This last week I have been leading a five day compassion retreat with Angie Ball and Jan Mayor, which is Part of our Level 2: Responding with Compassion training. A chance for Compassion in Action!
For me it was a great break from the usual busyness of my work life, with lots of opportunity for practicing compassion meditations, silent sitting, sharing experience and learning from Angie and Jan and the wonderfully courageous participants.
I was struck again by the power of being present to diminish the stress of life. There are no worries in this moment and there are no painful past memories in this moment.
I was struck repeatedly by how our expectations and assumptions about how we and others ‘should’ be, causes us to create so much suffering for ourselves and those around us. These expectations and assumptions underlie our thinking activity, elaborating our perceived problems with the gap between how things are and how we think things should be. The expectations and assumptions are just thoughts, tied up with our sense of self, but boy are they powerful. Recognising these is Compassion in Action!
Nowhere do they make their presence known more than in the voice of the inner self-critic. We explored this character from our internal environment at the start of the week and it’s power resonated throughout the whole week. We identified how the self-critic manifested in our imaginations, what it says, how it looks, the look in its eyes and its tone of voice. Many of us drew the self-critic.
Once we have identified our self-critics and made them into a character some distance emerges between our self and our self-critic. Then we generate compassion towards our self-critic, recognising that it is a part of us and that if we reject it we are rejecting a part of ourselves.
This can be quite a painful process, especially once we realise how hard we have been on ourselves. How much suffering has resulted, both for ourselves and for those around us and there can be a grieving process for how life could have been. Then there is relief in seeing this prominent character of our inner environment, and a process of acceptance and transformation can begin. Compassion in Action!
My self-critic used to be a rather bold figure, relentlessly in the forefront of my mind, but over my years of practicing making friends with it, it has become more stealthy and operates in the periphery of what I am conscious of. A squiggly and fluid stick person whispering from the side-lines, becoming gradually more difficult to identify. We are still not best friends – a work in progress! However, as soon as I identify its whisperings I no longer have to believe them and I don’t have to be under the inner self-critic’s control – another chink of freedom arises.
Many felt that this retreat was a life transforming event in their lives – the transformative power of Compassion in Action strikes again!
Kristine Janson has been working on developing our Engaged Mindfulness offering, based on Joanna Macy’s work that reconnects. A new Compassion in Action session on this has been introduced towards the end of the Compassion training. Here we recognise what we love about our world, what is wrong with our world, what we would do to help if we could do anything and then what is one thing we could towards that end in the next seven days. This resulted in some wonderful Compassionate Warrior pledges at the end of the retreat, which together will make a big difference to many in terms of social justice and the environment.
If I could do anything to help our poor planet, it would be to persuade everyone to become a vegan. It is the biggest thing we can do personally to reduce carbon emissions and is so much more powerful than using eco-bulbs, taking showers rather than baths, etc. to reduce carbon emissions. Although, no need to stop doing these things as well! The high carbon emissions are because of the methane produced by cows and the other environmental destruction cause by intensive dairy and meat farming. So if you care about the environment, why not try Veganuary.
If you care about animal welfare why not watch ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ a film about intensive farming practices in the UK – it requires a strong stomach and some of the scenes are likely to stay with you for some time.
If you care about your health what not look at the work of Dr Greger on his Nutrition Facts.org website, where he reviews peer reviewed research on nutrition. I have been a vegan now for three years and it feels like I am ten years younger on the inside and many minor grumbly health conditions have receded.
It can be hard to be a vegan if you think about yourself. It is really easy if you think about the animals and the planet.
Anyway, I have fulfilled my Compassion in Action pledge in this blog and the rest is up to you! One or two vegan days a week are a good start.
Also, have a go at making friends with your self-critic.