It was a time when I learned to love myself – that warm, expansive feeling in my chest that makes life meaningful.
I have just finished another eight-week programme, this time a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course with the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin. Based on the pioneering work of American psychologists Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber, it was a crash course of the heart that left me hungry for more. Each week we were presented with different meditative practices and workbook exercises that focused on the three factors of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness. I offer you some of my learnings based on three stages of progress.
How tender is your heart when you hear of someone like Sarah who has recently tested positive for Covid-19? How much do you really listen? How much do you really care? I became aware of my own hard-heartedness some years ago at a 30-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises. I was invited, through much soul searching, to let go of what no longer served me and to embody a new way of being in the world. I invite you to listen to Sarah’s story from this more contemplative perspective and to see if it has any resonance with you.
“You need a strong back and a soft front.” – Tara Brach
I’ve been meditating for years, but I realise the outcome is not always warm and compassionate. I am sometimes like a person who is hitting his head with stones. My inner critic says, “Keep your back straight, put on a serious face, listen to your breathing, and be tough”.
Joe Biden’s birthplace of Scranton in Pennsylvania was the first spot I learned to cultivate the American ‘Can-Do’ attitude. Don’t my University of Scranton buddies know what I’m talking about? Even later illness as a volunteer and struggle with mental health could not shake it off. Here’s to the best of the USA!
What becomes obvious from Barack Obama’s latest best-selling book, A Promised Land, is that he wanted to tune into a bigger picture, something beyond his own ego and ambition. Over time, he aligned his own will with the will of the American people.
He learned to deeply listen to his constituents as well as to those from outside his reach. With his family and team behind him, he brought promise to those who believed in a humanity that is enhanced through a shared sense of pain and suffering.
Learning to create a space between us and our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations during sitting meditation is an incredibly liberating experience. Not only does it help prevent us from falling into unwanted habits, but it also enables us to communicate from a deeper, warmer place or ‘heart centre’. This is a place where faith and mindfulness can merge.
Imagine, for instance, sitting with Jesus and cooking fish on a charcoal fire by the lake shore. You hear his words: “Come to me, you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. You share your pain with him without judging it, you experience his gentle and humble heart, and you find rest for your soul. Your body feels lighter, your mind becomes spacious and you view your experience more compassionately.
I’ve been used to expressing myself with words such as “fine”, “grand”, and “no bother” all of my life. But these aren’t really feelings at all. I think this is the experience of a lot of Irish men.
I finished an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course last week at the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin with elements of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It enabled me to communicate from my ‘heart centre’ on a consistent basis which has been a deep longing of mine. Here are some of my learnings: