Category: Self-Compassion

What Triggers Your Emotional Inflammation?

It’s time to start unraveling the mystery of you by exploring your current state of mind. Think of this as an adventure, a path toward greater self-understanding and self-compassion—and an expanded appreciation of the complexity of you. To get a sense of the modern-world issues that tend to rile or upset you, put on your imaginary miner’s hat and head into the depths of your mind to see what lies below your conscious awareness. (You may want to do this with a trusted friend or partner.) 

Consider your true feelings about the following subjects, without letting preconceived ideas about the right or politically correct way to think or feel about these subjects guide you; simply let your real feelings flow out of you in a free-association style. 

Have a journal and a piece of paper ready. As you read the following words and phrases, jot down the first three to five words or phrases that come to your mind in response (don’t edit or change what occurs to you instinctively):

  • • Climate crises 
  • • Me Too scandals 
  • • Human rights abuses (on a grand scale) 
  • • Political corruption 
  • • Racial, religious, gender, or political discrimination 
  • • Environmental threats (toxins in our midst) 
  • • Volatile financial circumstances 
  • • Natural disasters (wildfires, floods, storms) 
  • • International threats 
  • • Social divisiveness in this country
  • • Hate crimes 
  • • Nuclear weapons threats 
  • • Gun violence 

If other current events are triggering emotional inflammation for you, write them down in your journal or on a piece of paper.

Don’t worry if you feel put on the spot, thought-tied, and unable to come up with the right words to describe how you feel in response to the prompts listed above. Take a deep breath, exhale, and peruse this sample response. Rather than letting this person’s examples sway or influence you, try to use them as inspiration to unlock the floodgates on your true feelings. 

Now it’s your turn!

After you’ve completed your list, assign a value to each of these concerns in terms of their potency for you on a scale of 0 to 3 (with 0 being neutral and 3 being intense). Do this quickly so you don’t have too much time to think about it or second-guess your instinctive responses. Once you’ve finished this, place these triggers into a hierarchical list from a potency of 3 to 0, based on how they affect or resonate with you. This will give you a sense of what is likely to get you riled up these days.

If you want to dig a bit deeper, think about the way you responded to the descriptions of certain triggers—that you felt disgusted, violated, sad, and threatened when you thought about Me Too scandals, for example—then consider whether any situations from your past have evoked similar feelings for you. As you may see, emotional injuries or reverberations from the past can make you vulnerable to similar insults and assaults in the present. It’s almost as if you have an emotional ember lying beneath your consciousness, and it’s predisposed to flaring up from time to time. If you hear a single piece of distressing news and find yourself reacting surprisingly strongly to it, think about what else may be crashing around you or whether the news has somehow opened Pandora’s box and exposed you to a deep abyss of other fears and worries. Or it may be that a more superficial emotional injury is on the way to healing but then the scab gets ripped off and the wound bleeds again when another upsetting event occurs. 

As it happens, we often experience emotions in our bodies, and sometimes our bodies register those feelings before our minds do. So if you have trouble pinpointing how you’re feeling with words, you may want to scan your body for clues. When researchers in Finland performed a series of cross-cultural studies with 701 people from West European and East Asian cultures, they had the participants view various words, stories, movies, or facial expressions, then color specific regions on silhouettes of bodies where they felt activity increasing or decreasing while they viewed each stimulus. This exercise in mapping bodily sensations in response to emotions revealed that basic emotions—including anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise—were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest, which likely reflects changes in breathing and heart rate. Increased sensations in the arms and torso were associated with anger. Decreased sensations in the arms and legs corresponded to sadness. And increased sensations in the gut (the digestive system) and throat were found primarily with disgust. The most fascinating revelation was that these effects rang true among people cross-culturally. 

So if you have a mental block that makes it difficult to recognize your emotional triggers (which some people do, in a subconscious effort to protect themselves from emotional discomfort), paying attention to your bodily sensations can give you clues about what you’re experiencing. Even if you are highly attuned to your emotional reactions, sometimes they can sneak up on you, and you might experience a particular bodily sensation before you are aware of the actual trigger or your response to it. That’s because we all have blind spots to reflexive emotional states we’re susceptible to experiencing. 

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
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Scott Shute: Moving from Me to We: Compassion at Work

Scott Shute is the head of LinkedIn’s Mindfulness and Compassion Programs and a featured trainer in the Inner MBA, a nine-month immersion program that Sounds True has created in partnership with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0, and MindfulNYU. In this week’s podcast, Tami Simon and Scott discuss the new revolution that is underway at today’s workplaces. Their conversation explores the importance of being present in order to find strength from the inside, learning to relax our minds and bodies, integrating spirituality and business, the power of compassion to shift a workplace from “me-centered” to “we-centered,” and much more. (57 minutes)

Dr. Lise Van Susteren: Emotional Inflammation: A Condi...

Dr. Lise Van Susteren is a psychiatrist in private practice in Washington, DC, and has served as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University. With her writing partner, Stacey Colino, she has authored the new book Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Dr. Van Susteren joins Tami Simon to discuss the modern condition she calls emotional inflammation, the primary drivers behind it, and her innovative RESTORE process for coming back into balance and wholeness in our lives. (1 hour, 2 minutes)

Terry Tempest Williams: Finding Beauty in a Broken Wor...

