Dozen of articles. Improve your lifestyle now!

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How to be happy 0: what is happiness? What are GREATMinds?

“Everybody wants a happy life and a peaceful mind, but we have to produce peace of mind through our own practice.” -Dalai Lama

When I ask couples what they want from each other they often reflexivity say that they want the other person to make them happy. I often gently point out that this is beyond the others person’s ability; they might have it in their power to not create unhappiness in you, but getting happy, or finding happiness is your own responsibility. It means attuning yourself to your own path, which is another way of saying deepening into your life.

What is happiness? Is it a boat along the Norfolk Broads, sunset in Santorini, a pistachio ice cream or a cool beer on a hot summers day? Perhaps these things make us feel happy, sure, or bring us pleasure, indeed, but happiness itself? I think that’s something else.

I like Matthieu Ricard’s description of happiness: “a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind…an optimal state of being”. This seems to transcend pleasure-perhaps also pain-and our desire for power, influence, fame, celebrity and certainty.

How do we then, flourish?

I’m exploring happiness in these blogs, what it could be, and in order to navigate the territory I’ve developed a tentative map (if you read this upside down i.e. the last blog first, which we do when we read blogs, it might have changed somewhat from now).

I use the acronym GREATMinds, standing for

  • Gratitude and savouring
  • Relationships
  • Exploration
  • Attitude and Acceptance
  • Transcendence and beauty
  • Mindfulness

Let’s see how this develops…….


Matthieu Ricard Happiness Atlantic Books


My summer of suffering -or- Riders on the (Brexit) storm

Britain today is the family divorce writ large. We’re splitting up everywhere. -Susie Orbach

It seems the whole country is experiencing a kind of nervous breakdown. We have no effective leadership, political parties are self-immolating, terrorist attacks persist and hate crime increases. The FTSE has a panic attack. There could be worse to come; “storms on the horizon”, there is a sense of something coming, dark and foreboding. Leavers and Remainers. A country split.

Apart from those in a place of steadfast denial, the whole of the U.K. could be said to be united in loss, as in, we all lost, as in, we’re all losers. Nobody got what they wanted. The Remain camp did not get what they wanted, and the Leave camp look as if they will not get what they were promised.

Nobody of us really got our own way

The Leave Camp appeared motivated at times by wanting control “take control” being a slogan, but also by decades long (at times) unresolved suffering expressed in anger, a feeling of being disenfranchised. Many had unheard grievances that they were seeking to express, an anger that had no other outlet and one that they felt politicians refused to hear, often for decades.

So they took a chance, saw their opportunity and almost literally put the boot in against what they saw as a cold, heatless elite. This does suggest that a significant amount of the U.K. population has been caught up, in and been living with, years of unresolved pain and suffering.

The Remain Group now have something to hate. I voted Remain, and woke up on Friday 24th June in horror and disbelief. This soon solidified into a kind of resistance, a denial that this could actually be happening, and a felt sense of increasing nausea.

I commiserated with friends, sent out emails, posted on Facebook. I felt worse; I was not prepared to accept, but caught up in this resistance to what is. Next job: to find somebody to hold to account- well this shouldn’t be too hard. I was well on my way to channelling my pain into a story of righteous suffering that would take me further from my original felt experience.

A few years-a few months-of this and I’m the same as a Leave Campaigner, my pain siphoned off into projected hate and blame.

There’s a sense of closing down here, of retreating from my experience as it is into a solace of anger and shielded protection. Very human, but who wants to live with this amount of resistance gnawing away at him or herself?

I’m also struck by how much I’m attached to my anger and my position or preference here. Pema Chodron writes about this and calls it getting hooked, but for her a more accurate word for this is the Buddhist term shenpa, a kind of preverbal attachment to what we feel we identify with. It tends to happen inside us very suddenly, out of our awareness and without warning.

Lawrence Greco calls this the shenpa storm, a kind of force or energy behind all of our emotions, it turns difficulty to hate, charges negative emotions more forcibly and breeds reactivity and catastrophe. It’s a chain reaction that closes down our heart and splits off parts of ourselves into fragments of like/dislike.

