbs and if they are sustainably harvested or organic.
  • Plant walks are also a great resource for learning how to spot medicine in the wild so you can forage yourself, and they can also teach you more about what grows near you. Find a local herbalist who you resonate with and support them.


Ways to Further Reciprocate:

  • Talk to the trees like a friend. Ask them for guidance and support and listen with care and respect.
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  • With everything you take from the Earth or that is made of the Earth, say a simple thank you before using or consuming it.
  • Say intentional prayers and blessings for the Earth and her healing.
  • Withdraw your support from companies and groups that are not in support of the Earth’s health and sacredness— companies that use unsustainably harvested resources or unnecessary plastic, those that engage in unethical farming, and fast fashion.
  • Share with friends and family how to be more eco-conscious. Does your mom recycle? Is your brother still using plastic straws? Does your best friend need an iced coffee served in a plastic cup every day or can they bring their own cup to the coffee shop? Gently offer suggestions to support the Earth whenever you see fit.
  • Support companies that focus on Earth connection and protection. We vote with our dollars and money is energy. Give your energy to those supporting the Earth.

 

This is an excerpt from Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self by Ashley River Brant.

 

ashley brantAshley River Brant is a multidimensional artist and feminine healer bringing her medicine through as the creator of Soul Tattoo®, a ceremonial intuitive tattooing modality, as well as with film photography, illustration, writing, as the host of Weaving Your Web podcast, and through her online courses. Ashley uses her gifts of mediumship and connections to the loving spirits of the natural world to offer a feminine voice of healing expression for collective transformation in all her work. Ashley’s focus is to assist her clients, and all who are drawn to her work, in awakening to a new wave of feminine power, attuned to the mystery, honoring the creative and intuitive power within us all, and embodying it with grounded presence and purpose, so that we may all heal, open our hearts to the sacred, and align with our authentic expression and soul’s true essence. Ashley will be releasing her first book and first oracle deck with Sounds True in 2021.

 

 

 

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Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Bookshop

Coleman Barks: Rumi, Grace, and Human Friendship

Tami Simon speaks with Coleman Barks, a leading scholar and translator of the 13th-century Persian mystic Jelaluddin Rumi. Coleman’s work was the subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Moyers’s The Language of Life series on PBS. He has published numerous Rumi translations, including with Sounds True the audio programs I Want Burning: The Ecstatic World of Rumi, Hafiz, and Lalla; Rumi: Voice of Longing; and his three-part collaboration with cellist David Darling called Just Being Here: Rumi and Human Friendship. In this episode, Tami speaks with Coleman about the extraordinary friendship between Rumi and his teacher Shams Tabrizi, and how translating Rumi requires entering a trance state. Coleman offers insights on grace as he and Tami listen to selections from Just Being Here

 

Click  here to listen to  Holiday Without Limits by Coleman Barks

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