Loved, Known, Seen and Understood: The Curious Case of Serendipity in the Pandemic.

Bubbles
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Serendipity

 

Have you ever received money that you did not expect or got a call from a loved one that you were thinking about the day before?. Interestingly. Abraham Lincoln, one of my favorite historical figures, reportedly had precursory dreams of a funeral in the white house while he was president before his assassination. He also reportedly had a dream  which involved imagery of him sailing swiftly in deep waters in a  ship to unknown lands the day before his assassination. This is referred to as the ” Cabinet room dream” as Lincoln had apparently talked about the dream in the Cabinet meeting before his death. These types of events are called coincidences or serendipity.

Many people have written about coincidences.   Dr. Carl Jung wrote about synchronicity or meaningful co-occurring events which appear as random events at first glance, but, actually may be very meaningful to the observer. Quantum theory also talks about this fascinating concept of entanglement, which suggests that isolated particles in different areas are connected so that if an event impacted one particle, the other related particle, even if in a distant location, will be impacted also. This is rather mind boggling stuff and has been presented as possible explanation of coincidences.    Dr Bernard Beitman studies the science of coincidence and serendipity. Incidents of serendipity include “happy accidents”. There are also people who interpret coincidences or synchronicity as  “Divine providence”, exemplified by the sentence, “Coincidences are God’s Ways of Being Anonymous”.  Sometimes the differences between coincidences or serendipity can be confusing. Therefore, this post includes reflections on serendipity, or “happy accidents” in the pandemic. I am focusing on the “happy” versus the “unhappy” as we have seen so much pain and suffering  in the pandemic. We have to work harder for a positivity bias as research suggests that the human brain is wired to pick up negativity material more readily in the world. Negativity bias makes total sense for survival. Remember that when our ancestors saw a rainbow and a tiger, the focus was on the tiger and how to survive. Otherwise there is no one to enjoy the rainbow.

Serendipity of co-regulation.

The idea of co-regulation originates from Dr. Porges polyvagal theory . This includes the experience of having a socially engaged interaction between two people,  such as, a deep conversation, hug with a loved one where we are heard, known and seen for who we are, including the  good, ” hero or she-roe” parts,  and the shadow  (qualities of ourselves we are not proud of). These conversations and connections are soothing for our nervous system because it makes us feel safe, loved, known, seen and understood.  Sometimes serendipity of co-regulation may include hearing a song or sermon on the radio at the right time that captures our feelings and thoughts and gives us a sense of “everything will be ok”. It calms the nervous system. Sometimes, it involves coming across a verse in the scripture or book,  sign on a billboard or back of a car that leaps into the mind, body and soul and it feels like the words apply to our situation and points us in a specific direction of change in perspective or action. These are like love bubbles hitting us when we least expect it. They give us hope to endure through difficult circumstances, such as the pandemic. They lift dark moods, ease the fearful mind. There is a sense that things will be Ok and everything will end well. They sooth us as we feel heard, seen and understood by the songwriter who wrote the song or pastor who gave the sermon. They make me feel that I am  not the only person on the planet who had this experience. I am not alone. They may lift us into Ventral Vagal Complex states of safety, love and compassion in the dance of the vagus nerve.

I have always been grateful for these “love bubbles” or happy accidents, such as, a call from a dear friend, hearing a comforting sermon or song,  or finding a book in an unexpected place when I have been looking for it for days. However, in the era of the pandemic where good news seems rare,  I am especially grateful for these “happy accidents”.  Incidents of serendipity help me keep the faith that the world will get through the pandemic with a better, perhaps, different future.

 

Serendipity and Stories of Extraordinarily Successful People

Dr. Beitman cites the  famous example of serendipity where Alexander Fleming accidentally discovers the petri dish with the enzyme which led to the development of the antibiotic, penicillin which revolutionized the medical field. I cannot imagine a world without antibiotics. In  Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers: Stories of Success”,  Gladwell interviews Bill Gates as an example of a major unusual success story. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University to pursue his interest in computer science. Gladwell argues that Bill Gates’ access to computers at the right time, his brilliance, genius  and hard  work led to  Gates success. Very true. However, the idea that Gates mother had access to IBM Board of Directors is also intriguing and fascinating . It leans into the discussion of serendipity. Did his mother’s access to knowledge and resources also led to Gates’s success?  Mary Maxwell Gates, Bill Gates’ mother, a very successful business woman also knew John Opel, then chairman of IBM through her involvement in nonprofit work. Collaboration of IBM and Microsoft played a huge role in Gates success. This connection that Gates’s mother had with the chairman of IBM demonstrates the interconnections between people’s lives which led to serendipity and success.   It also beautifully demonstrates the concept of right place, right time and right person. This is so important in serendipity. 

Serendipity and the Divine Source

I recognize there are many different explanations of serendipity, including quantum physics theory of entanglement. As a faith based person, I interpret them as what my student in my positive psychology class referred to it as “God shot”. Some people refer to it as “God send”. My understanding of the “God shots”  or “God sent” are  God’s Grace which pierces through the veil of our reality for assurance, confirmation, or signs of “peace” and Divine Love, in good times and especially in difficult situations (“when the shit is about to hit the fan”). They feel like the Universe’s hugs to keep calm and carry on. Anne Lamott, a brilliant and humorous writer on faith and life, talks about God’s Grace being the last, but, best batter in her TED Talk (12 truths  I learned from life and writing).   Anne Lamott also describes our prayers of help to God in desperate situations is what distinguishes  God as  the “Gift of Desperation”, because His help comes at times in life when we are most “teachable”.

.My experience is that “God shots” happen unexpectedly, but, at the right time, right place and for the right person. For me, it shows an orchestration of events by  Divine Guidance. Serendipity can appear ordinary from the outside, such as, getting call from a dear friend. It can also be major incidents which change  the trajectory of someone’s life. Whatever  serendipity looks like on the outside, it means a lot to the person who derives meaning from the event.

As a faith based person, I believe that my relationship with the Divine Source is a key component of my faith.  A dear friend  noted that God calls us to be in relationship with Him and others. My friend came up with the coolest and most profound  insight. He said that God is the Greatest Co-Regulator of people. Very true. Divine Intervention can bring a level of peace, understanding and discernment in the most turbulent storms of life.

A great example of serendipity is Divine Protection and Providence . In one of his brilliant sermons, Bishop T. D. Jakes discusses  experiences of rejection can be signs of Divine Protection. Divine Protection may mean God has bigger plans for us than we dream of for ourselves.   Oprah Winfrey, the mega successful entrepreneur, media personality, owner of popular magazines and television channel also discusses the idea that failure is Universe’s way of redirecting us to find our actual purpose and paths. In one of her powerful speeches, she discusses the  abundance of Divine Grace and her faith that led her from her childhood in a small town in the south to her  current position.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, each reader needs to decide what incidents of serendipity mean for himself or herself. Is serendipity  a random event or blip in the cosmic radar? Is it explained by entanglement theory in quantum physics? Is it  Divine Providence and Grace?  As a faith based person, I believe that Divine Providence is very powerful, sometimes presents as serendipity and can be a game changer in life. Perhaps, the fascinating concept of entanglement in quantum physics  is also part of Divine Design. Whatever your thoughts are about coincidences or serendipity, they certainly demonstrate interconnection between people or events that  are incredibly powerful. They confirm that even in the isolation of the pandemic, we are seen, known, understood and loved by people, events, and the Divine Source. My prayer is that people continue to receive these “love bubbles” or “God shots of Divine Grace” for spiritual, and psychological strength in the pandemic. As for me, they renew my faith in the Divine Source as I view them as sacred experiences which light up my soul and  make my heart sing. For that, I am deeply grateful.

 

 

The Dance of The Vagus Nerve: Feeling Safe, Love, Compassion, versus Fear

Dr. Stephen Porges’s work in polyvagal theory led to a deeper understanding of the autonomic nervous system and particularly the vagus nerve.  I refer to it as the “dance of the vagus nerve” with rhythms of feeling safe, love, compassion and fear,  which I will discuss later in the post. Porges’s polyvagal theory is a game changer in the biology of autonomic nervous system.  For those of you interested in a more detailed discussion of polyvagal theory, I added a link to  Dana Lewis’s  (2018)  discussion. The traditional view of the autonomic nervous system included: sympathetic nervous system which generated body’s fight or flight responses when person faced danger versus the parasympathetic nervous system, which led to resting and calming of the nervous system.

Polyvagal theory suggests a more nuanced and complicated autonomic nervous system. Polyvagal theory suggests that the parasympathetic nervous system is enervated by the vagus nerve (also known as “wanderer”) as the nerve truly seems nomadic popping up in different part of the body). The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve which joins the brain, heart, lungs,  digestive system and organs associated with digestive processes. The vagus nerve carries information back and forth between the brain and other body organs. So the  vagal nerve is the connector between the brain and gut, a pathway of mind-body connection and integrative health. The vagus nerve is involved in mood states, immune responses, stress response, heart, lung and digestive systems (e.g. linking inflammation of the body systems to exposure to ongoing high stress levels). When I read about the rhythm of the vagus nerve in regulating the nervous system, the image of the “dancing vagus nerve”  came to mind. Growing up in India in the first ten years of my life, I saw many ethereal and elegant dance forms. Some of the dance forms are considered temple dances or dances of worshiping the Divine. I have no formal training in any dance forms, but I have family members who are very talented dancers. As an audience member, watching some of these dances is mesmerizing as one observes  the dancer’s complex hands, legs movements, facial gestures and body postures  transform flawlessly in alignment with rhythm of the tabla (Indian drum) and melody of the songs.  My image of the dancing vagus nerve reminded me of the Hindu statue,  Nataraj (statue of Lord Shiva in a Dance Form, symbolic of the Divine Consciousness as a Cosmic Dancer dancing in Bliss).  In Hinduism, the Blissful Dancing Lord Shiva creates the cosmic  rhythm of creation, sustenance and destruction.  Why blissful? Because Lord Shiva represents Divine Consciousness which is beyond the  duality of human existence. Duality in the human realm represents  happiness versus suffering, regulation versus dysregulation of the nervous system, passion versus dispassionate, birth versus death. 