What helps?

The Mindfulness Association offers a training in Compassion that includes the practice of tonglen.  This is a Tibetan word that means ‘taking and sending’. ‘Tong’ means ‘sending out’ and ‘len‘ means ‘receiving’. The practice originated in India and it was brought to Tibet in the eleven hundreds by the Indian master Atisha.

The practice is to take in all the suffering of others and send out joy or wellbeing to them; we might visualise a blackness which is the suffering and a light which is the wellbeing. We start with a flash of openness, often known as bodhicitta or awakened heart.

This might work Brexit style like this:

  • Open up your heart (the flash of bodhicitta)
  • Leaver, take in the pain and suffering of the Remain
  • Send out to Remainer wellbeing in the form of light and warmth
  • Repeat

(Then reverse, Remainer take in pain and suffering, send out wellbeing to Leaver)

This puts us in touch with the tender, raw vulnerability of others, in turn reducing the reactivity and closed heart which sustains our separateness. In this way we can also open up to our own pain and often unacknowledged suffering, and hence opening and deepening to all others, for it is very difficult to sit with another person’s pain and suffering if ours is split off.

It works as an antidote to what the psychotherapist Susie Orbach calls the “the ugliness of othering the foreign” by reaching out to the pain in another person’s heart, shifting our perspective from what Martin Buber called the “I and It” perspective to an “I and Thou” connection, and hence interconnection. We are not separate, we are riding the storm, shenpa and all.

Martin Buber I and Thou

Pema Chodron Taking the Leap

Larence Greco

Susie Orbach

MentalPress 17

Compassion in human relationships

Imagine this scenario.

You come home from work, you’ve had a busy day and the workload has left you tired, frazzled and wondering if you’re up to the job. Your “fight of flight” response is switched on and is tightening up your body’s defences which in turn are telling your brain to scan for trouble. You see your partner and their day has just been about the same, you can tell, it’s written all over their face and instead of the welcoming words you both need you prowl like tigers and snap at each other; pretty soon you’re in the middle of a fully blown fight, one that you’ve had time and time before-now you and your partner are less joined at the hip and more joined at the hippocampus, lost in a whirlpool of automatic reactions, anger and resentments built up over years, perhaps decades of life history.

Let’s imagine that scenario over again where the partners practice a mindfulness meditation of compassion.

You’ve had a busy day at work but throughout the day you’ve practised being mindfully compassionate towards yourself and those around you. You accomplish tasks at work and instead of rushing straight to the next one are able to savour the feeling of completion. You notice those around you in the workplace and see your colleagues trying to accomplish just what you are trying to do; like you they just want to be happy. At several intervals at your workstation your build moments of compassionate breathing into your day, your body feels at ease, fresh and ready to complete the next task to the fullest of your ability. You come home and walking through the door you smile, leaving the day behind and greeting your partner knowing they have practiced a mindfulness of compassion throughout their day which waits to meet you.

Mindfulness — paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment — can help us break out of the negative and automatic reactions we bring into our relationships. Mindfulness helps to better manage the body’s reactions, regulate emotions and calm fears and anxieties – all key ingredients for healthy relationships. Being able to ground ourselves in mindfulness and not be distracted by the emotional agitation of others that might influence our capacity for compassionate action could be the hallmark and vital connection between mindfulness and compassion.

The word “compassion” is derived from the Latin compati and the Greek pathein, meaning to suffer, or endure with another person’s suffering or pain. Perhaps the most well description of compassion known is that of the Dalai Lama’s, who suggests that compassion is a “sensitivity to the suffering of self and others, with a deep commitment to try to relieve it”

Paul Gilbert writes about three major neurological systems, those of drive, safety and threat focused systems. At work we will typically perform (and underperform) under threat/drive, and our sympathetic nervous system will be chronically activated; stress, anxiety and depression are often consequential outcomes. Tara Brach, Christopher Germer, and Kristen Neff all suggest that practicing a mindfulness of self compassion in the workplace will help alleviate this threat/survival system and improve our relationships. They all broadly agree that self-compassion deactivates the threat system and activates the self-soothing of the parasympathetic nervous system which is associated with feelings of secure attachment, safeness, and the bonding neurochemical oxytocin. This turns the narrative there is something wrong with me into I’m okay. Google were so impressed by the connection between mindfulness, self compassion and relationships in a nourishing workplace that they created their own mindfulness programme called “Search Inside Yourself”. By September 2009 over two hundred people had gone through the programme, becoming more mindful, more connected, less stressed and better communicators.

