"What do I need right now?"
I was grateful that this question came into my mind the other night. I was in bed trying to get to sleep and the mind was racing. Anxious thoughts about things to get done. Random thoughts. Jumpy thoughts.
Asking myself that question shifted the internal conversation.
It helped me turn my attention away from the contents of my thinking - "Yes! that's right I do need to get that task done! but not now, take it easy mind!" - and towards a deeper acknowledgment of what was going on in my head.
I realized that what I needed was to really recognize and acknowledge what was going on: "Wow, these are anxious thoughts."
And then the dynamic started to change. Asking myself what I need helped me take a fuller step into mindful non-judgmental awareness. Asking that question helped me to start giving the spinning thoughts less energy - to recognize that the subtle levels of resistance even in relatively wise self-talk (telling ourselves to calm down and so on).
As we know: "what we resist persists."
The question "What do I need right now?" is a central teaching in the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) class that was created by the psychologists Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. I've been appreciating learning and teaching MSC for this last year. The sequence of practices, exercises, and contemplations of MSC have really helped me and the other class participants to broaden the feeling of our mindfulness work.
Once that question had interrupted the spell and helped to support mindfulness I was able to move on to the contemplation of common humanity (the second of the three key factors of mindful self-compassion). Many people, I reminded myself, feel anxious racing thoughts at bed time. That helped too. Of course we know it's not just me, but there's a taking that in, taking it to heart, and contemplating and feeling (not just thinking) about our shared common humanity that really opens the heart and takes the pressure off
And finally I brought to mind the third factor of mindful self-compassion: kindness.
This has been a wonderful addition to the "cool acceptance" I trained in for so many years in my Zen training. Warming things up in the heart. I adjusted the body, took a soothing breath, and did my best to bring a little more kindness and patience in.
Did I instantly let go of everything, clear my mind, and fall asleep? Nope.
But asking myself that question with sincerity really did help.
It helped me so start gently working my way through what they call The Self-Compassion Break: practicing mindfulness by really feeling and identifying what was going on, contemplating common humanity, and inviting kindness.
I'm learning that "What do I need right now?" is not a selfish question at all but a question that helps me to be softer, more open, and more present. It serves as a counterweight to the powerful tendency towards a tense and ragged kind of pushing. Pushing my mind to settle down at night, pushing my way through the day's tasks. Pushing pushing pushing.
It helps me pause, as all mindfulness work does, but in that pause: more room for kindness, more of a feeling of connection.
I hope you'll join us in one of our explorations of Mindful Self-Compassion
In addition to the standard 8-week course (a couple of spots in the Bellingham class still and look for more offerings in the Fall) we have two workshop format offerings coming up.
The first is a weekend Core Skills Training being held in the beautiful community of Port Townsend. On the weekend of March 18th/19th we'll immerse ourselves in the essential components of MSC.
The origin of this project is moving, sad, and beautiful.
I've been invited by the Benji Project to work in with a leading teacher of MSC, Lorraine Hobbs, to bring Mindful Self-Compassion to Port Townsend as part of the community's response to teenage depression and suicide.
The project leader of the the Benji Project lost her son Benji to teenage suicide and this is Benji's mom's response: to seek to bring more mindfulness and self-compassion to the community.
And the second workshop is a 5-day intensive in Mindful Self-Compassion that includes all of the elements of the 8-week class in that residential workshop format. It's a wonderful and immersive way to find out what MSC is all about in just a week.
It's being held a peaceful retreat center on the water in Federal Way from May 7 to 12 - easy access for everyone in the Seattle/Tacoma area and we're also providing a shuttle for those flying in to SeaTac. For this workshop I'm working with one of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion's founding teachers and a principal teacher trainer: Michelle Becker who's coming up from San Diego. The workshop is also for those interested in moving towards teaching MSC who are having trouble finding a full 8-week course to attend.
And I'm happy to note for professionals that both workshops are qualified for continuing education credit for several professions. The weekend in Port Townsend provides continue ed for teachers, master's level therapists and social workers; and the 5-day in Federal Way provides continue ed for nurses, psychologists, master's level therapists and social workers.
And a side note on professional continuing ed for those in the Bellingham area: our upcoming Mindfulness for Healthcare Providers course being held at PeaceHealth includes 14 CME credits appropriate to doctors, nurses. These 14 credits are also, I'm told, useable for master's level therapists and social workers. That's on Thursday evenings starting March 16th.
Wishing us all little more mindfulness, a little more appreciation for our common humanity, and a little more kindness,
Rev. Tim Burnett, Executive Director