Unlike Divine Consciousness, most of us human beings dance with the vagus nerve and autonomic nervous system, with movement across states of regulation and dysregulation in the pandemic. Regulated states leans towards feeling peaceful, calm and content. Slightly dysregulated states may mean having a “bad day”.  Highly distressful states of dysregulation are based on experiencing dangerous situations, as discussed below. This post reviews the basic autonomic nervous system, polyvagal theory and suggests healthy strategies of regulation of the nervous system . Each individual’s regulation and dysregulation patterns of the nervous system is very much  mediated by his or her risk and resiliency or protective factors. Each person has triggers which led to states of vulnerability and protective factors which regulates the nervous system.

 

OVERVIEW OF AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

Autonomic Nervous System (adapted from Dr. Porges’ training at PESI).

Sympathetic Nervous System                                          Parasympathetic Nervous System (VAGUS NERVE)

“Fight or Flight”” (Life threatening)                               Ventral Vagal Complex  versus Dorsal Vagal Complex

 

 

Fight
Sympathetic Nervous System
Fight Response

 

Flight
Sympathetic Nervous System
Flight Response

 

Peace Love
Ventral Vagal Complex
Safety, Peace, Love and Compassion and Social Engagement System

Freeze

Dorsal Ventral Complex
Freeze Response

Before we dive into the world of the dancing vagus nerve and autonomic nervous system, I am going to introduce the concept of neuroception and basic parts of the autonomic nervous system. Neuroception is the subconscious process that neural circuits in the brain use to detect any possible danger. The brain circuits survey both internal body states (what we are experiencing inside our bodies) versus external states (events in the world around us) .  Brain circuits monitor what is safe and unsafe. For the sake of survival, we move towards safety and stay away from unsafe situations. Feeling safe is a key ingredient for activities, such as learning in school, social interactions and basic sleep.

According to polyvagal theory, the three parts of the autonomic nervous system are: Ventral Vagal Complex (VVC), Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Dorsal Vagal Complex (DVC).  The VVC is associated with feelings of calmness, peace, love and compassion when a person feels safe. VVC associated with our social engagement system where we connect with others through interpersonal relationships.  The SNS is activated when the person experiences life threatening situations and the body gets ready for fight or flight responses (mobilization responses) for survival. The DVC state is triggered when the person senses danger and becomes  immobilized ( freeze response). The three systems co-mingle, such as, activation of VVC and SNS leads to movement with feelings of safety (dancing, playing sports, writing) which can be very positive experiences.

 

HEALTHY PRACTICES TO FACILITATE VENTRAL VAGAL COMPLEX (FEELINGS OF SAFETY, CALMNESS, LOVE AND COMPASSION)

Given the stressful nature of the pandemic, many folks may be in other states, besides the VVC state. The central question is how do we develop and implement strategies to enter the VVC states. The field of mind body medicine provides some very helpful and fascinating strategies of how to facilitate VVC states:

1. Meditation and mindfulness practices with  breathing techniques, focused attention on something Loving (secular or faith based)  has a calming effect on the mind and body after  stressful experiences. Calming effects most likely leads to feelings of safety. Please see Love on the Brain practices post Being a faith based person, I love this wonderful article, “5 Pictures of God’s Love to Encourage you this Valentine’s day”, by Lisa Samra. Samra writes that despite one’s relationship status in the realm of human beings, she experiences great joy, especially in Valentine’s Day,  in her knowledge that she is deeply loved and known by God. She describes five images of God’s great, deep and fierce love for His Children (great VVC triggering images) in the Biblical scriptures. The images she writes about God’s love are very powerful : God as “Safe Shelter”, “Eternal Spring”, “Faithful Spouse”, “Caring Mother” and “Overwhelming Flood”. I love her description that unlike some people who are hesitant or reluctant in their love of us, God’s Love is “beyond dimensions”, “surpasses human understanding” and “floods the soul”. Unlike certain people ‘s restricted love,  God’s Unconditional or Agape love is Boundless. I totally agree with Samra on this point.

2. The practice of yoga is powerful in facilitating VVC states.  Marlysa B. Sullivan and her colleagues (2018) discussed that any body awareness practices with the mindfulness qualities of nonjudgment, loving-kind attention, and acceptance lead to a calming effect on mind and body.  Sullivan and her colleagues discuss the similarities between polyvagal theory and ancient yoga practices. They discuss possible pathways as to why yoga is so effective in calming states of dysregulation or stress in the mind and body.  They discuss the ancient wisdom regarding yoga practices.  In ancient views of yoga, there is a distinction between   “Purusha” which refers to spirit, “the indweller”, and observer of experiences and “Prakiti”, material world where experiences arises. Sullivan and her colleagues discuss that in the ancient text,  The Bhagavad Gita, prakiti is composed of three qualities or “gunas”: 1. “sattva” (“lightness, clarity, harmony”, lucidity, joy, and necessary for cultivating wisdom and “clear seeing”), 2.”rajas” (capacity for mobilization, but predominance of rajas is associated with pain, anger, agitation and greed) and 3. “tamas” (capacity of restrain or limit, but, heavy tamas is linked with delusion, dullness, ignorance and negligence). Intermingling of different gunas led to different states in material world.  Sullivan and her colleagues also draw possible parallel between polyvagal theory and the three gunas. They link Ventral Vagal Complex (VVC), associated with feelings of safety, calmness, love and compassion  with sattva guna, activation of Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)  states (fight or flight responses) with ragas guna and activation of Dorsal Ventral Complex (DVC) associated with freeze response, with tamas gunas. I find this view intriguing and fascinating. Sullivan and her colleagues (2018)  suggest that the basic practice of yoga is to observe (through Purusha or spirit) the changing states of the gunas in the prakiti (material mind and body) without entanglement. This leads to the eventual realization that “I am not my thoughts, pain, anxiety, depression or whatever else that is  happening in my mind and body”. There is a change in the relationship between the person and stressful experiences in mind and body. The researchers argue that yoga practices are associated with positive feeling states. According to the researchers, this grounding of self in spirit is basis of the yogic mind, which is not  influenced by the changes in emotions, thoughts or body states. Yogic mind in some sense has transcended the duality of the human experience, unmoved by changes in the body, mind or world around. This is a difficult state to achieve. (By the way, I am nowhere near). However, yoga therapy has been linked with better treatment outcomes of mental and physical health issues.

2. Connecting with “ventral vagal superstars” (supportive people with whom you have peaceful, loving and warm interactions in your life) is a healing strategy. These are the relationships which ground us, where we feel listened to and loved. I also agree with Dr. Porges discussion that healthy relationships between two people can have ruptures and the capacity of repairing the ruptures leads to deeper connections. Healthy boundaries with ” anti-VVC people” (difficult people) may be something to think about. I love Eckhart Tolle’s statements about being present and not triggered into unconscious states when interacting with unconscious people. I interpreted Tolle’s unconscious people as people driven by SNS or DVC states where they are driven by raw emotion and reactive. Interacting with such people makes us also very reactive. I also recognize that during certain situations in my life, I am been a difficult person for others. My family will attest to this. Hence, my desire to learn more strategies to enter VVC states.

3. Movements which are soothing: dancing, writing, walking, swimming, chanting, prayer rituals (e.g. beads and rosary), mantras practice for the day, such as, (“Be Kind” or “”This too shall pass”,) for the day can be helpful. Engaging in experiences  of “flow” can be very powerful experiences where people feel so immersed in the activity that they transcend a sense of time.

4. Activities which promote joy or positive emotion, as discussed in the positive psychology in the pandemic post, may be powerful in accessing VVC states.  Gratitude practices, present focused activities, beautiful music, random acts of kindness towards self and others, use of humor,  walks in nature, radical acceptance of reality and make the best of the situation mindsets can be powerful mood boosters.

5. Monitor your own states of vulnerability such as days of not enough sleep, or high stress at work. Those are the days to practice strategies for VVC activation. Awareness of red flags of your SNS and DVC states help us learn when to use more calming strategies. Awareness of loved ones in DVC or SNS states can help navigate our relationships.

6. Practicing radical acceptance strategies of nonjudgment that the nervous system may dance into states of dysregulation in a pandemic at times and we need to develop wise and healthy strategies to dance back into regulation states of feeling safe and calm. 

7. Awareness of unhealthy regulation practices of nervous system (e.g. digital addiction, use of substances)  that are hurtful to you and others and seek professional help.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The pandemic may mean many people having days where states of the nervous system are anything, but  VVC based. Strategies for VVC activation are likely to lead to feelings of safety, love, compassion, kindness and peace for self and others. These are just some strategies for VVC activation in this blog. Please use the strategies for feelings of calmness and safety, discussed in the post,  if they are helpful. If the strategies are not helpful, please do not use them. Readers might have other healthy strategies for VVC activation which work for them. I welcome readers to share their VVC activation strategies.

 

 

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Practices of Pouring Love on the Brain: Meditation, Mindfulness and Mysticism.

In our current world of the pandemic, are practices of pouring love on the brain good for us? What exactly is love? Very hard to define in a sentence as there are many kinds of love: love of family, animals, friendships, romantic partners, toxic love, crazy love, obsessive love, love for God, Universe. Many people have written books, poetry and songs on love.  I am thinking of  meditation and mindfulness as daily “practices of love on the brain” that regular folks, like me, can incorporate in their routines.. Not just the monks on remote  mountains.   I am referring to practices of love on the brain as  described in the book, “How God Changes Your Brain” by Dr. Newberg and Mr. Waldemann (2009). They describe meditation practices of breathing techniques, relaxation and focused attention or contemplation on an object (characterized with love, compassion and peace). Dr. Newberg and his colleagues argue this type of practice lead to changes in the brain. The topic of meditation  includes many different practices. Meditations can be  faith based (focused attention on a loving and kind  God). Mindfulness practices (a form of meditation)  are  secular (focused, nonjudgmental, loving and accepting attention) on the unfolding present moment . Present moments may focus on breath, walking, eating, nature, watching flickering light of a candle. I have come across many APPS in the digital world focusing on mindfulness exercises.  Essentially, Dr. Newberg argues that faith based meditations and secular mindfulness practices are based on focusing  on some sort of love, kindness, compassion or benevolent process: pouring love on the brain. These practices have been linked to changes in brain activity and report of positive emotions.

Are experiences of “love on the brain” related to only grand mystical experiences of holy saints? Can there be everyday mysticismJames Martin’s Everyday Mysticism eloquently describes  that mysticism is experiencing God’s presence in the ordinary human existence  which “lifts up” how we are in the world or thinking and perceiving the world. Mysticism can be a sense of feeling overwhelmed by God’s presence that transcends your understanding of God. Most people, who have described mystical experiences to me, describe feelings of great joy, peace or sense of getting profound understanding of something that was initially very puzzling. I hear the spark of profound joy when people describe mystical experiences to me.   James Martin argues that mysticism is not  just for the saints in the world, but, mystical experiences happen to regular folks. Everyday mystical experiences may be holding your newborn child or infant, falling in love for the first time, watching the unfolding colors of a beautiful sunset, or walking on a majestic landscape beside the ocean, or hearing the harmony of a rustle of plants in a field or watching the expansive night sky.

Can modern neuro-imaging techniques, such as brain scans, detect changes in the brain when people are in deep meditation or secular mindfulness practices? This post  is a discussion of   neurobiological changes and psychological feelings associated with God as love based meditation. Are these mystical experiences?. It also covers brain changes and feelings in  secular mindfulness based experiences. Is “practicing pouring love on the brain” (faith based meditations or secular mindfulness practices) good for you in the pandemic where the outside world is in turmoil and chaos ? Research findings indicate that love based practices in meditation or mindfulness are related to changes in brain activity, correlated to positive feelings: loving kindness, compassion, peace, higher level of reasoning, connection to a Higher Power or Consciousness and less fear. These practices seem to facilitate love over fear. Less fear likely trickles down to body changes. Not activating the stress response system is a good thing for the body.  I will discuss the research findings behind the meditation and mindfulness practices and brain changes, by reviewing work of Dr. Newberg and Dr. Jon-Kabbat Zinn, both pioneers in their work of integrating love and neuroscience.

 

Brain Scans of Meditation and Mysticism (Practices of Love on the Brain).

Please feel free to ignore picture brain neuroanatomy if this is not your cup of tea. The rest of the discussion is pretty cool. At least to me.

 

Brain
Free image/jpeg, Resolution: 872×603, File size: 122Kb,
Diagram of Brain clipart
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Dr. Newberg’s work has caught national attention. His work has been published not just in science journals but also in Newsweek and Los Angeles Times. What Dr. Newberg does is pretty phenomenal and cool? He conducted studies of brain scans of people, engaging in spiritual practices, from different religious and spiritual backgrounds. Dr. Newberg is a key figure in the emerging interdisciplinary field of neurotheology, which studies changes in brain function and structure when people are having spiritual  experiences. Neuroimaging or brain scans of people in spiritual practices indicate changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain. Dr. Newsberg notes that God is too vast and immense for the human mind to grasp. I agree. However, research findings of Dr. Newberg and his colleagues are fascinating.

Brain Scans of Buddhist Monks and Catholic Nuns

Dr. Newberg and his colleagues (2001) conducted  brain scans of 8 Buddhist Tibetan monks in their meditation practices, focused on pure consciousness or awareness, as Buddhism is described as a nontheistic tradition. Dr. Newberg and colleagues (2003)  studied brain scans of three catholic nuns doing the meditative centering prayer.  Centering prayer refers to verbally meditating and focusing on a phrase in the Bible or prayers that the nuns focused on verbally to open themselves for the experience of feeling God’s presence. Catholicism is primarily characterized as a theistic religion.

Dr. Newberg describe that the brain scans of the Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns demonstrate similar patterns of brain activation: activation of the frontal lobes (higher level of complex thinking and reasoning), anterior cingulate (linked with feelings of compassion, peace and kindness and deactivation of the limbic system (amygdala) which scans for threats,  generate feelings of fear and activate the stress response system. Earlier post on Endurance discussed that the ongoing stress of the pandemic may be activating the amygdala and  stress response system (impacting brain and body) of many folks. Dr. Newberg and Mr. Waldeman (2009) discussed the research finding that brain scans of Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns, while in spiritual practices, demonstrated lower activity of parietal lobe. When parietal lobe activity decreases, person’s sense of separate individual selfhood dissolves and person is likely to feel more connected to the object of their contemplation. Dr. Newberg indicates that the Buddhist monks goal was to experience pure consciousness or awareness. The Catholic nuns expressed coming closer to God.  Barbara Bradley Hagerty states that these are perhaps brain scans of mystical experiences.

Brain Scans of Pentecostal believers while “Speaking in Tongues”

Dr. Newberg conducted brain scans on five women who are Pentecostal believers, engaged in Glossolalia or speaking of tongues, a type of contemplative prayer. This type of prayer focuses on voluntary surrender of self to God. The brain scans of the Pentecostal people speaking in tongues, showed decreased activity of the frontal lobe and increased activity of the limbic system. This finding is the opposite to the patterns of the brain scans in Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns. These participants reported intense levels of  emotional experiences and conscious states of peace and serenity.

Intensive Islamic prayer

Newberg and his colleagues (2015) conducted case studies on brain scans of three individuals doing intense Islamic prayer practices, focused on surrendering of self to Allah. The researchers compared brain scans of subjects in regular states versus in Islamic prayer states. Researchers found that  when engaged in Islamic prayer of surrender to Allah,  individuals showed decreased activity in frontal lobe and decreased activity of parietal lobe, which suggests loss of sense of separate self and merging with object of prayer.

Point of Caution

Again, there is  criticism of Newberg’s work, especially changes in brain activity and feeling states are correlational and cannot be interpreted with anything causing anything. However, findings are intriguing. I am fascinated in the finding of similar patterns in brain scans  when people from different spiritual and religious traditions are engaged in love based meditation, whether focused attention is on God or Pure Consciousness. The practice of love on the brain appears to be related to changes in feelings: more peace, kindness, compassion and connection to object of contemplation. The report of lowered activity of  parietal lobe in brain scans of Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, Muslims in prayers states linked with feeling greater connection to the Universe or God certainly sounds like a mystical experience. All great stuff, especially in the world of the pandemic we live in now. Perhaps there is something to the notion  that “God is Bigger than One Religion”. I first saw this concept  on a sticker boldly posted at the back of the car while  stuck in long commutes on the traffic congested freeways of pre-COVID southern California. This concept always stuck with me.

Brain Scans of Secular Mindfulness and Everyday Mysticism (Practices of Love on the Brain)

Dr. Jon Kabbat-Zinnis is a revolutionary figure in the world of integrative medicine or mind-body medicine. He is one of the first western researchers, meditation teachers and scientists who integrated secular mindfulness practices, such as, Mind Based Stress Reduction, in treating different physical and mental health conditions. The research findings suggest a positive relationship of mindfulness based programs in the effective alleviation of symptoms of depression, anxiety, chronic pain, rumination, cardiovascular practices, eating disorders and addiction medicine etc. Dr. Kabbat-Zinn’s research findings led to the proliferation of mindfulness programs through out the country, especially in mind-body medicine, where psychological states are linked to physiological processes..

As discussed before, mindfulness practices include breathing techniques, relaxation and focused attention with nonjudgement, curiosity, loving kindness and acceptance on the present moment. Mindfulness practices teach us to sit with experiences that arise and not jump to labeling it  as “good”  “bad” or “ugly”. Students of mindfulness are taught to accept “it is what it is” and  curiously investigate the experience with openness of mind. It includes a practice of pouring love on the brain and body. Alan Powell’s (2018) article, “When Science Meets Mindfulness” in the Harvard Gazette also discussed the effects of mindfulness practices on people. Research findings indicate practice of mindfulness techniques is associated with lowered activity of the amygdala (limbic system). This amygdala is the alert system in the brain which detects threat and generates the body’s stress response system to deal with threat.

Lowered activity in the amygdala and less fear based responses (less worry, and less worst case scenario pondering) are wonderful things in a world held hostage by a virus.  Especially as many spiritual teachers teach the distinction between two paths: fear versus love. For me, fear is a heavy, constrictive feeling which limits psychological flexibility, creativity and compassion. Love is a more expansive feeling of wholesomeness which  generates creativity, joy, compassion, kindness and connection to others and the Divine Source. Love moves me forward through this almost year long pandemic with hope in my heart for a safer world. That is pretty much close to everyday mysticism for me. Miraculous stuff. For that I am immensely grateful.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In summary, I will argue that practices of pouring love on the brain are good for us in the pandemic: Less Fear. (We have too much fear in the world and I am no stranger to fear). Love, Kindness, Compassion. Connection to Higher Power, Mysticism, Cosmic Awareness. These positive emotions likely impact our bodies with less stress. What is fascinating is that people perceive love and compassion in so many different things, ranging from the Vastness and Undecipherable Divine Consciousness, God, to the breath in the present moment. By the way, I am a big fan of God and my breath. Focused attention on love seems to change the brain radically. That is pretty magical and miraculous. Rumi, a Persian, Sufi thirteenth century mystic (one of my favorites)summarizes a fundamental truth that “Love is the bridge between you and everything”. Rumi is spot on.