The neuroscientist Louis Cozolino writes extensively about the need for empathy, connection and compassion in the creating and sustaining of relationships, the biology professor Joan Roughgarden challenges so-called Darwinian selfishness and suggests we all have a “genial gene”. Tara Brach writes about the importance of “recognising our basic goodness” in relationships and Dzogchen Ponlop suggests as a starting point “we cannot exist without depending on others.” These authors appear to be raising the need for connectivity and compassion in the realm of human relationships.

Geoffrey Kramer has created Insight Dialogue, a mindful exposition that he calls an effective pathway into relational work. At its heart these are composed of the following 6 elements:

  1. Pause: a pause from habitual ways
  2. Relax: calm body and mind
  3. Open: become aware of the other with acceptance
  4. Trust emergence: come to the relationship without an agenda
  5. Listen deeply: listen to the human being
  6. Speak the truth: speak your subjective truth without blame

Marsha Lucas suggests ways to help reset our nervous system and quiet our body’s “fight or flight” response. She refers to these techniques as “circuit breakers.” One strategy is to take several deep breaths, with your exhale being slightly longer than your inhale. Another strategy is to place your hands firmly over your heart and belly; this may stimulate the production of oxytocin, a bonding hormone, which also helps you feel calmer and safer. Lucas suggests focusing your attention on sending out (or perhaps sending in) caring feelings to yourself with the following words

May I be free

May I be peaceful and at ease

May I be happy

May be safe

And then focussing you attention on those you are in relationship with (good and bad!) and saying

May you be free

May you be peaceful and at ease

May you be happy

May you be safe

We live in a culture that appears to generate more stress, anxiety and depression that ever before yet holds out to the promise of better lives and relationships.

Taking time out from this wheel of work and striving, relating to yourself with a mindfulness of kindness, acceptance and compassion, then with the same to others can build and rebuild rich and sustaining relationships.


Further reading

Tara Brach. Radical Acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha

Louis Cozolino: The Neuroscience of Human Relationships

Christopher Germer. The Mindful Path to self Compassion: freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions

Paul Gilbert. The Compassionate Mind: how to develop happiness, self acceptance and well being

Marsha Lucas. Rewire Your Brain for Love: creating vibrant relationships using the science of mindfulness

Andrea Miller (ed). Right Here with You: bringing mindful awareness into our relationships

Kristen Neff. Self Compassion: stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind

Joan Roughgarden. The Genial Gene

Chade-Meng Tan: Search Inside Yourself: increase productivity, creativity and happiness


Compassion in (pro)action

One of the staple questions asked in mindfulness sessions is a reflection question that suggests we visualise the question as if it were like pebble in a pond, dropping down and rippling out; it invites us to connect with what bubbles up from the storehouse of our deepest-or not so deepest thoughts-and what might we further connect with as it ripples out?

I’ve been reflecting on compassion in action, and how our compassion training has a certain trajectory, moving (rippling out and deepening) from self-compassion to other compassion, from what might be a heady sense of compassion to a more embodied experience. This is compassion in action, and compassion in action is how we might embody that action in the world, and it really is up to us to find our own authentic path here; we can by degrees begin to “trust emergence” (Kramer ).

What might further emerge?

This is where compassionate (pro) action might take place, for if we follow the possible trajectory here, from self to other, then might we complete this with a further stage, that of world compassion (and, further, compassion for the multiverse?)

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here; thoughts drop into the body, body on ground, rest on the…ground? What is this Earth and what is happening here? When we turn our gaze to the earth with a mindfulness of recognition we bring our attention to a dilemma: what have they done, or what are we doing to the earth?

