It is a great pleasure to share this guest post from Ian Gawler. We have attended many retreats together over the years and it is wonderful to have a blog from him on my site.
How busy are you? Most people I speak with feel that their lives are becoming busier and busier. So, imagine this – maybe with a little help, it is possible to slow down, relax, and actually achieve more!
How might this be possible? Speaking personally, I came home from a great meeting last week. A lot had been achieved, good ideas developed, new possibilities explored; all in a great atmosphere. Keen to tell my wife Ruth about it, first we went to do what we do each evening, and that is to meditate together.
Paying attention to our body
As I settled into my posture, I noticed this buzz in my body. A fine trembling, tingling sort of a buzz. It occurred to me that this excited energy, left over from the meeting was a good thing, but how it might lead some people on into drinking too much or some other excess.
Also, it seemed to be in stark contrast with what it would be like to come home from a tough day – feeling depleted, despondent, even exhausted. Such a state, left unnoticed or unmanaged, could lead to other unhelpful activities, not the least of which may be engaging with the family or our partner in a poor state of mind.
The promise of meditation
Meditation offers this wonderful promise of being able to let go of our busyness and regain our balance. Whether we are excited or depleted, up or down, balance is better. With our body and mind in balance, we think more clearly, we react more appropriately, we are in a better state to relate well with others. We are likely to be fresh, vital and at ease.
In such a state, there will be no compulsion to talk, but an ease with doing so. We will have no compulsion to be spoken to, but an ease with listening. We will be free to relax in a healthy way or energised to take up something new when the time is right.
Four keys to meditation
In my experience, there are 4 keys to meditating in a way that reliably brings these benefits. Preparation, Relaxation, Mindfulness and Stillness. These are the essence of what I call Mindfulness-Based Stillness Meditation.
Put very simply, having prepared well, we relax. Relaxing deeply, we become more mindful. As our mindfulness develops, an inner stillness is revealed; naturally and without effort. We rest in open, undistracted awareness. This is Mindfulness-Based Stillness Meditation.
Oh yes, and at the great meeting last week, we began by sitting together and meditating. Two of those who gathered had never done such a thing before. They were guided very simply to aim to let go of whatever they had been doing earlier and to bring their attention to what was going on right now.
To assist this, there was the suggestion to be mindful of the sounds around about us, then the breath and that natural feeling of relaxing with the out breath. Then we simply rested quietly for a few minutes. Finally, we reminded ourselves of our motivation, to help as many people as possible through what we were addressing at the meeting.
How this can help
Having done this, the atmosphere in the room was transformed. Peaceful, calm, clear. After this short exercise, one of the group could not help speaking out. He said that on arrival, he had been really preoccupied with the busyness of what had been happening before this meeting and he felt his mind was all over the place. In fact, he had actually been concerned that he was in a poor state of mind to give the presentation he was required to do, but that, after that short quiet time; he now felt clear and ready.
Just having a conversation like that seemed to me that we began our meeting on a very real and open level. It rapidly developed into a meeting everyone went away from feeling where we had achieved a lot, deepened friendships and left felt energized. Not a bad return for around 3 minutes of quiet time…
So maybe it is possible. Slow down and accomplish more.
Dr Ian Gawler has played a role in pioneering and popularizing meditation and other mind-body techniques in the Western world. Since 1981 Ian has led many meditation groups, and with his wife Ruth, a GP, presented many workshops and meditation retreats.
A long-term cancer survivor, Dr Gawler co-founded the world’s first lifestyle-based cancer and multiple sclerosis self-help groups and convened Australia’s first Mind-Body Medicine conference, Mind, Immunity and Health.
Ian is a regular blogger and has authored six bestselling books including his latest Blue Sky Mind. He has also co-created a meditation app for people affected by chronic degenerative disease.
Dr Gawler was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to the community in 1987.
It is with great pleasure that I invite you to read this lovely post from Tor Magne, from Norway.
I believe small practices in our daily lives can make a significant impact in cultivating mindful awareness, kindness and compassion. Here is a simple practice I would like to share with you:
As often as you can during the day, close your eyes and place your hand over your heart for a short moment. Can you feel the child within you? What does the child think? What does it feel? What does it see?
