In my last blog, I wrote about the connection between resistance and suffering, basic Buddhist tenets. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama reminds us when teaching Buddhism or Buddhist practices, the purpose is to encourage others to cultivate the the qualities of compassion, love, and wisdom within themselves (Simpkins & Simpkins, 2001, p. 79). I am not an expert in Buddhism, but these qualities resonate with me, particularly in the context of healing trauma and depression. A mindful approach to healing trauma and depression is grounded in fostering presence in the here and now, reframing negative thoughts and stories, meditation and mindful practices. As an existentialist, mindful approaches to healing make sense to me. Thus, I often introduce practices to support the cultivation of self-compassion, love and wisdom very early in the counseling process with my clients. In this blog, I will focus on techniques of fostering the qualities of self-compassion and self-love.
Zeuschner, 2001 identifies a Buddhist fundamental question: can suffering be eliminated? Existentialists and Buddhists respond yes. Suffering can indeed be eliminated, when one is able to accept negative conditions, situations or events as inevitable; how we choose to embrace and handle these challenges defines the experience of them. When we or clients can begin the process of disengagement to the stories that come in painful experiences, a shift from suffering to compassion can begin. Letting go of these stories is challenging, many feel the story defines them or their experience and is the "truth". While there may be truth in their story, it rarely is the bigger truth of life experience. Understanding this key difference encourages a safe, gentle opening of the heart to a new, reframed version of the story creating space for healing, self-compassion, self-love, gratitude and forgiveness.
Many find it much easier to feel compassion for others and not themselves. I find explaining self-compassion to be difficult, particularly for those who are in the depths of depression and negativity. One of the best definitions of compassion I have found is the process of "unpacking all your motives and other people's motives and get to the bottom of things...there you find love" (Tarrant, 2004, p. 13). There are 3 skills that make the necessary unpacking more concrete: identifying feelings, being with feelings and preventing negative story-telling.
The first step is identifying feelings, a basic counseling skill begins the process. Many clients in my practice have spent a great deal of their lives in avoidance of feelings and when encouraged to name what they feel, cannot. When this occurs, I give them a list of feeling words (easily be downloaded from the Internet). Once armed with this list, they are much more able to name what they feel. Next, they are encouraged to breathe into whatever feelings are present. The goal isn't to change what is felt, rather to stay with it, the “being with”. This pairing of skills is the beginning of mindfulness practice. This is important to reflect to clients as many belief they can't meditate or quiet their minds.
The third skill is imagining a stop sign in their mind's eye for use when they begin the story-telling. I advise clients to see it, to repeat STOP! repeatedly until able to redirect their mind while breathing. The stop sign prevents suffering as the old story isn't retold or relived.
Teach and practice these 3 skills and you'll find yourself and your clients much more able to foster self-compassion, and self-love.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com