Pema Chodron ( ) brings our attention to the Tibetan word shenpa, that sticky feeling that makes us want to escape facing up or turning towards some difficulties or discomforts, and perhaps the biggest difficulty, the most unsettling and ungrounding challenge-the greatest “full catastrophe” is climate change, that legacy that may leave future generations angry at us for centuries to come.

How might we face this, with not anger or disgust or violent aggression, but with a loving kindness and compassion that builds and stands as an inner sustainable resource so we can engage proactively in this context?
Joanna Macy ( ) talks about a skilful, mindful approach to this situation, as does Stephanie Kaza in the excellent book Mindfully Green ( ) outlining a path that encourages us to meet the challenging of climate change with not a resigned sense of angry depression or hopelessness, but a way to reconnect with a proactive, compassionate capacity to meet a truly global compassionate mess.

So, if I were to pose a question to myself, I might ask “what stands between me and a proactive, sustainable compassionate response to global catastrophe?

Watch that pebble drop, watch the ripples….

MentalPress 23

Befriending Your Self Critic

Everyone has a self-critic. It is that part of us that is constantly commenting negatively on and condemning what we do; it tells us that we’re not good enough, that we “shouldn’t, oughtn’t or mustn’t” do things with our own authority.

The critical faculty of mind is in itself very useful, but our self-critic is loaded with negative emotions such as self-loathing, shame and contempt, and so the clearness of what might be self reflection is sabotaged by a tirade of put downs.

This results in a closing of our heart and mind, and sentences us to a prison or trance of unworthiness and shame, thwarting our potentials. In vain we repress this voice by force of suppression; Rob Nairn from the Mindfulness Association, backed up by modern neuroscience tells us that “energy follow focus”, meaning that the more we force out this inner voice in fact the more we lay down strong neurological pathways that ironically make it stronger and in reality keep our brains in an anxious state of flight or fight; for this reason it is crucial to find skilful ways of working with it.

Here are 5 stages of working skilfully to befriend your self critic

1. Allow your mind to settle, let your thoughts calm, get in touch with your breath and your breathing just as it is, ground yourself by feeling your feet on the floor and your body in your chair and in the room. Take some time to let your sense open

2. Bring to mind a time when you have felt the presence of your self critic, let the presence of your self critic build up as if it were external to you, see if you can get a felt sense of its size, colour, face, its embodiment and how it expresses itself to you. Just notice this

3. Ask yourself: does my self critic have my best interests at heart, is it helping me to realise my potentials?

4. Now look again at your self critic and ask it three questions: what is driving you, what are you frightened of, and how will you know when your work is over? (don’t expect a quick answer, or even an answer)

5. Now send your self-critic a message of compassionate well-being such as: may you find release, may that which is driving you find peace, may your work be done and may you move on

Repeat these stage wherever the voice of your self critic looms large: your are practising befriending yourself critic, which is really making greater friends with yourself-makes sense!

The Second Arrow

There’s a two and a half thousand year old story about human reactivity attributed to The Buddha. The story passed down is called The Second Arrow.

The Buddha thought of all the misfortunes that life brings to us and pictured it as if we were being shot by an arrow, driving pain deeply into us. Shakespeare’s line about “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” is presaged by nearly two millennia here.

But the Buddha said that for us mortal pain was not enough; in our reactivity a second arrow is shot, a mental arrow fired from ourselves to ourselves-this is our reaction to being hurt or distressed at the wrong end of outrageous fortune, or at times our reaction to our deeply held beliefs being challenged, and is usually made up of a fare amount of self defence, self criticism, self loathing, a feeling that we deserved what happened and in truth deserve more of the same; it’s as if it’s not enough to experience a passing pain or judgement, we need to hold onto to it, to internalise it as a kind of belief or story about us. We can also react in an angry way, lashing out-the challenged or hurt soul hurting back-though often it’s somebody else entirely we lash out to. We turn from pincushions to porcupines in seconds.

There’s a simple way of understanding this with an ARO formula

Action plus reaction equals outcome

Or, whatever happens to me, I react to and a (possibly bad) outcome is produced

However, it’s worth exploring this.

