Profound Acts of Self-love …

I have just been tidying my bedroom. Anybody with a dust allergy should approach that room with caution. Am I the only person with a stack of books ‘for reading’ on the bedside table but which have been there for several months and which are covered in professional magazines, academic journal articles, tissues, receipts, nail varnish bottles (oh, only me then?). Anyway I re-discovered Perfect Love Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart by John Welwood hiding there. As I glanced through the pages the words ‘self-love’ jumped out and I found myself drawn into reading more.

John Welwood talks about letting yourself have your experience. Too often we approach the difficult stuff in life from our experience as a helpless child when sadness and pain was too uncomfortable to bear. When we were young ‘our sadness was bigger that we were because we didn’t have the knowledge or capacity to process intense feelings. So our only choice was to shut down our nervous system in the face of our pain’ (p105).  As adults frequently we carry on doing this, either resisting our feelings or getting overwhelmed by them. He calls this unconscious suffering, when we become passively submerged or getting carried away by our feelings.

Welwood suggests that we actively meet, engage with and open to our feelings – “yes this is the feeling that’s here” (e.g. anger, grief, loneliness, despair) and in doing so we free ourselves from the grip of that emotion. By opening to our fear or pain and allowing ourselves to experience that opening we may get to discover that the ‘openness is more powerful than the feelings you’re opening to. …This discovery puts you in touch with your capacity for strength, kindness, stability, and understanding in the face of whatever you are going through. This is conscious suffering’ (p106).

John Welwood is a psychotherapist and he writes that in his experience of working with clients (and himself) he sees that if you can let ‘your experience happen, it will release its knots and unfold, leading to a deeper, more grounded experience of yourself. No matter how painful or scary your feelings appear to be, your willingness to engage with them draws forth your essential strength, leading in a more life-positive direction. …You are saying yes to yourself as you are, as you are feeling right now. This is a profound act of self-love’ (emphasis added, pp106-7).

As I sat with a young father dying of cancer I am reminded yet again how this act of self-love is not easy work, that saying ‘yes, this is what I’m feeling and I can open to it’ is painful and oftentimes frightening but that doing so can lead to paths of healing (not cure of course). We have danced gently with opening to what is in our work together.

In the last few months I too have tried to dance and open to the difficult and the painful; ultimately it has been an experience of coming home to myself and has lead back to a greater appreciation of life and a rediscovery of the gifts of self-acceptance and self-love. It wasn’t easy and it took time but it was so very worthwhile.

How would it be for you to experience conscious suffering? Perhaps you practice this already. Please share your experiences below – We’d love to hear what you think

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What Does Self-Compassion have to do with Weight Loss?

Did you know that it appears as if developing greater self-compassion can aid with weight loss? Having recently coming back from holiday carrying a little excess baggage myself (great tapas and cMai_Taiocktails in Almeria…)  I was interested to read a recent piece of research (Mantzios & Wilson, 2014) that suggested mindfulness with self-compassion meditation was more effective at helping people lose weight over a 6 month period than mindfulness meditation on its own or, it was suggested, plain old fashioned dieting.

Given the emotional pain dieting has caused me over the years I’m wary about suggesting that self-compassion is the latest fad in weight loss and yet it seems to me that a kind, caring voice that accepts that we’re all human, we all over eat sometimes and that is not the end of the world can encourage us to return to healthier eating patterns. I find that a loud self-critic shouting at me, telling me how disgusting and weak I am is guaranteed to encourage self-hatred, depressive thoughts and anxiety about my self-image.

Hence I am SO glad to have found my kinder voice which says a few extra pounds is the price to pay for having a wonderful time away and that if I gently watch what I eat and increase my exercise a little more then the excess will slowly disappear.

In this study of soldiers in Greece, the group that combined self-compassion meditation with mindfulness meditation lost significantly more weight than either the group practising purely mindfulness or the control group. The study has its flaws but I think it shows the potential of self-compassion to impact so many aspects of life.

Are you aware of how you speak to yourself around image or weight? Could you do with developing a kinder, wiser voice? Do leave a comment below- it would be great to hear from you. X


Mantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2014). Exploring Mindfulness and Mindfulness with Self-Compassion-Centered Interventions to Assist Weight Loss: Theoretical Considerations and Preliminary Results of a Randomized Pilot Study. Mindfulness (N Y). doi: 10.1007/s12671-014-0325-z

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The Compassion Games – Survival of the Kindest

I’m copying here a newsletter I was emailed. I can’t find the link to it so I thought I would just copy it in it’s entirety for you.  Have a look at the inspiring and exciting Compassion Games website and read all about it – I was SO inspired, it gives me hope in these dark times. What can we do? It’s challenging me to think about how compassionate can I be each day; what random act of kindness can I show  today? What about you? Do leave a comment below.

Special Newsletter: The Compassion Games

by Sande Hart and John Ramer

No other initiative has struck a nerve, inspired the uninspired, raised the eyebrow of the skeptic, or got the attention of the weary and the tired as the Compassion movement.  And no other idea to mobilize people into a new way of being compassionate has been more creative, effective and awe inspiring as the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest.

