Perception - by Ellie Hyatt

The first definition in the dictionary of perception is “the way you think about or understand someone or something.” We all develop habitual patterns of thought that unconsciously interfere with perception. If the habitual patterns aren’t challenging enough to our ability to be present, consider there are many million of stimulus around me at all times and my ability to see them is greatly limited. I see what I am looking for. For example, have you ever noticed when you get a new car, you now notice the cars like yours? They have been there all along, you just didn’t “see” them.

I have heard it said about addiction, that it is a “disease of perception.” Iknow that my perception has been greatly impacted by my life experience and the unconscious conclusions I have reached starting in my childhood. At the same time, I believe when spirit is involved with my circumstances I can’t imagine the possibilities. These are important ideas but unless I have a way to apply them they are do not help me find acceptance or peace of mind when life circumstances are challenging and I am experiencing dis-ease!

It seems as I progress on this path to awakening to truth, I am asked to continue to grow and heal bypracticing my beliefs. The process of change begins with awareness. On the subject of perception,  I have become aware of a gap between what I say I believe and how I approach my life! I still spend a lot of time trying to “figure things out.” If I believe there is a limit in my ability to imagine what is possible, a more useful approach, when presented with a challenge, would be to involve spirit. 

In recent months this has become my new practice. When I become aware that my mind is stuck trying to change how I am thinking about something, I now ask spirit to show me another way to see the situation. Every timehave done this, I have experienced relief. I don’t necessarily get an new perspective immediately, but trust one will be given. I am then free to be present to whatever I am doing and sure enough I eventually see my situation with new possibilities!

 

A Loving Response to Hatred - Rev. Laura Davida Preves

Events of hardened hearts and soul sickness are a call for us to look within at our own hearts, thoughts and actions. 

This time in our country and our own lives is a perfect opportunity to practice the delicate balance of forgiveness - setting an appropriate limit while simultaneously blessing the heart of your perceived "enemy." 

Somewhere within that heart of hatred is a spark of love and gentleness. It is our job to see that part. To look beyond the behavior of fear and smallness that our eyes are seeing and perceive the beauty that has been so covered up and forgotten. This is where the healing is.

Yes, the actions of hatred must be stopped, however let us not meet hatred with our own hatred. Remember, appropriate limit setting with a gracious heart. Praying for the softening of the hearts of hatred whether it be your own or someone elses.

So be it.

Stillness Speaks by Ellie Hyatt

 

The title of this blog is the name of a book written by Eckhart Tolle. My first response to this idea is this is the opposite of our cultural values. We seem to value movement, doing, achieving. Which then brings me to consider what are we trying to achieve with our frenetic pace, the increasing speed of information?

 

For me, I was looking to achieve a sense of peace, which required gaining information, accomplishing things, and getting recognition. What I didn’t know was I was unconsciously trying to get away from my own interior. The part that was screaming at me hat something was wrong.

 

When I was first introduced to the idea of meditation it was in the 1980’s when I read a book by Dr.Herbert Benson, “The Relaxation Response.” I could see there was a lot of evidence a meditation practice would improve my physical health by reducing stress. Even though I thought it was a good idea. I did not begin to meditate, I thought I was too busy. Now that I reflect back, I was just too scared.. It was at least another 10 years when I took a mind, body, spirit program that I was taught to meditate and began this practice.

 

It was then I became conscious of how much stress I was creating for myself with my own thinking. I recognized that I was afraid of stillness because there was nothing to distract me from my own inner critic. I persisted with meditation initially because I wanted physical and emotional health. I was not consciously looking for spiritual health. I will tell you the good news now- whatever you are looking to gain with a meditation practice, you will gain all of the benefits, mind, body and spirit!

 

I have already talked about my challenge with self-acceptance in previous blogs. My focus with this blog is to explore stillness and how it speaks. The image that comes to mind is the ocean, or any body of water. There is often turbulence or activity on the surface. The surface is easily disturbed, just like my mind. When you go below the surface, there is stillness and the deeper you go the closeryou get to the grounding of the earth, the closer you get to soul or spirit.