The Radical Act of Self-Compassion in the Pandemic: Breath By Breath

 As a psychotherapist, I have found that many people seem to have an easier time forgiving others or being compassionate to others rather than themselves. People can be their worst inner critics. In the pandemic, many people are facing suffering and setbacks. So the discussion of self-compassion in this pandemic is critical. The central question is how do we psychologically treat ourselves when faced with setbacks, suffering or failures? Do we mentally beat ourselves up? Does our inner critic shred the self into pieces? Or are we kind and compassionate and accepting of ourselves? This is a huge question as we spend the most time with ourselves.  In this post, I will explore: 1. practice of  self-compassion, and 2. differences between self-criticism versus self-compassion, possible biological and psychological underpinnings of both states and  benefits of  self-compassion. I also include a discussion of my favorite mindfulness exercise on breath for self-compassion. Please note that there are many different mindfulness exercises and you have to find what works for you. I hope this post encourages readers to start self-compassion campaigns in the pandemic.

 

What is Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert researcher in self-compassion,  discusses three elements of self compassion and strategies to practice self-compassion.  I will discuss Dr. Neff’s three strategies and add some of my own thoughts.

1.Practicing kind, gentle and loving attention towards self, especially, when experiencing any suffering, setback or misstep. Notice how you are thinking about the suffering. Recognize self-critical thoughts and avoid entanglement with them when in the midst of suffering. One strategy to address negative self-talk with compassion is discussed by Dr. Dennis Tirch. He suggests a self-compassionate strategy may be to accept, acknowledge and thank the self-critical part of the mind for coming up with ideas trying  to help. This prevents further condemnation of self-critical part. It is more accepting and compassionate of the negative self-critical part. Then, remind yourself that  I choose to try a more self-compassionate perspective. What are kind or loving actions  we can do when in the midst of suffering? Call a friend. Take a walk. Sit with a pet. Listen to soothing music or sounds. Read encouraging scriptures.

2. Realization that the common human experience includes suffering and suffering binds us into the human community. I have yet to meet any person who has not suffered in some form. One might argue that as a psychotherapist, my chances of meeting people in suffering, are very high because people do not come to therapy when life is going great. However, in my  life, outside of therapy room, I find that people suffer in different ways. I find in the general public, expression of suffering, is a taboo subject.  People talk about their suffering to close friends and family, whom they trust.  However, the pandemic has hit the world hard and we are all experiencing a collective trauma. People seem to be more open discussing their struggles with the pandemic. 

3.Practice of mindfulness practices where one adopts a mindset of curious and nonjudgmental observation and awareness  of  thoughts and feelings connected with difficult experiences. It is important to remember that “thoughts are just thoughts” and not overidentify with thoughts.

Our minds produce thoughts constantly. Minds are thought factories.  Dr. Susan Baili Hass (2019) wrote an article in Psychology Today website about the concept of “not believing every thought you think”.  She describes negative thoughts can be endless loops and it is important to get out of  loops of negative thoughts, overthinking and rumination. She described strategies to get out of rumination cycles where one is focused on negative events or feeling states.

Mindfulness Exercise: Breath of Self-Compassion

Although, there are many different types of mindfulness exercises, my favorite self-compassionate mindfulness exercise is focusing awareness on my breath with nonjudgment, curiosity, loving, gentle , warm and kind  attention. I feel the gentle rising and falling of the belly. Also called belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Essential basis of life. Part of mindfulness exercises is to accept that the mind wanders to observe  thoughts and feelings as waves in the ocean peaking and dissipating. The goal is to observe the thoughts and feelings that arise and let them go. No entanglement with whatever arises in the mind.. Main thing is to gently guide my attention to the breath and rise and fall of the belly. The gentle guidance of attention and awareness back to the breath is the key. The awareness of breathing in and out with self-compassion  is a radical act of self-care in the pandemic. I visualize a loving and kind energy from the Divine Source as I breath in and this healing energy spreads all over me, relaxing body and mind. The beautiful thing of self-compassion mindfulness practice for me is focusing fully on a sacred primal act: breathing. I forget how sacred breathing is in the whirlwind of my daily activities, where I am multi-tasking more often than not. Self-compassionate mindfulness practice is honoring the breath,  body, mind, soul and the Divine Source which has sustained me thus far. Breathing is beautiful. It means I am on the planet today. It means the Divine Source has sustained me in ways that I cannot put into words. For this, I am supremely grateful.

Why Self-Compassion is a More Effective Strategy than Self-Criticism?

Dr. Emma Seppala writes about the difference between self-critical versus self-compassion and the scientific benefits of self-compassion in the Stanford Medicine (Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) website .It turns out that practice of self-compassion in moments of suffering, setbacks and failures is better than self-criticism. Self-compassion is not weakness or laziness or fluff stuff. There are biological and psychological changes in our bodies and minds that are beneficial with self-compassion in moments of suffering and failure.  It is more in alignment with growth mindset and resiliency.

Self-Criticism

Self- critical attitudes are likely to activate the stress response system, as we are making appraisals that we cannot handle what is is front of us. The stress response system is likely to be activated by self-criticism (e.g. self -condemnation by the inner critic) when the amygdala in the brain senses a threat and activates the sympathetic nervous system and endocrine nervous system, resulting in physiological changes (increased heart and breathing rate) and negative feeling states (e.g. fear, anger). The responses to threat include fight, flight and freeze responses.  Cognitive capacity for flexible problem solving is less likely when our threat systems are activated.

 According to Dr. Seppala,  embracing a self -critical attitude when faced with setbacks or missteps is not the best response because it may more likely  lead to self-defeating attitudes and generate feelings of distress and despair. Experiencing overwhelming feelings of despair  may contribute to feeling stuck in difficult situations. It makes it harder to take steps to move forward. Self-condemnation by the inner critic  may involve a level of anger at self, showing up in harsh punitive comments , “I cannot do anything right”, “I am going to mess up everything”. Sometimes, we learn self-critical attitudes from people around us who may be critical. Another question is whether people who were self-critical around us gave their critical views based on their “noble” intentions which were to help us become better? People may be critical to us with the intention to help us, but, they do not realize that this is not an effective method. Or did they mean to use criticism to tear us down? We need to recognize how did we learn self-critical attitudes, recognize this critical perspective  and “practice the sacred practice of pausing”  as Tara Brach discusses ( see previous post on Possible Pathways of healing emotional wounds) 

Self-Compassion 

Dr. Seppala describes that self- compassionate perspective may be more likely to facilitate a calm state of mind when facing stressful setbacks due to triggering the parasympathetic nervous system  , which generates the restful and calmness response. Dr. Neff discusses that there are bodily changes when we practice self-compassion. When practicing self-compassion, we tap into our care-giving system directed towards self and it is  linked with higher levels of oxytocin and lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol. This is associated with increased feelings of trust and safety and self-soothing of negative feelings. Self-compassion  facilitates calmness of mind to endure, be tenacious and practice psychological flexibility in trying alternative strategies to solve problem areas.

Unlike a self critical attitude, Dr. Seppala writes that a  self- compassionate perspective is likely to lead to greater resilience, strength and self-empowerment, because it normalizes failures and suffering as part of human experience, views failures and setbacks as opportunities in learning for growth. 

Campaigns of Self-Compassion in the Pandemic.

May we be more compassionate with ourselves this year. Start compassion and loving-kindness campaigns for the self. We need to intentionally set up practices of self-compassion  in life, especially in the pandemic. Celebrate strengths and be gentle with areas of improvement. Our inner critics may  make it harder for self-compassionate practices. Self-compassionate practices are like exercise routines. More we exercise, the stronger the muscles are. More we practice self-compassion, easier it becomes. Most important is to remember we are imperfect human beings and all of us, regardless of religious, gender, cultural, political or ethnic backgrounds  are in this pandemic together. We also have to get out of the pandemic together. This means that one community cannot truly get out of pandemic  without other communities. This shows the interdependence of people, communities and countries in humanity. This includes practice of compassion to others and self.

 

 

Pets: “Fur Loves” Are Essential Workers Who Bring Love in the Pandemic.

During this pandemic, political turmoil, economic, and housing crises, beloved pets can be an oasis of comfort and joy. .The National Institute of Health (NIH)discusses the numerous mental and physical  health benefits of having pets.  Research suggests that having pets are linked with  people having lower blood pressure, less stress (lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol), improved heart health, increased social and emotional health, less loneliness and feelings of support. Therapy dogs are used in hospitals, nursing homes and therapy contexts to support healing in children and adults. I recently read an article about courts using therapy dogs in court to help witnesses testify in court proceedings. Research findings suggest that teens with diabetes learn to manage their diabetes after learning to take care of their fish. The point in the National Institute Health (NIH) newsletters discussion of the power of pets bringing mindfulness experiences of loving nonjudgmental attention, awareness,  and compassion to people in moments of suffering caught my attention. I often hear people talk about pets offering undivided, nonjudgmental,  unconditional loving and accepting  attention to them.  This post is a discussion  about  “fur love” and research findings regarding “fur love”. I also invite readers to share about their “fur-loves”.

 

 THOUGHTS  ON LOVE BY C.S. LEWIS

C. S. Lewis in his famous book, Four Loves, talks about : 1. Agape Love (God’s Unconditional Love), 2. Eros (Romantic Love), 3. Friendships (Philia)  4. Affection (Storage). C.S. Lewis briefly mentions animals and family in affectionate love and describes this love as “humble”, “private”, and part of our everyday loves, even if we recognize it or not. He describes this affectionate love like “old clothes”, “old jokes”, “soft slippers” and “thump of a sleepy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor”. There seems as if with affectionate love from family or pets, we are taken care of .

C.S. Lewis is brilliant in his observation that affection lies alongside the other kinds of  loves. I love C.S. Lewis’s highlighting of I Corinthians 13verse in the Bible  to describe the power of love. C.S. Lewis highlights this  Bible verse as this verse points out that regardless of vast accomplishments, gifts and talents, a person has nothing if he or she has no love.  This Bible verse describes beautifully and profoundly that love is “kind”, “patient”, “always protects”, “always hopes”, “always perseveres”, and “always trusts”. 