We all came into this world as children. Even though we might be grown-ups now, we still have the child, with all its developmental stages and with all its particular perspectives on life, within us. We can never get our childhood back, but many wisdom traditions, old and new, have always claimed the importance and the possibility of living in close contact with the child within. I can appreciate and rejoice in the child I was, and I can grieve the child I was never allowed to be. At the same time, I can, in numerous ways, experience that the child still lives within me. That child is still alive.
I learned this practice from Kailash Satyarthi, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He managed to make the royal family, government officials, politicians, artists and certainly many TV viewers do this practice while he was holding his speech in Oslo City Hall. This simple practice seems to have a central place in his work which has two indisputable and non-negotiable goals: to regain the childhood and freedom of children who have lost these.
In his speech he said: Friends! We live in an age of rapid globalization. We are connected through high-speed Internet. We exchange our goods and services in one single global market. Thousands of flights every day connect us from one corner to another corner of the globe. But there is one serious disconnect and that is the lack of compassion. Let us inculcate and transform the individual´scompassion into a global compassion.Let us globalize compassion.Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” I humbly add, let us unite the world through the compassion for our children. Not a passive compassion, but a compassion that transforms the world and leads to justice, equality and freedom.
What is compassion?
Compassion can be defined as a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a deep commitment to try do something about it. Unfortunately, it is very often easily misunderstood as little more than softness. But the fact is that among all the constructive emotions we have, compassion is the only emotion that requires a deep and intimate contact with pain, darkness and our uncomfortable and broken places. In other words, compassion bridges, connects and makes whole that which is separated and disconnected. Without compassion there is no healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Our compassion is innate
We are all born with compassion. It is an innate gift and capacity we all have. We know that an infant cries in sympathy to the sound of another infant crying. But it doesn’t cry to a recording of its own voice. As we grow older, conditions and life experiences have a strong tendency to cover up this beautiful gift we all have. The good news is that compassion can always be reawakened. Through practice it is something we can cultivate grow.
Connecting with the child within us
Satyarthi reminded us of the oneness and interconnectedness of everything when he said: Childhood is the most precious gift we have. If childhood is lost in one part of the world, the childhood of the entire humanity is lost. Children’s future, and thereby the future of the Earth, is totally dependent on people uniting in a globalized compassion. The practice of feeling the child within and seeing this moment through the eyes of the child, is a well-tested method. Its effect is often that compassion and tenderness is being awakened and cultivated. If you are up for it, feel free to stretch and expand your circle of compassion to include not only yourself and people who are close to you, but everything and everyone. Don’t forget the stars and galaxies. There is no limit.
The world gets united through compassion for children. If we can feel the child within us, the world becomes a different place, Satyarthi said. When we are connected with the child within us and see the world through the eyes of the child, the world is very beautiful. The world is very honest. The world is very simple. The world is very truthful. He also said that a globalized compassion, a transforming compassion, a movement that can create peace, freedom and justice. It is something we can bring forth, as an impulse from within, with ripple effects, if we are able to feel the child within us. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.
Tor Magne Handeland works as a spiritual care provider in a hospital in Norway. He is also the leader of the Norwegian Mindfulness Association. On a daily basis he works with both patients, families and staff, and he is particularly passionate about the importance of presence in the relationship between patients and health care professionals.
I am delighted to share this beautiful exploration of how we can use stories to investigate our new year goals, what we want to build on and the changes we want to make. Thank you Kate!
Although each moment represents and offers new beginnings, I do find the beginning of a new year especially exciting. It feels like the mother of new beginnings, a crisp fresh start, a blank page, even though in all practicality it is only one day sliding into another. I feel the same excitement about the beginning of a new year as I feel when receiving a new book; familiarity with the main outlines of the book and aware of my intention of purchasing it, but unknown of its content and implications for my way of understanding, seeing and relating to life.
Work and stories
Ken Wilber, an American writer and philosopher, calls himself a storyteller. In an audio program called Kosmic Consciousness with Tami Simon, he presents that a part of being human is reflecting on those things that arise around you. On the one hand we live our lives and on the other we make theories and maps about it, philosophise and reflect to make sense of our experiences. When you hook all these things together, you tell coherent stories.
So, we all have stories concerning work in various degrees. It could be that you are currently unemployed or haven’t yet stepped into work life, or that you find yourself in a job you dislike or one that you find fulfilling and meaningful. For quite a few of us work represents a blend of sometimes contradicting stories. It can both be meaningful and exhausting, giving and stressful.