Showing up in the most unexpected places, organizing in formations unseen before, expanding and deepening in ways no one could have designed, the Compassion Games is proving to be a license to dream and find new solutions to old problems. What’s more, the Games make it OK to do serious work and have fun while doing it.

Inspired when Mayor Greg Fischer suggested his city of Louisville, KY was “ the most compassionate city until proven otherwise,” Jon Ramer of Compassionate Seattle took him up on it. Both great cities put their days of community service in the ring and the Compassion Games were on. It did not take long before other cities heard the same challenge. Los Angeles and Orange County CA, Nashville, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New York City, even Gurgaon India galvanized their communities and proved they knew what “coopetition” means.

One House.  One Heart. In the spirit of  the Native American expression “Nawt-sa-maat” (phonetic), which means One House. One Heart. One Prayer. United in Power to Protect the Sacred, the Compassion Games remind us that we are one human family and there’s a timeless way to accomplish our goals of creating a more compassionate and beloved community. We want to restore the word “compete” back to it’s latin origins of “strive together”. Somewhere along the way, society created a whole different meaning and we think it’s time to return to its roots. The word “coopetition”, which has long been in the dictionary, is being dusted off and lifted to a more significant, and we hope, more commonly used word.

Between the dates of 9/11-9/21 compassionate action has a point value. Whether you are cleaning up your community, reading to children, sitting in meditation, praying for everyone you pass by, or the endless list of ways to be compassionate, it counts. Each act of compassion, hour of service, dollar raised for a non-profit, person served translates into a countable point. When you submit your personal or team’s points on the Compassion Map found on the Compassion Games website, the world can see your compassion and the coopetition heats up on the Leaderboard found on the Home page.

Us humans are wired for compassion. We are also wired to respond to a threat and competition threatens our survival. To survive we have to get fierce, creative and find the fastest way to the most resilient solution. The Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest provides the opportunity to strive to survive and thrive, but only when everyone else survives and thrives too.

Building Community

Since 2009 members of the interfaith community in Orange County CA have been engaged in an annual weekend of community service. Synagogues, mosques, the BaHa’i Center, Christian Science Reading Room, and several churches participated each year along with the greater community. Then, in 2013 they added the Compassion Games to their effort, simply adding the point system and amplifying their service on the Compassion Map. Overnight, they doubled their volunteerism and 5 new faith institutions joined in. It was clear that each one wanted very much to show the rest of the community just how compassionate they were and no one wanted to be left out.  When the Games were over and the points were tallied the mosque who clearly tallied the most points asked “did we win anything?” Their answer, “yes, you get to go to the synagogue next year and help them beat you.” Everyone wins. Love wins.

The Prison Compassion Games

Love wins in the most unsuspecting places. When Rev. Shayna Lester, a volunteer chaplain at the CA Institution for Women, women’s prison heard about the Games, she knew she had to bring it to the inmates.

Immediately the women responded and self organized. They appointed leadership, created “games” and agreed on how they would account for their points. They agreed to play in housing units and identified their teams by color.  They coined the term “Compassionistas” and came up with games like; walk away from gossip, do a kind deed for another, let another go ahead of you in line, share magazines, food, personal items. And because they understand that everyone wins, it was requested that the Compassionistas who played would celebrate on the final day with a thickly frosted cake; a delicacy. And out of respect for the unit with the highest points, the frosting was in the color of that unit. In the history of this (and likely any) prison, during the 11 days of the Compassion Games there were no recorded incidents of violence. They asked us to visit them last week to help them come up with new games. They did not need my help.  As we sat there in a circle of about 30 women, I could not write fast enough all the ideas they were flooding my way. They added; self compassion, free listening, suicide prevention counseling, free relaxation foot massages, talk to someone you don’t like and enforced walking away from gossip. Together we created the game  “3 points for not being compassionate.” You get 1 point for noticing, and you only get the 3 points if you double up on being compassionate (to yourself or others) immediately. “Fake it ‘til you make it” said one inmate. We call that “Being into a new way of thinking.”

The Compassion Games provide a sense of humanity for these women who have made the decision to be as positive as possible while “behind the gates”. We could all learn from that philosophy in life. What “gates” are we living behind, and how can compassion help us to break free? The Games usher us there.

Expanding Constellations of Relationships

When people ask us how to play the Compassion Games, we immediately respond with, “Well, what are you already doing or what’s going on around you?- Do that!”. While you can make up your own acts of compassion, individual or for a team, we always invite you to amplify the compassionate action that already exists in your community. We don’t want to water down other’s efforts, we want to add a little secret yeast to your ingredients and watch it rise even higher and wider. When Jon Ramer, Compassion Games architect, founder, reluctant to call himself “Commissioner”, first designed the Games, he noticed We The World’s 11 Days of Global Unity between Sept 11 and Sept 21. Instinctively he knew those were the golden days of Compassion and, in the spirit of supporting another’s effort, reached out to Rick Ulfik of We The World who immediately blessed the idea.