 

FUR-LOVE

One of the important steps that pets seem to teach people is to experience unconditional positive regard or unconditional love. I have members of my extended family who have pets. Many of my clients in psychotherapy have pets, cats, dogs, and lizards.  Everyone with beloved pets, often talk about their pets beaming with happiness, unconditional love, and joy when they come home. Most people I know with pets tell me that they love their pets and their pets reciprocate that love in a multitude of different ways. Although I do not have pets, I know that “Fur love” is a real experience for people.

People talk about experiences of  feeling safe and secure with their pets. People talk about the inherent trust in pets as they are described  as more honest and transparent than some people in their lives. Many people talk about the  experience of being  “known” and “seen” by their pets, as though, pets see their authentic selves and love them deeply and unconditionally. I hear people crying, laughing, and dancing with their pets. Essentially people seem to share  intimate emotional experiences with their pets without any fear of judgment from pets. Many people have shared with me that pets  (e.g. dogs and cats) are very attuned to their feelings and if they are experiencing negative feelings, their pets will sit next to them,  lick them, lie on their chests and laps. Pets are very generous with their loving and kind presence in people’s moments of suffering. The power of a pet’s powerful compassionate presence and witness to a person’s moments of suffering is so incredible in healing. Pets’ messages are profound: ” I am with you in the good and the bad”. Incredibly courageous  pets. My guess is petting (source of comfort and touch) the beloved animals in moments of suffering may trigger the parasympathetic system, nervous system which promotes calmness and stress. The parasympathetic system opposes the sympathetic nervous system which  triggers the stress response system (fight or flight response) in case of any perceived threat. Daily activities, like walking the dog, seem to be very healing for some people. I have heard so many times in therapy from clients that “I would not have made it during that dark part in my life without my dog”.

Pets are also described as sources of joy when people describe playing with their pets. When working with children and adolescents, I often hear about how their pets are the greatest things on the planet. People also seem to know their pets intimately: their personalities, quirkiness (“mustaches, hair on chin, freckles on their noses, and smiles), favorite toys and activities. I have heard  comments about pets, like he is “mama’s boy” or “she is a princess” and ” even if he/she is little, he/she thinks he is a lion when protecting me”. Pets are creatures who seem to know the art of living in the moment. They also seem to let go of grudges with a certain ease. People seem to view beloved pets as part of the family. Grief and loss issues regarding death of pets is also very real and is like losing a family member. People’s experiences of grief and loss in case of pet’s death  speaks to their great love of their pets.

WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY ABOUT FUR-LOVE? 

I was curious about what science says about “fur love”.  Dr. Fugere (2020) on Psychology Today website discusses a research study by Berns, G. S., Brooks, A. M., & Spivak, M. (2015) where they utilize Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) (brain scan) on dogs. They found that  brain areas (caudate nucleus) of dogs were activated when dogs smelled cotton swabs with scent of people  they live. Their caudate nucleus did not become as activated when exposed to  stranger’s scent.   Caudate nucleus is a part of brain associated with positive experiences and rewards. Dr. Fugere’s (2020) article includes research conducted by   Dr. Fugere (2020) also discussed research findings by Aron, A. and his colleagues (2005), who studied brain scans of people in love.  Aron, A. and his colleagues (2005)   found  that people, who reported  intense, romantic love for their  partners, also demonstrate activation in these brain areas  (caudate nucleus) when people are shown pictures of loved ones, but, not when exposed to pictures of strangers.  Dr. Fugere (2020) and researchers express caution  that  we cannot interpret that dogs are “experiencing love” as people. However, it is fascinating that the same areas of the brain (caudate nucleus) are activated in brains of dogs and people, when they are exposed to people they love. Dogs and people have different brain structures. Despite caution in interpreting brain scans (which I get) , the research consistently supports that a healthy connection between pets and their owners leads to all kinds of good things, as discussed in the NIH article above.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The other question is whether brain scans can capture the true, vast and sacred essence of LOVE. I would argue definitely not.  C.S. Lewis is spot on in his writings about love Divine Love, “Fur Love” and Human Love: all sacred and holy ground. Peace Pilgrim, an American Saint, (please see earlier post) confirms the primacy of spiritual law of love and that anything done with love grows and prospers in this Universe. We definitely need more love in the world today.

 

Possible Pathways of Healing Emotional Wounds

Many people experience emotional wounds, pain and hurt by another person’s words or actions.   I hope and pray 2021 is a year for people to explore pathways to heal emotional wounds. Research by Naomi Eisenberger from University of California, Los Angeles found that that social pain from social rejection is processed in the same brain circuits  as physical pain.  Another mindboggling research finding is that people taking Tylenol experienced less emotional pain as they would if they take Tylenol for physical pain. Eisenberger stated that taking Tylenol for emotional pain is not recommended as this is numbing the emotional  pain without exploring root causes,  and psychological healing of the wound.

There are emotional wounds which trigger many different types of maladaptive beliefs.  This is a post on reflections investigating the nature of emotional wounds which trigger beliefs of self-inadequacy, and possible pathways of psychological and spiritual healing. Healing of  deep emotional wounds  need to be addressed in a therapeutic context  with a licensed mental health professional .Emotional pain is harder because it may not have a visual cue like a bandage, caste on a leg or arm. It is real and yet we live in a world that is not always accepting of emotional pain and the messages are “Get over it” or “Emotional pain is a sign of weakness of character”. I have never heard of someone with a broken leg in a caste as receiving the message “he or she is weak in character”. I also want to add that I am writing healing of emotional wounds through cultivation of self-love post within the perspective of western psychotherapy models. This includes a more individualistic western definition of self. This piece may not be applicable to how self is defined in collectivistic cultures, where self is more relationally defined. Tara Brach reports a meeting where the Dalai Lama talked about his surprise that sense of unworthiness is so prevalent in his students in the west. I will also note  note that in different cultures, people also express  emotional pain in different ways, such as somatization of psychological pain (e.g. it may be more acceptable to express emotional pain through physical symptoms). I also invite readers to share their views on emotional healing and self- love in different cultures . Would love to hear from you.

The Emotional Wound

Why is it that when certain people say mean comments, we can shrug them off? Why is it that certain people get on your last nerve?  Why is it hard to be in the same room with a certain person?  There may be many reasons, such as, stressors we face, mental (e.g. depression, anxiety, emotional sensitivity) and physical health (e.g. chronic pain) states which influence how we respond to another person’s wounding words. There are also toxic behaviors of certain people, such as trying to control, manipulate, blame others, gaslighting, refuse to take any responsibility, which can wound us. One sign of toxicity is when you finish an interaction with the person and you leave depleted emotionally, your body’s stress response system is activated and you ask yourself, “What the hell just happened?”.  Boundaries implemented to keep toxic people at a distance or out of your sphere of existence is key to protecting your mental health.

Wounds which Trigger Beliefs of Self-inadequacy

However, I wonder if the words of others, even toxic people,  which wound us the most include words which reignite our old maladaptive beliefs. There are many types of maladaptive beliefs. I am going to focus on emotional wounds triggering beliefs about our inadequacies or unworthiness, which we never dealt with. Why would certain  words of others sting if there was not a part of our psyche which had once had these old beliefs of inadequacy? After the implementation of boundaries with toxic people, we may need to work on internal old beliefs of unworthiness, which contribute to emotional pain.  I am using cognitive-behavioral model assumption that beliefs of inadequacy contribute to painful feelings (e.g. sadness, depression) and behaviors (e.g. tears). Beliefs of inadequacy or unworthiness can be acquired from different sources, including childhood experiences in family of origin, being bullied in schools, or constantly being criticized or judged or compared to others by peers or colleagues, negative messages from socio-cultural factors .

Carl Roger’s theory: Conditions of Worth versus Unconditional Positive Regard

Carl Rogers, a  famous humanistic psychologist, who developed client centered therapy, talked about some children growing up with conditions of worth. This means that the child experiences love or positive attention when he or she does something deemed “worthy” by family (e.g. great report card, excellent in athletics, won beauty contest.)  So child learns that he or she will receive love based on achieving certain conditions. Carl Rogers defined this concept as conditional positive regard, where you are loved not for your personhood, but, because you accomplish something. The problem with equating self -love based on accomplishments is it conditions people to experience internal validation only by external accomplishments (e.g. I am of worth when I do…).  This breeds feelings of inadequacy when one cannot accomplish the desired outcome.

Kendra Cherry (2020)beautifully describes unconditional positive regard, concept developed by Carl Rogers, as a condition where people can share their goodness and worst feelings and experiences, messiness of being a human being,  in close, safe relationships and find they are loved and accepted for their personhood, devoid of any  achievements. Unconditional positive regard is something one may receive in healthy intimate relationships from others, but, also one needs to cultivate that unconditional love in one’s relationship with self.  This is when you are your best friend, cheerleader and strongest advocate.

Tara Brach: Trance of Unworthiness

Tara Brach’s Article: Awakening from The Trance of Unworthiness is a powerful piece regarding the notion that many people struggle with a sense of unworthiness.  The trance of unworthiness for some  people, including me, may start with an internal or external trigger (someone saying hurtful words) which activates a thought, “I am not enough”, and  a million pieces of reasons to justify unworthiness and inadequacy. Once this unworthiness belief is triggered, it flows like the unfiltered flow of a gushing river, contributing to different negative feelings (e.g. sadness, sorrow, anger) and less motivation to practice self-compassion. One of my “go to” mechanisms or autopilot strategies to deal  with the unworthiness trance previously had been to please people to seek  their approval or achieve more so that “inadequacy belief” is deactivated. As I have grown older and worked on myself in therapy and other practices of self -compassion, I have learned to not go on autopilot “pleasing mode”. I love Tara Brach’s  recommendation that when you notice the trance of unworthiness, you engage in the “sacred behavior of pause” . I also think  Tara Brach’s model of R.A.I.N  , a model that outlines self care and breaking out of the trance of unworthiness, is powerful. Tara describes R.A.I.N. as:

“Recognize what is happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion.”.  (www.Tarabrach.com)

The R.A.I.N model is wonderful and Tara Brach has developed meditations on this practice. One thing I would add is to recognize and experience feelings in a safe place and examine what core beliefs about unworthiness may be contributing to the feelings. It is also important to identify triggers: internal triggers (frustration about something) or external triggers (words of another person) which activate beliefs of unworthiness.