I go about living my work life filled with meetings with clients, deadlines, project writing and working to reach the company’s objective and key goals, as well as create stories around my work experiences. Now and then I remember to pause and step back to take a bird’s-eye view of what I am up to, but rarely do I view work life with such a wide-angled lens as I do in the beginning of a New Year.
The written stories – the work year of 2019
Can you relate to the feeling that arises when you decide to disengage from your otherwise busy life and sit down to read a book? You actively make a conscious decision of doing something else, of pausing. The beginning of a new year is a little bit like that for me, but instead of sitting down with a book, I sit down and take a reflective look at my work biography of the past year. It is a great way for me to acknowledge all the time set aside for work in 2019, for remembering and for finding areas for future growth and development. I look back at moments of joy and accomplishments, moments of difficulties, struggles, sadness and hiccups, as well as all the people I have connected with in different ways.
Looking back at challenges experienced, challenges overcome and what factors supported me in overcoming them, gives me the opportunity to reflect upon areas I have felt growth and in what areas of my professional life I still feel stagnation. Noticed areas of difficulties, open wounds or standstills are particularly interesting for me to take a look at. Not always comfortable, but I often find that within the areas I most tend to procrastinate or overlook lies the hidden gold for development.
If you took a look back at your work biography of 2019, where would you find learning and growth? In what situations didn’t things go according to plan or you made mistakes. In what ways might that have affected you? Anything you are particularly thankful for having experienced at or through work the past year?
The unwritten stories – the work year of 2020
“Today is where your book begins…the rest is still unwritten”. These words come from one of my go to energetic, inspirational, feel good songs by Natasha Bedingfield. By taking a curious look at the work year that has been, I find an opportunity arises to identify what changes I would like to incorporate into the stories that are still unwritten for the new year. Often I have an idea or headlines for the upcoming book of 2020, but how work life in itself will actually develop…well that is a completely different story. I do find though that having some sort of an outline gives a sense of direction and movement. I create the outline by reflecting around what could be helpful for me to be more aware of in how I relate to myself, clients, or how I engage with my colleagues and boss. Also reflecting on what habitual ways established “often not the most helpful ones” would be beneficial for me to work with in 2020.
Letting the questions and reflections shed some intentional light on different areas of my work life without making hardwired goals that I end up measuring myself up against. For me bringing intentionality to my present and future work life creates movement and development in areas that I have experienced stagnation and seen unhealthy patterns. It feels like being both the author of a book as well as the main character, instead of just being the main character.
Are there any areas where you maybe experience stagnation or procrastination when it comes to work? Any wounds from 2019 that needs seeing to in 2020, and if so how can you best tend to them? Let’s say you were to be the author of your own 2020 work life book, how would you outline it? What new beginnings would you like to consciously bring to work for growth, further development and self-care for the year ahead of you?
The uncertain work stories…
The clients I am honoured to work with from day to day are those who for different reasons find themselves outside of work. It could be due to health issues, lack of education, redundancy and so on. No matter the reason for being currently unemployed I always ask my clients to take a good look at what activities have felt meaningful and given them energy in the past, and what particularly they have enjoyed through previous interests’, hobbies, studies and/or work. Holding the clients’ reflections about the past up against the backdrop of present values, interests and preferences, gives important clues for possible areas for work in the future. Finding oneself in between jobs or living an uncertain work story can be quite a challenge. It can also be an opportunity for a new beginning. What in your past can be of value for the future? What small step can be taken today to bring you closer to getting a job if that is what you aim for?
It can be both exhilarating and daunting to sit with a blank page before you. A new year filled with uncertainties, plans, hopes and aspirations. When the beginning of the new year 2021 is here, the work story of 2020 will have been written. To what degree you consciously take part in the story writing is up to you. The pen is there, the semi blank pages ready to go…have fun!
Kate Bredesen works as a job consultant and mindfulness instructor at iFokus Arbeidsinkludering AS in Norway. She is a former nurse and reflexologist, with MBSR teacher training from IMA. Kate has been teaching mindfulness since 2011. Through her daily work she teaches mindfulness to staff and clients and is passionate about supporting people in strengthening their connection to work, whether they are currently unemployed, on sick leave or find themselves partaking in demanding work life.
It is a great pleasure to share this wonderful post from Russell Kolts on working with anger.