Tami Simon speaks with Terry Tempest Williams, a writer, naturalist, environmental activist, and author of several books including Finding Beauty in a Broken World and an original audio adaptation of the book, published by Sounds True. In this interview, Terry discusses her creative process as a writer and how she has been able to find […]

Shauna Shapiro: Good Morning, I Love You

Shauna Shapiro, PhD, is a teacher, public speaker, and author whose published works include The Art and Science of Mindfulness and Mindful Discipline. With Sounds True, she has published Good Morning, I Love You: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Practices to Rewire Your Brain for Calm, Clarity, and Joy. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Shauna about the neurology of self-image and why conscious acts of self-compassion greatly enhance our well-being. Shauna comments on practicing mindfulness with warmth and open affection, as well as how this gradually cultivates empathy. Tami and Shauna also talk about “trusting the good heart” and the possibility of changing our baseline levels of happiness. Finally, they discuss why changing ingrained habits is so difficult and the subtle power of the daily self-affirmation, “Good morning. I love you.”(55 minutes)

3 Simple Habits of a Loving Kindness Practice

3 Simple Habits of a Loving Kindness Practice Header Image

Are you interested in studying loving kindness more in-depth? Check out Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach’s The Power of Awareness, a 7-week mindfulness training and community mentoring program beginning February 18, 2020. Can’t wait? Take advantage of the free video teachings.

 

“A little kingdom I possess, where thoughts and feelings dwell; and very hard the task I find of governing it well.”
—Louisa May Alcott

In his video Seeing the Goodness, Jack Kornfield refers to the practice of loving kindness as “seeing the original innocence, dignity, and beauty of another.”

At first glance, this might sound like a simple thing to do. But what makes loving kindness (also known as lovingkindness) a practice rather than a feeling?

I believe we all have the capacity to embrace loving kindness in our daily lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task. When I sat down to do one of Jack Kornfield’s loving kindness meditations (find it here), I found it surprisingly difficult. Cross-legged on the carpet, I pushed my headphones into my ears and listened carefully to every word—until I couldn’t anymore, and I turned it off.

For the rest of the day, I wondered, why? I think of myself as a kind person. Plus, I meditate fairly regularly. So what was it about this practice I found so difficult?

I ruminated and ruminated. Finally, as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep the other night, the answer came to me at once. My whole life, I’ve been doing it backward—extending love to others and then, only at the end, if there was space left, extending it out to myself. And there isn’t always space left.

WHAT IS LOVING KINDNESS?

loving kindness practice hand

Loving kindness is not just about empathy, presence, and listening in regards to others. It is part of the difficult inner work we all face. This is the work of finding self-forgiveness, releasing shame and guilt, and loving ourselves for exactly who we are. Loving kindness is kind of like looking at ourselves and expressing love—then letting that love reverberate, like two mirrors reflecting one another into infinity.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
—Confucius

It’s a practice of recognizing our own inner beauty and watching it manifest as love and healthy attachment in our relationships. It’s about embracing compassion as a state of enlightenment, as the highest nature of ourselves and the true nature of God. It’s about seeing beyond guilt and shame to the fundamental, universal innocence of all beings.

The origins of the word innocent are various. They are even more fascinating when taken together. In the 12th century, the word inocent (Old French) meant simply “harmless; not guilty; pure.” The prefix, in, meaning not or un-, is attached to the suffix nocere (Latin), meaning “to harm.” Nocere itself originated from the root nek-, meaning “death.” In that regard, we can read innocence as meaning not harmful or not deathful; not yielding death. Infinite.

GENTLE HABITS FOR CULTIVATING LOVING KINDNESS

loving kindness practice habitsI don’t think I’m alone in finding it easier to extend compassion to others than to myself. And I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing repeated bouts of resentment and sadness toward people I love—probably partly from expecting to receive my self-worth from them.

So, how do you get started on something that seems so simple, but isn’t?

Here are three small, but profound, ways to gently maintain a lovingkindness practice.

GROUNDING

What helps you relax? Write down a list of things that help you feel calm, creative and focused. Maybe you feel better after a long shower or bath. I know people who absolutely love puzzling, coloring and Sodoku for this. It can be talking to a good friend, taking a walk, spending some time in nature, or curling up with a good book, watching television, meditating, or yoga. The list can be as long as you want!

As you practice loving kindness, begin to recognize whenever you feel uprooted: instead of compassionate, you might feel irritated, resentful, or bitter. You might feel afraid instead of loving. You might feel defensive instead of communicative. Hold these grounding practices close to your heart and use them whenever needed. They are for you.

SELF-COMPASSION

Jack Kornfield writes in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, “Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.” One of the things that’s hard about lovingkindness, I think, is that it’s possible to feel loving of others while quietly holding onto self-doubt. Whether it’s daily, weekly, or multiple times a day, make a plan for checking in with yourself: How are those inner voices speaking to you right now?

Once you do this enough, it becomes a habit, maybe even automatic. You can get to know these voices, and they can get to know you. They will learn what can and cannot be tolerated and that you value being treated gently, just as you wish to treat others. It is a vital first step on the path toward loving kindness—one that, for many, is the most difficult, but affects our spiritual practice from every direction.

GRATITUDE

Gratitude is like an orb of everything you want from loving kindness. It is a way to thank yourself, others, and the Universe all at once.  The closest to real peace I’ve ever felt was in a moment of gratitude. I felt suspended in the air.

In a grateful space of consciousness, it is much easier to have compassion for others. We can see further into different perspectives. We can have mercy on ourselves. Gratitude is not about removing boundaries, but about understanding this moment as an irreplaceable one. It’s about comprehending that each person is infinitely unique, including you.

 

ABOUT JACK KORNFIELD

Jack Kornfield Author Photo
Jack Kornfield, PhD, trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India and has taught worldwide since 1974. He is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practices to the West. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He has written more than a dozen books including The Wise Heart; A Path With HeartAfter the Ecstasy, the Laundry; and more.

ABOUT THE AUTHORDani Ferrara Blogger Author Photo

When she isn’t writing, playing music or teaching, Dani Ferrara blogs at Sounds True and researches the alchemy of healing. Explore her art at daniferrarapoet.com.

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