Sister BK Shivani : Self-Love

In her talk about Loving Yourself when Other people Disrespect you, Sister BK Shivani discusses the powerful act and development  of self-love and knowing the self so that other’s opinions of us do not impact us. Her talk highlights the need to practice  unconditional positive regard in one’s relationship to self.  She discusses other people’s disrespectful views and comments as based on their experiences and little to do with us. She also discusses strategies of self compassionate thoughts to promote self- love. Sister Shivani reminds people they have a  powerful soul with a will. She summarizes three strategies when you are faced with disrespectful behaviors from others:

1. Absorb the negative comments,

2.Reflect it back to the person which may create to more hostility

3.Transform the disrespectful behavior. Sister Shivani stated that when one has self-love, one realizes that other people’s comments are low energy vibrations coming these people’s experiences. Sister Shivani talks about not reacting to the disrespectful comments but choosing to respond intentionally with high vibration, positive response. This is consistent with Eleanor Roosevelt’s brilliant and insightful quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. When we cultivate true unconditional positive regard for self, we are less likely to be reactive to other’s comments, but intentionally decide on a effective course of action.

 

Power of Self -worth and Self-love

In working with people in psychotherapy and observations of my own growth,  I have noticed powerful changes in the psyche as self-worth and self- love crystallizes. There may be initial  negative feelings, such as sadness, anger and frustration,  regarding the suffering that one has experienced from the emotional wound. Working with a good therapist is important in creating a safe space to discuss feelings and learn to manage negative feelings. There may be frustration about  adoption of old erroneous beliefs of “not enough” which led to suffering in the past and present.  Often we adopt these old beliefs unconsciously. Part of healing is conscious identification of false beliefs which drove our behavior. We have to remind ourselves why these old beliefs developed? What purpose did they serve? Did the old beliefs protect you? What are the pros and cons of letting go of beliefs of self- inadequacy? Can we thank the old beliefs in how they helped us in the past and now let them go gently? No need to beat up old belief systems.

Letting go of beliefs of self-  inadequacy can be frightening. Letting go is often a revolutionary and radical process of shedding the old to embrace the new. They shake up  the person who is letting go of old beliefs and people in his or her life. While nurturing self-worthiness, new beliefs emerge (e.g. “I am enough”, “I honor myself with all of me, my strengths and weaknesses”, “I am worth it”,  “I am a good person, even if I am currently struggling in certain circumstance”). As new beliefs or thoughts of worthiness emerge, a person is more likely to experience positive emotions and engage in positive behaviors.  There may be struggle between old beliefs of self-inadequacy and new belief of self-worth. That is ok. Goal is to recognize and cultivate new beliefs while challenging old beliefs until old beliefs become old tapes you can easily discard.  I advise clients in transformation, “Give yourself an OSCAR for new beliefs and how they manifest in your life”.

When people acquire a sense of self- worth, self- love and self -acceptance, there is tremendous shift in self- empowerment. What I mean by self-empowerment is sense of power, worth and agency over self and own life. There may be a lesser need to have power over others. People tend to live life more intentionally (active choice to say “Yes ” and “No” ). People may have a dawning sense of purpose. People focus and exert diligence  and persistence in their purpose driven work. They are more likely to discern and selectively choose people they want in their immediate circle, release toxic relationships and refuse to take responsibility for other people’s behaviors. People, who recognize their own worth, are more likely to integrate people, who bring out the best in them.  The Michael Angelo effect is a concept  where partners or close friends see the wonder in each other and bring out the best in each other. Just like Michael Angelo “saw” the statute of “David”  in the marble which led him to  sculpt the magnificent statue, David.

People with growing self -worth realize that trying to fix other people is not necessary and stop rescuing others. People with dawning sense of worth often report in therapy that it is frightening. One woman said in therapy, “This self-love is wonderful but I am scared about where this is leading? Am I to cut off all my relationships?”. I reminded her that self worth means she is in control of how she mediates her relationships . We discussed that cultivation of self -love and self -worth can happen in quiet places. There is a need to be selective of choosing people who are worthy of knowing and supporting your growth. You get to choose situations where you want to share your voice (e.g. Pick your battles or challenging situations to address). The other aspect of self -worth is recognizing shifts in relationships with others, where people (pre-empowerment) may not like the gain of self- worth and acceptance in you, especially as you develop your voice, and express opinions and exit “pleasing mode”. People also with growing sense of worthiness start trusting their decisions and intuition. There is freedom from self-comparison to others. They are less likely to be pestered by relentless questions ( Am I good enough? Are there others in the room better or worse than me?).  People with unconditional positive regard to themselves experience joy and peace without need to accomplish all the time. I find they learn how to rest and relax mentally and physically. One question to ask yourself is what are costs and pros of developing beliefs of self -worth and self -love? 

 True self- worthiness or self-love again involves the duality: unconditional love and acceptance that you have for yourself (personhood) versus  compassionate examination of behaviors which need change. Self love is not being grandiose, seeking perfection and denial of things we need to work on. Self love is an act of courage, sitting with paradox of unconditional love for self versus open- minded, curious to start the adventure of what aspects or behaviors we need to work on. It is acknowledging our “shadow” side, working on healing shadow aspect without beating yourself up. Self-forgiveness is also important and remember that self-growth includes cultivation of growth mindset (realization that self- growth includes struggle, self compassion when mistakes are made and we can learn from mistakes with psychological flexibility to try different strategies). Adoption of growth mindset means we are works in progress. My observation is that people are harder with judgment on self than others. True self- love and self- compassion deems us worthy to receive love and give love to others. We are able to stand up for ourselves firmly and gently. No need to beat anyone else up.

 

Spiritual Aspects of Self-Love, Self-Worth and Self-Acceptance

For a faith based person, I wonder if self-worth, self- love and self -acceptance is a part of identifying as being “Child of God” (Highest of the High). I wonder about people exposed to the idea that they are “Children of God” , but do they really believe it? This belief that I am a child of God is something I remind myself often. I would like to share an example of mindfulness experiences in my twenties, when I was experiencing some difficult times. I remember asking the questions (Who am I?, Why am I going through this difficult time?) right before the mindfulness /meditation session. I was stunned by my inner voice or wise part of self stating “You are created in love”. This was a mind blowing experience .  Perhaps, this  journey in human form, including overcoming adversity, is to discover the love within, created by the Divine Source.  This identification that I am a child of  God as a fifty year old woman means, not arrogance, but spectacular humility and awe that I am a tiny speck created with love by God, Majestic King of the Universe,  in His infinite grand design.  It means I am not less or more than another human being. I am me. Not defined by educational or job achievements. Not defined by relationships. Not defined by my status in the world. I am a spiritual person in a human body (mind-body), loved by the Divine Source, originating from the Divine Source and one day will go back to the Divine Source. This is a stance I have to cultivate daily. This practice is good on some days and not so good in other days. However, I love the practice of self- affirmation as “Child of God”.

 

Message of Peace Pilgrim, an American Saint, who lived through 1918 pandemic.

Peace Pilgrim, an American Saint and Mystic. Her message is of one inner peace, world peace, love and faith. I recently received the Friends of Peace Pilgrim Newsletter (number 66, Summer 2020) where they featured an article, “Peace Pilgrim’s Advice for Troubled Times” as we are living in an era of a pandemic, economic collapse, and political turmoil. According to the newsletter, when Peace Pilgrim was  ten years old, a pandemic flu outbreak struck the United States and the world, with over 15,000 people died in the Philadelphia area (she lived near Philadelphia), and 50 million people died worldwide. In her life time, she experienced the decade long Great Depression in 1929, where 25% of the population was out of work and food lines were common. She lived through two World wars, Korean war, civil rights movement, Vietnam War and Peace Movement and threat of nuclear disaster.  This woman had seen crises and suffering.

I had read about Peace Pilgrim many years ago, but, her story was not at the top of my mind lately. Some call Peace Pilgrim a modern day “St. Francis of Assisi”.   As I watched a documentary, Peace Pilgrim: An American Sage who Talked her Talk, I felt very reenergized and reinvigorated after the exhaustion of the 2020 pandemic.  She described herself as a pilgrim. She defined pilgrim as a wanderer with a purpose. She stated that pilgrimage can involve traveling to a place or having a  purpose. She described herself as a Peace Pilgrim, on the journey to promote peace..  This post is a reflection of how this American saint maintained such goodness, depth of faith in her walk for peace through difficult times in the world. I am in awe of her. I cannot truly fathom the depth of her spiritual grounding. But, it gave me great peace reading about her as we are in an era of turbulence politically, economically in the midst of a pandemic. My goal is to share what I understood from reading and watching a documentary about this incredible women, hero of humanity, embodiment of the Sacred. Her words and lived experiences represent such honesty and truth– something we need to hear about more in our world. I have no idea how she maintained such strong faith in her pilgrimage through the years. My hope is that readers find  inner peace, and joy in getting to know this incredible woman. As I talked with Jeff Blom (described later),  he said ” what is remarkable about her is not content of her  message, but that she lived her message” with humanity, authenticity, truth, simplicity and Divinity in a fearless way.

 

WHO WAS SHE?