Anger can be a tricky emotion, both in how it plays out in us and in how it impacts our interactions with others. While many people will have sympathy for those who struggle with anxiety or depression – perhaps wanting to offer comfort or reassurance – the response to those who struggle with anger is often less than sympathetic.
That’s no one’s fault, actually. It’s a part of how anger evolved, with angry facial expressions and body language designed to signal dangerousness. Think about how you feel when you see someone wearing an angry expression on their face. Do you find yourself wanting to help them, or to get away?
And yet, people who struggle with anger are indeed struggling. In this blog post, we’ll explore how to bring compassion to the table in working with our own anger, and perhaps in how we relate to others who struggle with anger as well.
A Compassionate View of Anger
In de-shaming the experience of anger, it can be helpful to understand it in the context of Compassion-Focused Therapy’s (CFT) three-systems model of emotion, developed by Professor Paul Gilbert. This model considers anger through the lens of evolution, recognizing it as having evolved to help us recognize and respond to things that threaten us, alongside other threat emotions such as fear, anxiety, and disgust.
Considering this, we can see that anger isn’t something that’s wrong with us. In fact, it’s a sign that our threat systems are working to try and protect us. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Anger isn’t our fault. We didn’t choose to have these emotions, and we didn’t design how they would work in us.
You may find yourself thinking, “Yes, but my anger has caused a lot of harm. I’ve hurt the feelings of people that I really cared about. I’ve acted out my anger in ways that have caused problems for me and others at home and at work.”
In making these observations, you’re noting one of the tricky parts of anger – it evolved to motivate us to fight when we are threatened, so unrestrained anger can often result in behaviors that are hurtful or which have lots of unwanted consequences. This can be particularly true for those of us who grew up in situations in which outbursts of anger were modeled by our caregivers, or which didn’t teach us how to handle things well when anger comes up.
So even though it isn’t our fault that anger comes up in us, it’s our job to take responsibility for working with it so that our behavior reflects the person we want to be. This involves being honest with ourselves about the fact that we struggle with anger, and taking a good look at our relationship to our anger.
Do you feel empowered by your anger or ashamed of it?
What sorts of behaviors do you engage in when angry?
How do you feel about those behaviors? How do you feel about yourself during and after doing them?
How do you feel after the anger episode is over?
What do you do then?
These questions are meant to give you a head start in unpacking your anger, so you can consider factors that shape how it plays out over time, and perhaps identify obstacles that may prevent you from taking responsibility and working with it in helpful ways. Take a moment to consider these questions, maybe even jotting some responses down on a piece of paper before continuing on.
The Problem of Avoidance
For many years, we’ve had lots of effective anger management techniques, which guide people to do things like identifying situations that their anger, come up with plans for how to work with anger the anger that comes up in response to these triggers, and teach practices for working with the body and mind to handle anger in helpful ways (for example, slowing down the breath, creating some distance between you and the object of your anger, and considering helpful ways of responding). For those who struggle with anger and are committed to working with it, a quick internet search provides lots of options in the form of books, websites, and other resources which describe many helpful practices for managing it.
The problem is that many people who struggle with anger often don’t use those resources, and may even resist acknowledging that they struggle with anger to begin with. One of the biggest obstacles that keeps people from working with their anger is avoidance. Avoidance can take lots of forms: blaming others for “making me angry,” rationalizing or explaining away our anger-driven behavior, or shifting our attention to something else and pretending that nothing happened. The problem is that all of these strategies get in the way of us acknowledging that our anger-driven behavior is causing us problems, taking responsibility for this behavior, and working to do better in the future.
Why do we avoid? Obstacles to Taking Responsibility for Our Anger
In my experience, there are at least two common factors that can get in the way of people working with their anger:
We may enjoy feeling powerful. Anger evolved to get us moving in a way that can feel very energizing and powerful in the body, with a corresponding feeling of urgency in the mind. In this way, anger can feel very powerful. Especially if we don’t often feel powerful in other areas of our life – for example, at work or in our familial relationships – these powerful feelings can be seductive. If we feel disrespected, it can feel powerful to put them in their place or to finally get our way, can’t it? Anger can also function as a secondary emotion, helping us avoid experiencing emotions that feel more vulnerable (and less powerful) like fear, sadness, or anxiety. This is tricky stuff! Think about it – would you want to give up the only way you had to feel powerful in your life, even if it came with negative consequences? It makes sense that it would be hard to give up, doesn’t it?
