“If we want there to be peace in the world,
we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts,
to find the soft spot and stay with it.
We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility.
That’s the true practice of peace.”
I have just plucked up the courage to continue my Mindfulness Teacher Training (MBLC) and what I have gleaned so far, from the really excellent teaching I have received, is that the ENQUIRY part of the teaching is key, vital, pivotal, and I’m not very good at it! (yet!). And it needs great presence of mind and wisdom in order to deliver it in a compassionate and meaningful way. I am positively excited about learning this skill. Heather is running a Christmas Practice day on Self Enquiry which I am really looking forward to.
We have a whatsapp group for my cohort of MSc students where we share links and interesting papers etc. and this week the topic was an Embodiment Conference, with free links to some of the talks, and the one that caught my eye was Dr Gabor Maté’s talk on Compassionate Enquiry. Gabor Maté seems to have become a bit of a heart throb in the group which is really quite funny as we are mostly getting on a bit and so is he.
If you haven’t heard of him he’s a Hungarian-born Canadian Doctor – a best-selling author and speaker who is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including the relationships between workaholism, addiction, stress, illness, and childhood development and trauma. You can find his website HERE. His manner is so gentle and his talks are enlightening and empowering. His latest book is- In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction which I have now added this to my reading list…
The Idea of compassionate enquiry interested me. To begin with Maté talked of evidence which linked illness to childhood trauma and subsequent addictive behaviours, then he moved on to Compassionate Enquiry after many requests for a demonstration. The host, Mark, agreed to be his subject in order to demonstrate his technique. I don’t think Mark was expecting exactly what happened; and I wasn’t expecting to be floored by the exchange.
I was watching and listening with all my faculties, (under the Gabor Maté spell, haha) –-listening in a highly receptive way, mindfully – during the enquiry I was open to the questioning – it was like Maté’s questions were directed at me and I was answering him in my mind. At one point Mark had to say he was uncomfortable and was not able to say what he needed to say so publicly – it involved a parent and alcoholism; I could feel his pain and could feel that his pain was my pain too, and in fact seeing this brought a surge of compassion for everyone affected by alcoholism, and childhood trauma associated with it. If my braveheart spiritual warrior can work through this – face it, dig down into it – perhaps I can gain the wise heart I need to deeply understand my own suffering and from that place, support others from an authentic and embodied place.
The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistentheart is full.
You would like to spill your hearts blood, give your heart to others.
For the Warrior, this experience of a sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness.”
Trungpa Chogyam Rinpoche, from The Sacred Path of the Warrior:
I cannot hope to heal others until I have healed myself; if I try to do this the result is ‘compassion fatigue’ – I have experienced this. I actually haven’t had the inner strength, because I have not been connected to my true compassion, I have been trying to heal myself through helping others, and this, is exhausting and misguided. Compassion is limitless, it won’t ever tire. I need to find its source, within myself.
It was emotionally powerful, how Mate had so skilfully got to the core of the issue and exposed a vulnerable spot; Mark did seem quite overwhelmed by the speed and depth of the enquiry. (That did raise some eyebrows as to the ethics behind such a public and personal enquiry, and it did leave me with the feeling that a group may not be the best place to practice this type of enquiry?). The enquiry, the skill with which he spoke, cutting through to the heart of the matter was quick, astonishing, and, as it happened, the topic upon which he landed with Mark was relevant to me, my childhood, my situation, my life. It cut through to the very bottom of a very dark and hidden place in me and I felt the rawness and realness of it as if I saw it for the first time close up; I felt it again, as if it was now, alive within me. I have thought about this place before but I had not felt it in all it’s rawness. I had never let myself go there.
But now listeing to Gabor Maté with his voice full of compassion – I felt I could go where the host couldn’t go – I had no audience, no need to make out I was ok or put on the brakes. I went headlong into that very raw place.
My mindfulness practice is strong. I was aware of what was happening while it was happening. I was able to hold myself with care. I was able to observe the feeling that I had just been dropped right back into a very traumatic situation, and I could feel that I was about 7 years old. My consciousness felt like it found itself in a very big black space- where memories appeared and presented as if they were fresh and happening to me right now.
There was a strong sense that the hollow place was full – that it was connected to that bottomless well of tears – the well of tears that I never cried.
“someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, is a gift.”
Mate asked, “what age were you?”, usually the answer is the age of a small child. To remove and separate the ‘adult you’ from the situation he asked what it would feel like to put another child in that situation; Mark understandably was resistant to the idea of thinking himself back in that difficult situation – this thought made me feel a bit sick to put a child into a traumatic situation, even an imagined one was too much- but this visualizing another child deeply connected us to the heart of compassion – showing us clearly that it’s naturally easier for us to find compassion for others than it is to connect with it or direct it towards ourselves.
And there’s a soft spot right there.