Picture of Peace Pilgrim
Permission of Jeff Blom (Friends of Peace Pilgrim)
www.peacepilgrim.org)

Farm Girl to Peace Prophet

Peace Pilgrim (July 18, 1908 – July 7, 1981), born Mildred Lisette Norman, was an American spiritual teacher, saint and mystic.  In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian trail in one season. She wrote that she decided that 1952 is the appropriate time to start a pilgrimage given the Korean war and the country raging with McCarthyism. She talked about McCarthyism included congressional committees considering people guilty without giving them a chance to prove their innocence. She talked about great fear seizing the country and one of the safest responses for people was apathy. She felt that she had to start her journey as a pilgrim in 1952. She defined that  the job of a pilgrim is to awaken people from apathy and think for themselves. In January 1, 1953, she adopted the name “Peace Pilgrim” in Pasadena, California. She walked across the United States for 28 years, speaking with others about peace. She died while on her  seventh cross-country journey on  peace pilgrimage. .

In watching a documentary about her, Peace Pilgrim discussed that she discovered the power of choice and that choices determine a life course. She described an incident when she was a teenager at a party and someone offered her a cigarette and she realized that she can say “NO” and she did so. The documentary has a piece where Peace Pilgrim talks about her divorce and she walked all night to find her purpose. She stated that nearing dawn, she stood in a pool of moonlight and she served herself to be used by a Higher Power. She stated that there is a difference between wanting to serve a Higher Power and then actually doing it. Peace Pilgrim talked about fifteen years of preparation before she could also serve her Higher Power.

Peace Pilgrim’s Message

Despite the troubling times she lived through, her message  is consistent. Peace Pilgrim’s  message is that the way of peace is to “overcome evil is with good, falsehood with truth, hatred with love”. She believed in our power of thoughts in creating our realities and that a prominent universal law is love. She stated that darkness and evil exists in the world, but, it cannot survive because it is not grounded in love. Her point is that what is grounded in love grows and flowers. She is not affiliated with any religion or wisdom tradition and she stated in the documentary that her religion is “Universal Truth”. She  achieved God realization on her own walk.

Peace Pilgrim’s Conceptualization of God

In the video clip, Conception of God , Peace Pilgrim is asked the question “What is your Conception of God”.  She stated that she asked this question of “Who Is God?” at age 16 years old and she could not find answers from others. She stated that she woke up after sleep one day and the answer came from within her. She stated that  she saw God as “we human beings lumped together, everything in the Universe beyond the (collection of all of us collectively,) … some us, not all of us, some of us give the name God, …others give other names”. She stated that she saw God as the Creative Force and Sustaining Force that makes trees grow and holds the planets in orbit. She added that God is an overall Intelligence which governs the Universe : physical laws govern the material world and spiritual laws govern the spiritual world. She stated that she saw God as “Goodness, Love, Beauty and Kindness”.

She described that in her awakened or enlightened state she view God as an “Ever present, All Pervasive Spirit which binds everything together and she is in God and God is in her and that in relationship with God, there is no loneliness or fear. Her fearlessness is just incredible in that being a woman she wandered through city’s slums, vast wilderness, and never asked for money, food or shelter. She was a homeless pilgrim for about 28 years with inner certainty that her needs were going to be taken care of. This is mind blowing reading about her walk in faith as so genuine and true in our modern world.

To my human mind, I cannot fathom the depth of her faith and fearlessness to wander for peace  as a woman. I am a woman fearful of going out for walks in the dark within a gated community without someone else accompanying me. She did this day in and out and she was protected. As I learned about her, I was also stunned that she did not want followers and urged everyone to not just accept other’s teachings but analyze, and deconstruct spiritual teaching and make decision to embrace teaching after critical thinking. Another comment of her that struck me is her belief that the energy one brings out in the world leads to what one encounters in the world. She stated that conflict is based on opposing thoughts and beliefs. She also identified that the greatest obstacle to inner peace and world peace is fear and we learn to hate what we fear. One of her quotes about remedy of the sick world, “The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replaced by love, and fear by faith that love will prevail” (Friend’s of Peace Pilgrim Newsletter:  Number 66, Summer 2020). Her distinction of the fundamental difference choice of love  versus fear is very consistent with other great spiritual masters. Her love for humanity is demonstrated with her belief that all her books should be freely given to anyone who asks as “Truth cannot be sold”.

She summarized her point that to have friends, one must be a friend. Her comments on living in the present, eliminate worry, do good as service even if you may not see the fruits in your lifetime and necessity of exercise are very consistent with themes discussed in different religious/spiritual  traditions. Peace Pilgrim also believed that difficulties are opportunities for inner growth. She added that the more difficult the nature of our problems, the greater the potential for our inner growth and development. Her choosing her outlook to live in peace, for peace and cultivate her faith in God and love in the middle of terrible circumstances highlight a core principle of  positive psychology and resilience : we may not have control over immediate circumstances, but, we have a choice of how we respond to the situation. It is also consistent with views of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and  positive psychology.

Conversation with Jeff Blom

I talked to Jeff Blom on 1-3-2021, who is a volunteer of Friends of Peace Pilgrim, which is an entirely volunteer organization that freely distributes Peace Pilgrim’s books. Mr. Blom stated that “Peace Pilgrim walked for peace for 28 years without ever asking for food or shelter or money”. He stated that she was an American saint and believed that all paths lead to the mountain top (God). He said “She was not affiliated with any organized religious tradition but came to God Realization on her own path and she believed that God’s Grace is for all of humanity, regardless of any particular religious traditions or practices”. He stated that he saw her give two speeches and this “changed his life”. He said that based on Indian culture, there is history of saints and she is an American saint.  In India, I grew up with the saying that God sends saints to remind humanity Who God is and How He is in the midst of Humanity. In India, people engage in pilgrimages to visit saints to touch the feet of Divinity, Holiness and the Sacred Realm.

I learned from Jeff that that Friends of Peace Pilgrim distribute free books about her life and peace to anyone requesting copies. They also publish two newsletters every year.

The address: is Friends of Peace Pilgrim, P.O. Box 2207, Shelton, CT 06484. Phone: (203) 926-1581.

Website: www.peacepilgrim.org

Email: friends@peacepilgrim.org

Donations to this organization which is totally volunteer based to Keep Peace Pilgrim’s Message, would be appreciated, but not required.  Jeff advised that people interested in her books should call the number or access website to request free material. Peace Pilgrim’s books have been distributed far and wide in the world. Friends of Peace Pilgrim have published and distributed  over 400,000 copies of the book, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, and over 1.5 million copies of the booklet, Steps Toward Inner Peace, since 1983. Books and booklets have been distributed  to over 100 different countries.  Translation of book occurred into 12 languages and booklet translated to over 20 languages.

Peace Pilgrim's works
Permission of Jeff Blom (Friends of Peace Pilgrim) www.peacepilgrim.org

Peace Pilgrim’s Works

Interestingly, her books have been sent to congressional leaders. Peace Pilgrim’s basic philosophy in mediation is that a deal cannot be successful and sustainable  unless it a win-win situation, aiming for the highest good for all. Hope this book lands in the hands of our country’s political leaders making decision for the welfare of people in 2021.

“There is NO GLIMPSE OF THE LIGHT without walking the path. You can’t get it from anyone else, nor can you give it to anyone .Just take whatever steps seems seems easiest for you, and as you take a few steps it will be easier for you to take a few more”. Peace Pilgrim

 

Magnificence of ARCHIE WILLIAMS’ Story of Faith, Hope, Resilience and Not Letting The Sun Go Down

Practices of keeping the faith and hope alive and well are key to getting through the pandemic. I was  stunned and amazed when I saw a video clip of Archie Williams’s singing Elton John’s song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on me” in America’s Got Talent  (May, 2020) episode. He has a powerful and gifted voice and when you hear his story, you will never hear this song as before, as discussed by America’s Got Talent judge, Simon Cowell. Mr. Williams discussed that age 22, he was sentenced to prison for life without parole for murder of a woman. He denied any involvement in the murder and three people testified that he was sleeping at home during the murder.  He was charged with murder based on false identification. He discussed being a young African-American man with limited financial resources and he could not fight state of Louisiana’s prosecutors who were determined that someone had to pay for the murder of a Caucasian woman. Institutionalized discrimination in the legal system may have been a factor in his incarceration. This post is a discussion and reflection of Archie Williams’s faith, hope and resilience in overcoming an unthinkable unjust situation of wrongful incarceration for 37 years and walking out with truth and victory.

Faith

Mr. Williams described being incarcerated at a Louisiana State Penitentiary “Angola Prison” (high security) for 37 years for something he did not do. He talked about  reliance on his faith, prayer and singing to get through the dark times for peace. He related to the story of Joseph who was imprisoned and sold to slavery by his brothers in Egypt. While in prison, Joseph became friends with Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker and interpreted their dreams. These officials, well connected with Pharaoh, told the Pharaoh about Joseph. The Pharaoh asked Joseph about his dreams . Joseph  successfully interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams. This led to the Pharaoh elevating Joseph to be an important member of the court, with abundance of wealth and influence.  Mr. Williams may have created a faith based meaning system of facing extreme injustice valiantly and triumphing in the end, like Joseph  in the Bible. Joseph’s story reminds me that in faith, we are always under the watch of the Divine Source, both at our highest and lowest points in life.

 

Resiliency: Power of Choice

Mr. William’s interviews demonstrated his understanding and application of resiliency theory while in prison. He stated that he decided that even if the prison system incarcerated his body, they could not imprison his mind. He eloquently described that “freedom is in the mind” and his thought patterns. He is so right. In terms of psychotherapy, I see people imprisoned by their belief systems and thought patterns. A major goal of psychotherapy is to help clients understand their maladaptive thought patterns and learn to challenge or transform them. Another key decision that Mr. Williams made is when he stated that when faced with incarceration (factor out of his control), he could be either “weak” or “strong”. The choices of being “weak” or “strong” were within his control. He said that he decided to be “strong” and nurture his freedom in his mind. Therefore, even though he did not have control over the situation of incarceration, he had control over his response to the situation.