We’re ashamed of our anger and its consequences. Often, admitting we struggle with anger – the first step toward taking responsibility for working with it – means admitting we behave in ways that cause terrible pain in others, and often in the people we love the most. This reality, that I am hurting the people I love or I am behaving in ways that are the opposite of the person I want to be, can be deeply painful. It can be much easier to ignore our angry behavior, blame it on others, or explain it away rather than to face this uncomfortable truth.
People can experience one or both of these obstacles in tandem. Tricky though they are, if we look at these obstacles, they can help us understand how to do a better job of working with our anger. If we’re going to work productively with our anger, we need to find other ways to feel powerful, and we need to stop attacking and shaming ourselves for having it.
Compassion as True Strength which Helps Us Work with Shame
When doing group therapy with people who struggle with anger, I sometimes ask questions like, “What is more powerful, the anger you use to avoid vulnerable-feeling emotions like sadness or fear, or compassion, which will help you face and work with all of the experiences that come up in your life?”
Compassion, defined as having the willingness to notice and be moved by suffering and the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it, gives us a way to turn toward pain, suffering, and struggle – not with judgment or condemnation, but with the recognition that “This is hard, and I want to do something that might help.” Anger lashes out, but compassion stays with the suffering, looking deeply into it, so that we can begin to understand the causes and conditions that produce and maintain it (as we’ve done a bit here with anger), so that we can do something helpful.
In considering this, our groups came to the conclusion that while anger may feel powerful, true strength lies with compassion – which empowers us to be honest with ourselves, to acknowledge that although it isn’t our fault that we experience anger and that we didn’t choose to struggle with it, that if we want to have happy lives and good relationships, we need to take responsibility for working with it productively.
Compassion can help us do this. Instead of seeing the angry version of yourself (or others) as a jerk who creates all sorts of problems, what if we see them as someone we dearly care about who is struggling with emotions that they haven’t learned to control?
What if – recognizing that anger is a threat response – we consider what that angry version of the self (or that angry person) would need to feel safe and accepted?
What would they need to be at their best, even in this difficult situation?
We could even imagine ourselves – this compassionate version of ourselves that we’re operating out of now – in their place, considering what might be helpful in handling this tricky situation that triggered the anger, in a way that would be about working with things in a way that minimizes harm for everyone. If we were at our kindest, wisest, and most courageous, how might we handle this situation in a way that would be helpful?
That’s true strength.
Russell Kolts is a Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University and Director of the Inland Northwest Compassionate Mind Center in Spokane, Washington, USA. He has published numerous articles and written several books about CFT and compassion, including The Compassionate Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger, An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Lessons on Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun (with Thubten Chodron), CFT Made Simple, and Experiencing Compassion Focused Therapy from the Inside Out.
Awareness in Action is delighted to post this advice on how to really benefit from our winter break from Paloma Sparrow.
Quieter time during the winter season
Chinese medicine is in a way a misnomer as its approach is largely preventative. Its focus on subtle factors that combine over time to impact on health (depending on an individual’s constitution) gives rise to a wealth of information on how to support health. In winter this means allowing some quieter, more restorative time, in tune with what is happening in the natural world.
However, what this means for an inhabitant of a developed country in the 21st century is likely to be quite different from an agricultural or manual worker in China in previous millennia.
Planning for rest
Because of the increased use of technology in daily life and the hyper-arousal of the nervous system that this can give rise to, we may need to plan how we use this quieter time. Allowing some non-demanding time for quiet restoration could mean planning less events into the holiday period. It could mean more time to unwind, and relax. The absence of pre-planned events and routine allows us the opportunity to connect with what we feel like doing in the moment.
A technology holiday this winter?
It might also mean reducing levels of stimulation from screen-related activities. You could consider having a family ‘technology holiday’, or non-screen days, or evenings. How you arrange this is best agreed together as a family unit beforehand. You might even agree to have a short period during which you hold off all but essential communications. Both of these can be particularly important for children who are more sensitive to external influences and stimuli and whose neural development may be impacted in a lasting way by too much screen time.
Including exercise as part of your rest
The winter months can be a welcome opportunity for physical rest or reduced activity for farmers of former times. However, for many of us holidays are a time when we are able to exercise. We are able to give time to the kind of exercise we enjoy, and maybe to have more social time with friends and family.