Maté explained that finding yourself in an overwhelmingly difficult situation at that age with no way of telling anyone what is happening to you is trauma. I hadn’t really considered myself ‘traumatised’, ever before. Brave face, keep smiling and all that. But now he was speaking and things were becoming clear in my mind, very clear, and I wanted to go there, I wanted to go there and sort it all out.
Sustained mindfulness practice has given me a first aid kit – or a toolbox. The tool box is full of tools which work without actually doing anything at all – just continued mindfulness practice. That’s it. The mindfulness has revealed aspects of the egocentric preference system which are outmoded. It helped me to see them as modules which when seen, dissolve. This dissolving aspect of the mindfulness toolkit in my experience has led to the deconstruction of the parts of ‘me’ and my idea of ‘me’ (habitual patterns of behaviour, negative self-talk, outdated schema etc) that have been created by this childhood conditioning, and which are no longer relevant to my life (and yet that are still affecting my life). ‘The seeing is the doing’, says Krishnamurti.
Cracking into years of suppressed feelings can open the floodgates; A couple of years ago I did experience a feeling that the tears would never going to stop once they started and that allowing the emotion would somehow overwhelm me. That was the first crack appearing, the breaking through to reveal the broken heart. As the heart breaks open I become witness to my own true nature emerging, soft vulnerable, immensely alive, and full of power, full of compassion. I welcome the feelings and the tears as cathartic now, and I am not scared any more of showing that I do, in fact, have feelings. As I have allowed these deeply sad feelings to express themselves I have to say they are well balanced with occasional and random euphoric feelings of pure joy which are becoming more commonplace; they’re fleeting – but shine like diamonds. My general every day feeling and attitude is becoming one of calm aceptance. …mostly
Being part of a group, even a small one, it can feel quite dreadful to feel tears coming after years of suppressing them – Mark had come to that edge, in front of all these people (5000 online viewers!) and he stopped Maté from pushing him over. This is good. We can give ourselves permission to stop, to rest, to go and listen to some music or ground ourselves with soothing self-care. Fully mindful of my experience, I just sat after the talk to assimilate what had just happened. I was in shock. My body had been tense my legs my stomach my arms but with this huge void in the middle hollow like I had literally cracked right through a tough shell into a soft inner realm. I saw something. I was at a precipice (the Big Edge) at this point I had a choice to retreat to safety, or to jump in. I decided to retreat to safety.
As I write this now – it feels like I have awoken a sleeping ‘monster’ – a ‘shadow’ from the subconscious has made its way to my consciousness. Now I am seeing that the monster (that has scared me up until now) actually, is sitting there right over a soft spot, as Pema Chodron would call it. I asked my subconscious (sounds a bit strange but I have started talking to myself!) if it wouldn’t mind waiting for me to get some help and advice from my teachers before I fully immerse myself in the befriending of this particular monster and revealing its soft spot, as I do have some fear around this – but at the same time I feel positively elated that after so many years of not understanding myself, I am getting down to something at the core, something I have just hidden away for so long. It has taken me years to get to this point and I am completely full of gratitude and in awe of the teachings from my Buddhist teachers and from the Mindfulness Association tutors who have so skillfully guided me in a way that has empowered me and allowed me to find that soft spot and sit there with it. And actually, the wisdom practices teach us to be OK with not knowing what will emerge. This is the path of the spiritual warrior! My favourite subject : )
Choden is running an immersive and powerful online Retreat at the start of December from Mindfulness to Insight and Wisdom. Choden takes us to a place of being ok with not knowing. This is such a profound life skill.
I have benefitted from all the Mindfulness Compassion and Insight MA training and have experienced it intensely through the diligent study of the subject through embodied practice and reading, as part of the Masters course.
I will keep doing all these retreats and practices over and over again, because each time a new revelation, a new soft spot and new edge will be revealed as I move down through the layers of buried feelings. I hope that through my journey to my compassionate heart I am able to help others on their journey to theirs; that intention gives me the courage to learn to teach mindfulness and compassion. May we all find a way to connect with our true and compassionate hearts to find peace, which will then, manifest in the world.
Where is your soft spot? What does your soft spot feel like?
Are you able to sit with your soft spot without fear?
This week notice when you come to an ‘edge’. What is there?
The edge of what? What is on this side of the edge and what is on the other?
How is your body feeling as you find yourself at that edge?
We always love to hear from you, if anything resonates with you from our blogs. Please do write in to Jacky and myself at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your feelings and experiences. Please do also write to us if you’d like to talk through what’s come up for you and your soft spot – or when you find yourself at an edge. All our tutors are happy to have a chat to support you on your mindfulness journey.
I wish you all the courage this week to meet your soft spots with acceptance and curiosity.
With kindest wishes,
Read about our new Masters course with the University of West of Scotland in London starting in February 2021 in London which includes a mindfulness teaching qualification. The first module will be online because of covid.