Our reactivity is really all the learnt thinking, feeling and behaviour we’ve amassed over our lifetimes. It’s all our cultural norms, our values, our conditioned responses, in part according to context and upbringing, in part according to being human beings, that become so embedded within us that they only take nanoseconds to spring into (re)action-in that nanosecond lies decades of unconscious assumptions and beliefs about what has to happen next. These are our deeply held “oughts”, “shoulds” and “musts” that command our reactions, that appear to be in control of us; it’s sometimes, in our reactivity, as if the tail was wagging the dog.

But although we cannot often control what happens to us, we can respond differently: we can, over time refuse to fire the second arrow. We can challenge our assumptions, beliefs and stories that are embedded within us so tightly, that we embody in tension, anger, in stressed and rigid sets of attitudes and beliefs that hold us back from living more relaxed, expansive, rewarding and happier lives. The formula changes:

Action plus response equals different outcome

ARO1 to ARO2

Whatever happens to me I respond with mindful reflection, out of compassion and choice, and a better outcome results

Of course, exploring this is hugely difficult for a person on their own; we’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to self inquiry and change, sometimes we need help to see our own set of limiting beliefs, norms, assumptions and reactions about and to the world and how these might be holding us back-who was it who said “the last person to notice the water is the fish”?

Counselling can help you explore and unpack your reactions and help you develop a more accepting and affirmative range of responsive behaviours, thoughts and feelings, so we become more mindful of our reactive thoughts and feelings when the first arrow of life strikes.

Senses open, returning to now

he fragrance of white tea is the feeling of existing in the mists that float over waters; the scent of peony is the scent of the absence of negativity: a lack of confusion, doubt, and darkness; to smell a rose is to teach your soul to skip; a nut and a wood together is a walk over fallen Autumn leaves; the touch of jasmine is a night’s dream under the nomad’s moon.” -C. Joybell C

Now that spring is officially upon us, and daffodils are blooming (even here in The North East!) our thoughts turn to nature, to getting out more, to our parks and our gardens. I’ve just finished reading a book by Nark Coleman called Awake in the Wild: mindfulness in Nature as a path of self discovery. The book almost literally invites us to take a walk into our senses, to -as Kabat-Zinn says “come to our senses” to come out of autopilot, into the body and use the senses as a place to stay present and be grounded.

When you are stressed, tired or anxious, notice how this plays out in and on your body; your senses literally tighten and close down. You compress. You become like James Joyce’s Mr Duffy who “lived a few feet away from his body”. But you can decompress, return to a felt experience of having your “senses open, returning to now”. This type of practice encourages you to open out again, to recognise, turn towards and befriend your difficulties, with a kindly embodied and sensory awareness, grounding in the here and now so we “taste the dharma” (Buddha, attrib.)

Together, mind and body form one powerful communication system looped into a continual interaction. We are often aware of what we are communicating externally, but we may be less in touch with what’s going on inside and how this in turn relates in a continual connection. Even though our minds and bodies do interconnect and communicate with us all the time, we may not always pay attention to the messages! 

Most of us are fortunate enough to have five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Everyone’s sense system is totally unique to them because people experience things differently. This forms part of what we call ‘our map of the world’. Imagine eating an apple, with all of the sounds, tastes, smells and sights associated with it. If you try this activity with a friend and compare notes, you’ll find out just how much this can vary between two people. 

If you start to tap into your senses and really connect with them, far more information becomes available to you. This will become apparent in your internal state as well as externally, in the way you communicate and connect with others and the world at large; you literally become “one”. 

You can also take advantage of your senses to become more mindful and to savour the moment. This not only enables you to make the most of each moment but can also ground you and help you to tune in to what’s really happening as it happens. You’ll notice the experience in a very different way. Whether it’s something simple like washing your hands, watching rainfall, kissing your partner goodbye as you go to work, drinking a cup of tea or just looking out of a window – the world of your sense offers itself to you, time and time again.