But perhaps because we have now less time available to exercise, exercise can mean pushing ourselves to the limit, chasing an adrenaline rush or weight loss. Recent research has highlighted the link between exercise and longevity. The approach of Chinese medicine would recommend that exercise and our approach to exercise needs to be more individualised.
Arriving at your own programme for restoration this winter holiday
So, consider this. You could spend your holiday trying to live up to healthy ideals. Accomplishing everything you would like to for the holiday could become your main goal. You might end up spending too much time on screens. However, on the other hand, a restorative holiday period could mean giving yourself time to wind down a bit and connect in with what you feel like doing.
Paloma Sparrow is a traditional acupuncturist and has practised in educational, public health, and charity settings as well as in private practice in the UK. She finds the lifestyle advice of Chinese medicine a valuable tool to enable patients to support their own health. She has particular experience treating problems of pregnancy, birth and supporting children’s health with acupuncture, and she is a student of Tibetan Buddhism.
I am particularly delighted to welcome Carole to the blog. She is writing about such an important topic—compassion on the internet. In these polarised times it is so important to take her Netiquette guidelines to heart. Thanks for the post, Carole!
Compassion is a strength that has supported me throughout my life. I have also witnessed the development of compassion help many people in my role as a private practice psychologist.
I think we’d all agree that communicating via the internet has been one of the fastest growing evolutions of the last 20 years. These days there are endless opportunities to communicate online and it can seem like a fast-paced world, difficult to keep up with. No doubt there has to be an effect on our mental health. Our relationship with these communications and how we relate to each other has been something of a personal and professional fascination to me over the years.
Today I will be sharing an online experience that took me to some dark human depths and caused me to wonder ‘where is the compassion?’ in these places. It was hard learning. This has driven me to create some online etiquette (Netiquette) guidelines that I am sharing with you today. I’ll walk you through my story.
Stepping into the Lion’s den
Working solely in private practice has its rewards and difficulties. One of the potential pitfalls can be becoming isolated from other professionals. So, when the opportunity to connect with others became available through social media, I considered it. To be honest I mostly ‘lurked’, watching others post and felt very reticent to get involved. I didn’t think too deeply about why that might be at the time. I found myself drawn in to respond to areas I had experience and knowledge in, feeling a responsibility to share.
One fine day I noticed someone asking a question on one of these social media networks that I had some information on and experience in. I summoned up the courage to post a link on the subject in question in a desire to be helpful – I remember thinking it was a neutral thing to do as I wasn’t directly offering an opinion. Now, it is important to say here there are difficulties with having such a small space to respond in as things may look out of context, AND you do not know what has gone on before in that forum…..these are things I learnt the hard way.
The unforeseen threat
Although I had responded to one person’s information request what happened was an entirely different person responding with an angry tirade of words. They were directed to me personally, questioning my knowledge and professionalism…I had a sense of ‘who do you think you are?’. It felt very threatening and I can share with you I felt absolutely crushed. I did not know who this person was and what sort of influence they might have. Crucially, I did not know who was looking in and struggled to find a way to deal with the situation, in the moment. Nobody posted anything straight away after this – although each of us got (secret) likes. In effect I had experienced a group shaming process, and in my vulnerable state had to decide how or if to respond.
I absolutely agonized over what to do. Ultimately, I decided there was no way I could respond directly or indirectly without entering into the angry, difficult behaviour. Abstaining was hugely difficult in itself as a fragile part of me felt like I was allowing myself to be bullied. In effect I was both trapped by the situation and blocked from responding – a dangerous and compassionless feeling place. This has caused me to wonder whether the speed of our ability to communicate is bypassing the decision-making part of our brain? We could be responding straight from our threat systems. Ironically, I suspect my seemingly (from my end) innocuous posting provoked the other persons threat system.
The power of self-compassion
Now, at this point I’d like to say thank goodness I had been practicing self-compassion for many years. Fortuitously I was already on one of Maureen’s (online) self-compassion courseswhich was hugely helpful in helping gather myself, and help view things from a safer feeling mindset. From this view I applied some compassionate self-correction as opposed to shame-based self-attacking (Professor Paul Gilbert OBE) for my part in entering naively into the online domain ill-prepared.
I wondered how I might respond if this were to every happen again. This was quite a conundrum. I spent some time considering what had happened to compassion in this situation and how important to our well-being kindly, well thought out communications were likely to be. Goodness knows we can think of many examples of difficult, unhelpful and harmful online interactions that go on every day.