 

This is all theory until you put it into practice. It requires trust in the possibility that I can get beyond the disturbance, to let go of the judgement of my inner critic and restore the connection to my true nature, my unsuspected inner resource. One way to begin is to take the image I heard in my meditation meeting today:  picture a stream entering one side of your head, as it flows through the mind it picks up the slugand negativity, and washes it out the the side. This is one of many possible images to allow the thoughts to just pass on by. I now accept that thoughts will continue to come during meditation and I can allow them to pass. Sometimes I don’t drop into stillness, but most days it gets quieter in my being as a result of meditation practice. I experience peace in the stillness, my heart opens and the love of my true nature flows out.

What Does It Mean To Be Safe - by Ellie Hyatt

I have given a lot of thought to the question, “what does it mean to be safe?” I think this question arose when I considered why was I scared so much of the time.

I now know part of the answer is understanding my human physiology; the unconscious part of my brain, the reptilian brain, that is always scanning to see if I am safe. I know this part of the brain is activated on average between 50-200 times per day. I am not in any physical danger most days, so what gets activated is my memories and my ideas about how things should be. It is not about physical safety, but emotional safety.

Most human beings have experienced trauma of varying degrees. It can be emotional, physical or both. Given this reality, how can I ever feel safe and get free of my past? Not surprisingly, the first step is to be present; to be aware of what I am experiencing. Becoming present allow me to choose a response.

Beyond that, it is useful to investigate “what does it mean to me to be safe?” If I am only safe when there is no pain or suffering in myself or those I love, I will never feel safe. If I am safe only when I am not afraid of death, I will never feel safe. Pain, suffering and death of our human body are all part of our human experience. As long as I resist reality, I will be afraid.

What allowed me to move from fear toward peace was finding a relationship with a Power greater than myself that cared for me.  It had sufficient power to carry me through the challenges of my daily experience and sufficient power to free me from my past emotional traumas. I learned to trust this Power was in me and was always available. I stopped judging painful experiences and began to look for what I was being asked to learn. I accepted “all is gift,” no matter how the experience looked.

I have concluded that my safety does not depend on external circumstances. It depends on my emotions sobriety.

Backdraft and Other Discoveries Along the Path - by Ellie Hyatt

When I began this recovery journey the list of things I knew was much shorter than the list of things I did not know. Honestly, maybe I wouldn’t have started if I had known what was involved. On the other hand, desperation is a pretty strong motivator and I also knew how I was living wasn’t working.

It became clear very early in my recovery journey my relationship with myself was broken. It was suggested I begin practicing acceptance and what I needed to accept first was my human condition. Years later when studying self-compassion, I was introduced to the idea of “Common Humanity” as defined by Kristin Neff.  It gave me information that helped me understand and accept my inner critical voice. 

In an earlier blog I talked about the negativity bias of the brain, the idea that we are hardwired for survival, not happiness. When I began to practice self-compassion as a response to this inner critic I was surprised by what happened. When I treat myself with care, my heart cracks open and the heat of the negativity that I have locked away explodes. Christopher Germer borrowed the term "backdraft" to explain this. "Backdraft" is a term used by firefighters and it describes what happens if oxygen is introduced to a fire. The fire explodes and grows in intensity.  Perhaps I didn’t recognize this rush of negative thoughts, upon opening my heart, was an indication for more healing and self-kindness.

Those negative feelings are not created by our kindness, rather we are simply re-experiencing them. When we give ourselves care, we often remember old messages, such as “I don’t deserve care.” 

Another way to understand this is explained by the following concept from A Course in Miracles -Love brings up to our awareness everything unlike itself.

What can we do when backdraft occurs? Once we recognize backdraft, the first step is to name it. Then see if you can name the emotion you are experiencing and validate it with a kind voice, for example- “oh, that’s grief.” It is helpful to explore where this emotion resides in your body. The idea is to stay with the discomfort and treat yourself with kindness. If nothing seems to be helping and the emotion feels overwhelming, the kindest response is to offer yourself care - behaviorally, ask yourself what do I need. 

When I am feeling emotionally overwhelmed my most common response is to pray for help or pick up the phone and call a trusted friend. I can allow the discomfort and give up my resistance to old memories and emotions. I can tell myself the truth, this is necessary for healing.

 

Shame and Striving by Ellie Hyatt

The following quote by Bob Stahl allowed me to make an important connection this week in my journey toward wholeness. “ The mind that’s perennially striving for a better place or condition creates suffering by leaving the present moment, which is the only place we can experience love, peace or happiness.