A simple practice

  • Pause
  • Breathe in, breathe out
  • Become more aware of your soothing breathing
  • What are your thoughts?
  • What feelings do you have?
  • What do you see, what do you notice happening right now, without needing to judge or qualify it?
  • What do you hear happening right now?
  • What can you smell happening right now?
  • What can you taste?
  • What are you touching? How does that feel?
  • Where is your body right now?
  • What’s happening inside you right now?
  • Recognise the sensory world around you as it is right now, grounding and being in this moment
  • Senses open, return to now

Ah, not to be cut off/Not through the slightest partition/Shut out from the law of the stars./The inner-what is it?/If not intensified sky


Mindfulness and your unholy trinity

the body keeps the score” Bessel van der Kolk

In one of his short stories in Dubliners James Joyce writes “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body”. Joyce goes on to describe the consequences of being disconnected like this, and suggests that this is a perfect description of how many people live their lives. Being disconnected from our bodies also presumes being disconnected from our feelings, thoughts, emotions, our five senses; literally our embodied selves and therefore the world itself.

This would appear to be a Western World phenomena which is spreading out across the globe1. The stresses of our busy, frantic lives pushing us further into digital overload, distraction, and into our heads. We become, as Eckhart Tolle says “lost in thought” and disconnected from our sensory lives, from our vibrant and creative core.

Stress itself, the low but chronic stress of our everyday lives, from workplace targets, car journeys to the office, digital demands, the multiple pressures of media conditioning and cultural complexity, conspire to create what the French philosopher Michelle Foucault called “docile bodies” -the body acquiesces to outside demands and requests and the head claims sovereignty; this is the fallout of the activation of our fight and flight system, created to keep us safe from tigers in the wild but which in contemporary society reacts to the “paper tigers” around us, leaving us habitually stuck in a threat related system.

Chris Germer has also outlined how this happens, calling the ramifications of this our “unholy trinity”. Germer suggests that our fight response becomes internalised as criticising or attacking ourselves, our flight as distracting, suppressing or disconnecting with ourselves and our freeze as getting stuck in ruminative thinking-lost in low mood and thought. We try to meet stressful thinking with more stressful thinking, getting Velcro’d to the very thing we’re looking to be Teflon’d to!

We need to approach this from another perspective altogether.

Mindfulness has been described by Buddhist scholar Rob Nairn as “knowing what’s happening while it’s happening, without preference” and this “knowing” is considered here not just a cognitive but an embodied knowing, where the self is integrated as a whole, as one.

Germer and Nairn’s work dovetails together in the practice of antidotes to this unholy trinity. The antidote to flight is our sense of common humanity-we’re not alone, the antidote to fight is self-kindness or compassion and to freeze is mindfulness. The practice here is a full body one, of opening up to our senses. The core of mindfulness deals with how to reconnect with everything that Mr. Duffy is disconnected from: our sensory self, not our docile bodies but the élan vital of the embodied self.

The body, our sense of being embodied, opens up our senses and we begin to realise that despite our habitual tendency to distraction and dissociation, when we enter the forest of our embodiment with a kind and curious attention we have an inherent capacity, an inner wisdom that soothes and reconnects, that releases the score. This mindful practice lowers the fight-flight system and allows us to enter a forest clearing of the embodied self and live more authentic lives.

A simple practice

Find a place where you can walk for about 10 minutes, a park, a beach, but don’t worry if it’s in city, just walk.

As you walk, let your thoughts just come and go; if you get caught up in distraction or lost in thoughts just come back to the feeling of your breath as you walk, breathing in, breathing out.

Bring you attention to your feet, legs, pelvis moving, walking, see if you can get a felt sense of this then gradually open your senses up, and ask yourself what am I seeing, hearing, what can I smell, touch, what is the felt sense of all of this like? Allow your experience to be just as it.

Then walk, in the simple feeling of being a walking human being, present in this moment, and this moment, and the next.



Michelle Foucault Discipline and Punish

Chris Germer The Mindful Path to Self compassion

James Joyce Dubliners

Bessel van der Kolk The Body Keeps The Score

Rob Nairn Mindfulness Asscoation

Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now


1 See Distracted: the erosion of attention and the coming dark age by Maggie Jackson

Listening with a Loving Heart

there’s a moon inside every human being

learn to be companions with it

give more of your life to this listening


When you are not listened to it can have a powerfully negative impact on your life. You can feel isolated, invisible, uncared for, the unlistened can be seen (when they are seen) by their low self-esteem, their embodiment of shame, the faltering way they talk, as if waiting for permission or validation. Their spirit may appear low, as if they have given up on life, whereas it is often that they feel life has given up on them.