Hope

Mr. Williams talked about maintaining hope that God will deliver him. He practiced his hope through visual imagery of imaging himself singing on stage at America’s Got Talent, as he watched the show in prison. His application for review of his case was accepted by the Innocence Project, which used modern DNA technology to finally get him released. The process of being cleared legally through the justice system took 20 years. He entered the prison system at age 22 and was released 37 years later. He also talked about coaching in the boxing program in prison as focus of attention. He stated that after he decided to not engage in boxing program, he was punished and sent to solitary confinement for years.

He was released from prison in March 2019 and appeared on America’s Got Talent show in May 2020. His performance of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was incredibly powerful, as if the song was written for him. Mr. Williams described his loss of 37 years of his life in prison for something he did not do as “The Sun Coming Down On Me”. I cannot imagine such horrendous injustice, grief and loss. I cannot imagine enduring through such darkness. I cannot image how he can state that after being released from prison for something he did not do, he has no anger but forgiveness based on his faith. It is beyond conception how Mr. Williams maintained his faith and hope in such devastating circumstances. If I ever have the opportunity to interview Mr. Williams, I will ask if he ever felt abandoned by God, perhaps even for a moment? I will ask whether he experienced peace because he knew that he did nothing wrong? Did he ever have any moment of anger and hatred towards God to permit something like this to happen to him at such a tender age? I know hatred and anger towards God are taboo subjects. But if faith is based  on relationship to the Divine Source, can there be space for both love of God and hate when things are too painful, just like in relationships with others? I read somewhere that in our walk with God, we can be honest with our feelings because He knows anyway. Honesty is a critical element in any relationship for deeper connection and intimacy..

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Interestingly, I was watching a commencement  speech by Oprah Winfrey where she stated  three important pieces of advice for life. Oprah’s three pieces of advice are:

1. Do you know who you are? What is your purpose?

2. Are you Serving with Significance?,

3. Doing the right thing will always bring peace of mind.  (Motivation Madness You tube.com: Oprah Winfrey’s Life Advice Will Change Your Life. (March 1, 2018).

These three points made by Oprah Winfrey gave me a lot to think about. In reading about Archie William’s experiences, he seemed to define himself according to his relationship with God, serve and nurture his body, mind and soul to come out of such terrible darkness and his knowledge that he did nothing wrong contributed to his peace. It again speaks to the power of truth.  It affirms the Buddha’s quote “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”.  Archie Williams’s story strikes me with awe and  amazement  in a way that I cannot express in words. I feel a warm smile in the depths of my heart regarding the victory of Archie Williams. In our current era, where  media consultants  are paid to “spin” stories, Mr. William’s testament highlights that truth matters. Character matters. Dignity matters. Goodness of the human spirit matters. Hope matters. Faith matters. Connection to the Divine Source matters.

Grounding Strategies When You are Struggling to Eat, Pray or Love

This year, 2020, has been  a year characterized by experiences of groundlessness or crises for many people : a year of losses upon losses, hunger crises, job loss, political turmoil and COVID-19 surges upon surges that “test the mind, body and soul”. I am going to revisit the concepts from an earlier post on  grounding and  groundlessness in moments of grief,  crises  and add what  the resiliency literature states about recovery. Groundless refers to experiences where a person feels like the world that they knew  no longer exists due to a traumatic event, like losses. I describe groundlessness experiences as so destabilizing and decentering that people struggle with basic activities, such as eating,  praying and reaching out to others for support .  Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray and Love”, one of my favorite books,  fundamentally describes basics of living. Therefore, I describe groundlessness as moments when you are struggling “to eat, pray or love”. Grounding techniques are strategies to maintain habitual patterns of living to carry on when facing significant losses. My assumption is that grounding techniques play a role in resiliency or overcoming adversity. This post is a discussion of grounding techniques from Dr. Lucy Hone’s TED TALK (Three secrets of resilient people). Dr. Hone has also published books on “resilient grieving” based on her personal experiences of loss of her 12 year old daughter  and research in resiliency literature. In her TED TALK, Dr. Hone discusses three powerful strategies that she used to deal with the painful and devastating loss of her 12 year old daughter and two friends. She stated that these techniques helped her live (grounding) as she has two other children and husband and grieve (groundlessness) the painful feelings of her devastating loss. Please note that this is just one person’s perspective in dealing with loss. Please read  if the strategies are useful. If not, please ignore the strategies. I will also discuss points about resilience from Bhakti Sharma’s TED TALK (What open water swimming taught me about resilience).

GROUNDING STRATEGIES

Dr. LUCY HONE’S TED TALK : Three secrets of resilient people

Dr. Lucy Hone is a resiliency researcher, scholar in positive psychology and studied this area of resiliency extensively, but , later in life she experienced the most devastating and unthinkable loss ever, loss of her 12 year old daughter. When she faced this horrendous experience, she reviewed her knowledge of resiliency literature and discovered three strategies, which she described in a TED TALK. I will discuss Dr. Hone’s Strategies (in red). I have also added some of my own thoughts.

1.Resilient people believe and accept that shit or bad things happen in life. This can be dated to Buddha’s noble truth that life involves suffering. Bishop T.D. Jakes recently spoke very powerfully in his sermon “Stay in the Fight” about the notion that have people become too comfortable in our era that they forget part of life is suffering and moving onward. He spoke elegantly about the human condition involving struggle and that God allows struggles in this world.. Although, I love Bishop T.D. Jakes sermons, I found myself irritated by this sermon as I had a tough long day. I kept thinking, “How much more suffering will God allow?”.

2. Resilient people focus on what one can change versus what one cannot change. They focus on what they can change. This is very similar to the  serenity prayer. I also agree with Lucy’s point that when in distress, people have difficulty separating what is in our control and what is not. As stated in the serenity prayer, we need wisdom to discern what is in our control versus out of our control. I have known people spending endless time, energy, thought, emotions and suffering trying to control people in their lives that they have  no control over.

In terms of things under our control, we need to ensure taking care of basic needs in grounding ourselves. I am going to mention some ideas: maintain safety and shelter, contact medical and mental health or other health professionals as needed, be honest and ask for help, eat healthy, maintain hydration, maintain sleep, normalize the act of receiving, access your support system for emotional support, strategies to maintain emotional hygiene (e.g. exercise, movement)  and take one day at a time. 

Prayer (if you are a person with a faith based practice).Another thought about prayer in crises is that trying to pray is enough because the Universal Divine Consciousness knows.   I love this concept.    I heard someone say that when she prays before sleep and drifts off to sleep without completing her prayer, her angels finish the prayer for her and God has heard her prayer. This is just beautiful. Additionally, remembering the statement “Do not be afraid in trusting an unknown future to a Known God” helps me a lot.  This includes the importance of reviewing all the struggles in your life that God has led you through already.

Dr. Hone discusses,  attention is something we have control over and she suggests cultivating focusing attention on what is positive and good in your world. Dr. Lucy Hone discusses that for evolutionary purposes, our ancestors, when noticing a tiger or beautiful rainbow, noted and dealt with the threat of the tiger as this means life or death. So per evolutionary psychology, we are wired to track negative events. So we need to intentionally cultivate a practice of noticing the positive. Dr. Lucy Hone discussed that  despite her immense grief, her practice of focusing on loving and taking care of her two sons kept her moving forward. She also discussed giving herself and her family permission that despite her and her family’s suffering, it is OK to look at the good things in her life.

 

3.When in times of distress, resilient people ask themselves in that very moment the critical question: “Is what I am doing helping me or not helping me at this moment?”. What is the most loving, kind, wholesome and  helpful compassionate thing I can do at this moment? Does this mean take deep breaths, listen to music, pray, read scripture, take a walk? Lucy Hone’s strategy is very powerful because the intention of self -compassion, and loving kindness to self is likely to generate  behaviors  which moves one through the distressing moments.

 

SELF-LOVE

BHAKTI SHARMA’s TED TALK: What open water swimming taught me about resilience.

This talk is about how are you handling your thoughts, self -love and cultivating mental strength. Ms. Sharma discussed that when swimming over long distances, she is faced with her own thoughts and mind as there are no mental distractions, or  escapes from herself. She talks with great insight that her long distance swimming endurance activities have taught her about revisiting one’s relationship with one’s mind and self. In other words, in our self talk (inner voice)are we being kind, comforting, loving, compassionate and nurturing to ourselves or being punitive and self-critical? Developing coping, loving and encouraging  kind self talk (“This too shall pass”) is more helpful than tearing oneself apart.  Ms. Sharma also discusses that when faced with herself in long distance swimming exercises, she discovered things in her she did not like. Perhaps, this pandemic has forced many people to face themselves as external distractions are minimal due to lockdown. People may be finding aspects of themselves that are wonderful, such as strength, resiliency  and endurance, and these aspects deserve   celebration.   However, perhaps some people  may find aspects of themselves they do not like at all. Again, self-compassion, loving kindness and gentleness with self-discovery is important. Carl Jung, one of my favorite psychologists wrote that every human being has positive aspects and negative aspects (shadow). According to Jung, the goal of therapy and self discovery is to shed light on the shadow parts and eventually integrate the positive and negative aspects of self into wholesomeness, not perfection. The journey to self-love, self-compassion, self acceptance and wholesomeness (discussion of wholesomeness in a later post) takes time. The best definition of wholesome is something which has a nourishing quality and promotes healthy growth.  Most people I know, including myself, are traveling in this journey to self love and wholesomeness. I know very few people who have arrived at total self acceptance,  self -love and wholesomeness.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In summary, in navigating through crises, we have to remember Buddha’s quote, “A jug fills one drip at a time. This is a powerful reminder that taking one step at a time is critical and one needs patience in overcoming struggles, especially experiences of groundlessness. We need to remind ourselves, “Rome was not built in a day”. Likewise, healing and recovery takes time.