Salvaging something from the experience
I decided to move forward by finding a way to contribute positively to these tricky communication spaces. Previously, I had encountered Netiquette (online etiquette) guidelines but they did not cover what I wanted to convey. I really hoped it would be useful to offer an understanding of what might be going on for us as human beings in online places, and why this might be important for our well-being.
Using my experience, I wrote from the heart and a set of compassionately written guidelines emerged. My thinking was that if anyone found themselves in the same impotent situation instead of entering into the communication, they could send a link to these Netiquette Guidelines. And whilst I am not naive enough to think this might also feel inflammatory the other end it would offer an opportunity to respond compassionately and not feel blocked.
These guidelines focus on the realities of being human beings in the online space, which has some significant differences to communicating in other places. There are some very interesting phenomenon that influence these communications such as the Online Disinhibition and Black Hole effects that you can follow if you are intrigued. I bring into view the public shaming opportunities public platforms can bring, as well as the opportunity to use our powers for good. I also encourage PUSHING THE PAUSE BUTTON as we are encouraged to sacrifice sense for speed.
Importantly …I encourage us to remember there is often a human at the other end but crucially remember we are all human! Being courteous and mindful is likely to reap big rewards for our well-being.
FORGIVE OTHERS AND BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF
– Remember you are a human too and with the best will in the world we all make mistakes. Mistakes online can feel much bigger, but if we are forgiving and compassionate with others and ourselves, perhaps that will become contagious.
REMEMBER WE ARE ALL HUMAN.
We are not all the same
You may be thinking ‘I wouldn’t be affected like that’, and this is a very interesting point. We are just in the beginnings of understanding what impact communicating via the internet might be having on us in terms of; changes in our brain, conditioning, attention etc. This evolution has potentially been the fastest in history and pushing the pause button to reflect perhaps the wisest thing we can do at this juncture. I have come to wonder how differently we react to online communications in different contexts and one interesting notion is how relevant our attachment styles might be. If you haven’t encountered attachment theory before it is really relevant in how we communicate with other people (and ourselves) and is often explored in compassion-based therapies.
Attachment and its importance in relating to others
From our early experiences we often talk about four styles; Secure, Ambivalent/Anxious, Avoidant and Disorganised (basic explanation). It’s not our fault we find ourselves subject to these styles and it can be helpful to understand how they might impact on our lives.
What is fascinating to me is how these might be acting on us in online communications that have different rules and less non-verbal communications to steer us. I have certainly noticed in my practice how some clients are drawn to continually check for approval in these 24/7 online spaces. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that we can compare ourselves to others at an alarming rate. Other factors are suggested as important such as; having a safe haven, a secure base, proximity maintenance and separation distress.
It is profoundly interesting to wonder how these ideas might be being influenced in the often boundaryless feeling online space of the world wide web.
Reflecting on the learning
My own very strong reaction to this experience has been hugely interesting and I would certainly subscribe to the idea my attachment style has a place to play. An area of concern for me is the idea that compassion might be getting eroded in some online communications. Also, the capacity for group shaming and high levels of self-critical thinking, greater than in other spaces. Perhaps we could view these communications as high challenge in terms of being without the same safety giving non-verbal cues. This in turn might mean we require high self-support to manage them. In my experience self-compassion which encourages courage, distress tolerance, and a sense of safety might well provide balance to this modern-day stress. I sincerely hope my story and subsequent reflections have resonated with you. Please feel free to share the guidelines and I send compassionate best wishes for us all going forward.
I would like to leave you today with the words of Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the internet) in his open letter 2019, 30 years after he gifted us the Internet. His message, I believe, is of hope in we can steer the internet as we move forward – as opposed to being steered by it. I’m hoping in a more compassionate direction.
“Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us, we will have failed the web.” (Direct quote)
Gilbert, P. (2010). The Compassionate Mind. Constable: London
Holmes, J. (2014). 2nd Edition. John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy). Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames.
Carole is a counselling psychologist in private practice near Bristol, UK. She provides therapy, supervision, consultation and training both face-to-face and via online means. Carole often combines her research interest area of online relational aspects and compassion orientated approaches to explore some of our every day struggles. Her passion is in sharing understandable insights she hopes will be helpful to us as human beings.