Because September 21st is the United Nations International Day of Peace, we encourage our teams to honor that day during their closing ceremonies. Our friends at The UN Cities Peace Team, Cities for Peace, and of course, Monica Willard and Deborah Moldow, the co-chairs of the UN NGO Committee for International Day of Peace are delighted to have the additional attention and intention. Everyone wins. International Peace wins.

Compassion Games Education Coach adds School Games in October

We say “Yes” a lot at the Compassion House, Seattle HQ’s for The Compassion Games International. When Education Coach Rahbin Shyne brought the Games to her own Compassion curriculum in her High School in Long Beach, CA she could feel her already beefy compassion muscle getting bigger. She started reaching out to other schools and inspiring our Education League as “Education Coach”. The first things she suggested we do is encourage schools to play between the dates of October 15 – October 25, the 25th being National Make A Difference Day, a program of the U.S. National Points of Light organization. Without hesitation, we said, YES!”. If it makes sense to teachers and helps to promote Make A Difference Day, then Yes!

Culture of Compassion Coach transforms a county

When social worker intern Lia Mandelbaum  first heard about the Games, she brought them to her boss on campus at Roybal Learning Center High School in Los Angeles. The Games were a wild success, demonstrating the transformative power of compassion over bullying, truancy, disciplinary issues and overall campus culture. Her boss Cherie Hudson recognized the brilliance of the Games and recommended Lia speak to the school based mental health providers for the entire county of Los Angeles. Between Lia, Rahbin and Sande, the 3 have spoken to 4 Areas in under 2 months. Each representative taking the Games to their respective campuses. Lia now serves as our “Culture of Compassion Coach” and she is writing her Master’s thesis on The Compassion Games.

The Divine Plan

In a conversation with LGBT champion, Stonewall veteran and my dear friend Erica Kay Webster about this wave of compassion, Sande suggested this was more than a movement but did not know how to describe it. Erica’s swift matter-of-fact reply, “It’s a divine plan”. And like any divine plan, it  requires we respond with grace, patience and faith.

As our momentum grows and our teams show up, our requests outnumber our capacity and in some case our bandwidth. In true divine spirit, the right solution always shows up. In our case, her name is T Anne Sukova, Director of  Volunteer Programs. Want to lend a hand to us as we midwife this divine plan forward? Call T Anne! Her pragmatic nature, coupled with a sense of humor (required of all of us) have lifted us all to the next level as Game Changers. There are lots of volunteer opportunities to join us on this divine journey of the heart. Bring your heart for data entry, programming, supporting one of our leagues, building partnerships with our partners, or whatever skill you have to contribute.

Several years ago we heard The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education founder Dr. James Doty state that Darwin never said “compassion is for the fittest.” He said compassion is for the most adaptable and cooperative. But even if he used the word, it begs us to reexamine what it means to be fit. A fit heart is one that loves, gives and knows compassion. A fit community and world is no different. The Compassion Games is how we strengthen our compassion muscle, inspire the compassion champion in each other and be fit together.

“Keep feeling the need to be first. But I want you to be first in Love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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A Big Thank You

I wanted to thank  those of you who sent in song suggestions for the self-compassion playlist. I was really thrilled by the thought and trouble you had gone to.
The Group was really energised this morning when I shared your ideas (I had copied and pasted them into a document and printed it out for them). The group shared fond laughter at remembered songs and some members found that they really resonated with some of your suggestions. There was a palpable sense of aliveness in the room.
I am deeply touched by your response and the impact it had on the Group. Thank you so much.
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Self-Compassion Playlist

This week I was introducing the self-compassion break  to a wonderful group of palliative care patients at a hospice where I work.

I’ve taken Kristin Neff’s ideas and amended them slightly in creating my own self-compassion break. This is something to fall back on in times of difficulty, pain, self-judgement etc. The self-compassion break is comprised of three elements which you repeat to yourself such as:

  • this is a moment of suffering (this hurts, just acknowledging it’s hard right now to be feeling this), so this is  a moment of suffering …
  • and suffering is part of the human experience, it’s part of human life, its ok we all go through it
  • so may I be kind to myself in this moment, may I give myself the compassion I need, and that’s key reminding myself what do I really need right now and then giving it to myself

The idea is to devise your own set of phrases that work for you and then memorise them a bit like a mantra. Mine are:

This is painful

Everybody hurts sometimes  (REM song!)

What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now/what do I need right now?

I explained that I had thought of the REM song to represent that sense of not being the only one in pain in this moment and the group really liked that linking to a piece of music. We had some fun playing around with some suggestions but we struggled a little with songs for the third element of ‘asking what’s the kindest thing I can do for myself now?’  I ran out of ideas but promised I would come back to them next Monday with a longer list.

But I’m struggling and would really welcome any ideas you have for suitable songs. Some suggestions so far are:

  • Free – Ultranate
  • Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water -Simon & Garfunkel
  • One -U2

If you can think of any songs (however weird and wonderful!) that for you capture a sense of self-kindness or would remind you to be kind to yourself  could you please, please post them in the Comments section below. That will really encourage others and get them inspired by your suggestions. And then I can take your ideas back to the group on Monday – and I think the thought that others have come up with some suggestions for them will be very powerful.  Thank you.

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