When somebody listens to us it creates a space within which we can express ourselves, we can feel prized and validated, held in our uniqueness as human beings, we can allow ourselves to be just as we are, whatever that might be. When we are heard in the deepest way, we can meet an authentic part of ourselves previously suppressed.

Deep, mindful listening is more than just hearing, it is more than an activity of the brain or cognitive process, it is opening up our hearts and our embodied sense of self to the other, remaining present without judgement to another’s suffering; it is a whole body sensitivity to the struggles that the other person is experiencing. It is listening with an open, loving heart.

Good listening also demands a certain resourcefulness in the listener; most of the reasons why a person listens with difficulty are because they either feel the need to give advice or just don’t have the inner resources to stand true before another’s pain and suffering, so they shut down and stop listening. So effective listening also takes time and patience to develop a kinder relationship to our own discomfort, too.

Gilbert and Choden, in their book Mindful Compassion talk about the “two psychologies” involved in compassion, that of the first, of noticing and having the resources to be with another person’s suffering, the second the wish to alleviate the suffering. Deep listening, listening with an open, loving and compassionate heart helps alleviate another person’s suffering.

Take my clients Ned and Steve. They had been together for 3 years and were considering getting married, but were stuck. Steve’s I.T. business had really taken off and he was spending more time away from home. Ned felt minimised and kept asking for Steve’s time. Steve was caught up the demands of his business and had effectively shut down his listening skills. I suggested they take some time out and practice some mindful listening.

This was demonstrated and practiced in my consulting room, then I suggested, using Gilbert and Choden’s model, that Steve took a series of pauses to build up his resources around offering listening skills, gently becoming more present to Neds communication. Later that week, Steve had set aside time to deeply listen to Ned; Ned told how he felt both accepted, valued and lovingly help in Steve’s silent listening. Both were calmer and in later sessions expressed greater sense of connectedness. Six months after stopping seeing me they were still practicing mindful listening and I received an email with pictures of their wedding.

Waiting in Line

When you listen you reach

into dark corners and

pull out your wonders.

When you listen your

ideas come in and out

like they are waiting in line.

Your ears don’t always listen.

It can be your brain, your

fingers, your toes.

You can listen anywhere.

Your mind might not want to go.

If you can listen you can find

answers to questions you didn’t know.

If you have listened, truly

listened, you don’t find your

self alone.

-Nick Penna, fifth grade

Immeasurable Compassion Practice

Sit in a calm and centred posture, feeling your body where it and as it is. Gently settle

Breathe slowly, deeply yet gently and begin to get the flety exerinece of your heart and mind, and your body here and now.

Breathe, softly, gently. Feel what it is to be you.

Say to yourself

May I be peaceful

May I be happy

May I be free from suffering

Bring to your attention someone you care for, empathising with hardships in their life, and their yearning for happiness and well-being. With increasing awareness notice how your heart can open to those whom you care for.

May you be peaceful

May you be happy

May you be free from suffering

Allow yourself to savour these phrases for a while.

Bring to your attention the all the sentient beings in this world who are suffering, who are yearning for happiness, peace and freedom.

Breathe in that suffering. Breathe out compassion, saying

May you be peaceful

May you be happy

May you be free from suffering

Allow yourself to sit, savour and breathe for a few minutes.

Practice extending this further outwards…practice with a person you do not like, who has hurt you saying

May you be peaceful

May you be happy

May you be free from suffering

Practice your compassion until it becomes immeasurable.


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Covid 19 blog #11: you gave away your power. What comes next?

“Mr Duffy lived a few feet away from his body” -James Joyce Dubliners “true spiritual realisation, authentic enlightenment, …


Covid 19 blog #8: a time of loss and a time of adaption-to what?

“do not go gently into that good night/old age should burn and rage at close of day/rage, rage against the dying of the …