I only suffer when I am striving and the condition I most frequently want to change is any form of discomfort. I have spent the past few years studying and teaching compassion. I know striving to free myself from discomfort by criticism is based on a false belief, that there is something wrong with me. I now believe striving is based on shame.

Last week I finished reading a book I mentioned in a previous blog, “Whatever Arises Love That.” The final chapters of the book talk about the type of experiences you have as you pursue a spiritual path. I did not identify with what was being shared and thus concluded I must be doing something wrong! Of course I knew from reading the book that I should embrace this reaction. That was not my first response. I wanted to be free of this self criticism, a frequently practiced response that produces discomfort! I now recognize this response was shame.

I do know when I become the observer of my thoughts, I can choose a response.When I am suffering I can choose self-compassion; which is a form of self-acceptance. Self-compassion is a learned skill, and is contrary to what most of us have been taught to practice. Self-kindness, not criticism provides the emotionally supportive environment for change.

Research on self-compassion shows it reduces anxiety, depression, stress, rumination and fear of failure. At the same time it increases life satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence optimism, creativity and gratitude! 

Wanting to improve my thinking and my behavior does not need to produce shame but when it does, I can recognize it as a universal human response and respond with kindness!

Remember, It’s a Process! by Ellie Hyatt

 

How many times have we heard that change involves a process and yet find we are disappointed with our progress?

Today, at this time in my spiritual journey I am more awake than ever, have more practices and information at my disposal and find I am not done, I have not arrived! Of course that arriving idea is not usually conscious. How it relates to the idea of worthiness is my old idea that I would have arrived when I stop having negative thoughts. 

This process of moving toward wholeness includes accepting the negativity bias of our brain. A quote from Rick Hanson explains this clearly, “positive thoughts slide off like teflon and negative thoughts stick like velcro.” This will not change, but what can change is building new pathways in the brain that support cultivating positive emotional states.

When I first was aware of the damaged relationship I had with myself I did not know what to do but I was willing to have this healed. My first action was to pray for a changed attitude toward myself. I knew I didn’t know how to make this happen, but this was enough to allow the shift to begin. 

The next step was a prayer I heard from someone else. It was a startling prayer, one I had a lot of resistance to it; but I remembered it. Several years later I started to pray myself, “ God, show me the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it might be.” Yes, it took several years before I could consider the truth might be beautiful!

Another practice that I started years ago was a gratitude list. I was not aware that this would also add to cultivating positive emotional states, but it does and is a very practical way to support this move toward worthiness.

Many years later, I am still in this process of self-acceptance, of discovering the truth about myself. My goal is no longer perfection, it is to accept and love whatever arrives in me and in others. The Rumi poem The Guest House, states it so beautifully in the last verse. “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a Guide from beyond.”

I now have several other practices that support the process of increased self-acceptance and well-being. These move me closer to knowing I am worthy now! They have come as the result of my study of self compassion. I look forward to sharing more and hope to hear from you and learn about your experience. Blessings on your day.

Challenges to Embracing Our Worthiness by Ellie Hyatt

 As I have been writing these blogs I have noticed a theme has appeared. It is acceptance; which coincidently was the first obstacle to my peace of mind that was identified in early recovery. All these years later, I see there is still more to discover and discard!

Last week I asked you to reflect on what might have felt like a radical thought; what would need to happen to allow you to be curious and to explore the idea, what if I am worthy now?  If you asked yourself  this question, you likely became aware of your ideas about what would need to change to make you worthy. 

I am willing to guess the list included:  things you have done in the past that you regret, things you haven’t accomplished yet, recognition you want from others, improvements in your physical appearance, things you plan to acquire, etc. - the list is endless. I can guess what is on your list because these were also my thoughts. If you find yourself on this list, my experience is these thoughts point you in the wrong direction. This list is your evidence that you are lacking. You now have awareness of what are called false beliefs, things you tell yourself that are not true.

Acceptance is the next step and to move toward this, it helps to understand our common humanity. All humans are flawed, make mistakes, have a negativity bias and have created a strategy to stay safe in a scary world. This keeps us feeling disconnected. We are all wounded, we all feel shame. 

Over the years of teaching self-compassion it is not unusual for someone to remark they have a flaw/ have done something, that makes them unique and unloveable. When I ask them if they are willing to share what that is, they find there is always someone else who feels the same way. We have done such a good job putting up our shields that we can’t see others feel the same way. We are much more alike than we are different!

There is a practice that helps us overcome this negativity bias and supports cultivating positive emotional states. Next week we will move on to what  you can practice to get free of these false beliefs.

Worthy Now! - by Ellie Hyatt

At the end of the last blog, I promised we would continue to explore the idea of acceptance. What most of us seem to be resisting, which is the opposite of acceptance, is ourselves.

As I continue to explore mindfulness  and self-compassion practices, I keep finding information  that suggest it is normal to have a negative self-image. Tara Brach calls it “the trance of unworthiness.”In the book “The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness” by Terry Fralich, he found from his years of working with individuals, the most common conclusions we reach are-I am not good enough, there is something basically wrong with me, I am not lovable, I am worthless. The list continues, but I think you get the idea. Just about all of us have wrongly concluded we are not enough. (If you want the research about how and why this happens, you will need to go to his book.)

The way to get free of these false beliefs requires us to practice two things. The first is transforming the negative states we all have as a result of our neurology and conclusions we have reached about our life experience. This requires awareness and acceptance. The second is to practice, and cultivate positive states based on the Truth of our Being. This requires support, patience and kindness. A mediation practice supports both of the these changes.

Let’s begin with the idea of transforming the negative states. There are actions we can take that support this change. What is necessary is to become the witness or observer of our thoughts. There is nothing we can do to change the negativity bias of the brain, but recognizing and accepting it, stops strengthening the pathways that create more discomfort and fear. When we are aware of a thought that produces a sense of discomfort or dis-ease, we can ask ourselves some basic questions: Is what I am thinking true? Hint; If the thought finds you lacking in some way, it is not true. How do I know that? I know who we are all in our essence; the truth of our Being,- we are all Divine. Children of a Universal Life Force that is love.

I remember the day I finally felt the truth of this myself. This day happened after many years of self-examination, prayer and meditation. I was in my car and observed a positive thought about myself. My brain immediately responded with , “ who do you think you are?” My heart then responded with “a child of God.” That was the end of that negative thought. Prior to this I was not able to find myself “right sized” or equal to others. My  life experience had taught me I was either better than others or less than others. My family system (and our culture) seemed to support the idea of being less than others. This was the start of  getting freedom from my negative thoughts. 

Did  I then know that I was “worthy now?” No, but I was moving in that direction. I was moving from the stage of aversion to curiosity. 

I encourage you to ask yourself, what would need to happen to allow you to be curious and explore the idea that I am “worthy now?”

Mindfulness

A lot has happened since that decision to pursue training to teach Mindful Self-Compassion.  After two trips to CA I completed the Teacher Training in February 2015. One of the things that has happened is I have been changed by this work.  The practices continue to open my heart and give me more access to what I am feeling, more willingness to experience my feelings and then to care for myself when I am challenged. I have noticed that the majority of challenges (ok, possibly all) happen inside of me and my response to life circumstances.

 

Let me give you an example of how this works in my life. I often have opportunities to talk with groups to share this information. I always get anxious before these talks. I am basically an introvert and if my life was run by what felt comfortable, then I wouldn’t be teaching or sharing this information; other than maybe writing about it! 

 

One of the basic practices is a self- compassion break.* What I have noticed is that I will use this practice only to discover I am trying to make the discomfort go away.  The practice is about caring for myself when I am struggling. Kristin Neff says very clearly the idea is “care not cure.” When I realize I am trying to avoid the discomfort, I remember that part ofthe practice is to ask myself, “what do I need?” This question changes my focus to something I can do, which is offer myself care. Honestly I have very little experience with idea of caring for myself and usually my response to the question, “what do I need” is Help! In my world this is a prayer and I am asking for assistance from the Divine. I always feel calmer because I have stopped resisting what is.

 

In my next blog I want to talk about the idea of acceptance, which is an essential component of mindfulness.

 

 

 

* To learn about this practice go to www.self-compassion.org or Krisitn Neff’s book. “Self-compassion.”