Opening the Heart to Ourselves and Others: Developing Compassion and Forgiveness

Following on from our retreat in October 2020, we journeyed into a 4-Part Series led by Saida Taylor-Brook and Munira Salomon. We recapped from the retreat and moved forward building a strong foundation for our healing practices by developing our capacity for compassion and love. 

Over the four sessions, we worked with deepening our compassion for others and developing self-compassion: How do we learn to accept ourselves as we are?  

We then explored forgiveness: How do we let go of elements of the past that continue to constrain and wound us, to free ourselves for compassion for the present?  

Finally, we completed the circle and used what we learned about self-compassion to forgive ourselves and free ourselves from self-limiting guilt. 


COMPASSION

From Session 1 which took place on 27th February 2021

What is Compassion?:

Let’s start with an understanding of compassion by asking the question what is compassion? I have a quote here from Thupten Jinpa, who is the principal translator for the Dalai Lama.  He’s also trained as a monk and is a leader in the field of compassion training.  He says that:

Compassion is the natural sense of concern that arises in us when we are confronted with someone else’s suffering.  And that sense of concern is accompanied with a wish to see the situation changed or wanting to do something about it.

The key elements here are: awareness of suffering – which means being mindful of others and an active wish to help alleviate that suffering.  So, it’s not just empathy – feeling with but a wish to take action of some sort.  It may not necessarily involve doing in the sense of intervening actively (although it could include that).  It might be praying for someone or sending them healing from a distance.

The first few lines of a Rumi poem calls us to remove the blocks to loving from our hearts:


Listen, open a window in your heart
and look at the Beloved.
The task of love is to make that window,
So the heart can be illuminated by His Beauty. 


Let’s talk about what the blocks are to creating our window of compassion and what helps the window of compassion to open up: (10 mins)

  • I’m imagining that most people present understand the value of compassion and probably, like I do, hold it as a guiding light in your interactions with others.  It’s what attracted me to the Sufi path – the idea of living from the heart and opening our hearts to others and this being a value that is lived, it’s alive in our lives and we express it through our thoughts and our deeds.  It’s not just an idea.  I’ve also no doubt that you would probably consider that you have no difficulty in being compassionate towards others who are suffering.  And I’m sure for much of the time this is true.  So, this touches on one of the factors that takes us towards compassion for others – compassion as a life value.
  • However, as human beings we have instincts which may compete with one another and can then block compassion, so I’d like to talk about factors that stop us from experiencing compassion and those that facilitate us to move towards others who need our compassion.  Thupten Jinpa says there are 3 aspects to compassion:
  • One, is cognitive which is about our perception and understanding of someone’s suffering.  So, we understand at a mind level because we see or hear another’s suffering.  We can observe it. An example of compassion staying at a cognitive level might be hearing of someone you don’t know suffering.  You empathise but somehow you don’t fully experience the connection that is necessary for it to translate into compassion.
  • Then there is an emotional component, which is where we feel moved or touched by a situation.  With the cognitive understanding stage on its own – we may not be moved or moved sufficiently to prompt action.  It’s the emotional component that is important to inspire us to take action.  Charities raising money for suffering groups of people or animals know this which is why they use images and real human or animal stories of suffering to engage our compassionate hearts in order to motivate us to take action by giving money.
  • This leads onto the third component which is more motivational.  This involves a wish to see the situation changed or we want to do something about it. 
  • Neuroscientific research has shown that compassion – a desire to alleviate another’s suffering - is in fact a natural instinct.  So, it’s not just because we may hold it as one of our important life values but because it’s linked to care-giving and this impulse ensures the survival of our species.  So, at the instinctual level, it’s driven by our biology and is hard-wired into our brains.  And it ensures we not only survive, but thrive.  If we see our child suffer, we want to relieve their suffering.  If we see someone on the street without food, we want to ensure they’re not hungry. 
  • Understanding this piece when I looked into compassion was very helpful to me as it explains my own visceral experience of wishing to help someone who is suffering.  This is what motivates a lot of people to choose healing professions or professions that are aimed at responding to human suffering such as the rescue services.
  • Maybe this natural instinct linked to care-giving explains why I went into human resources originally.  I was strongly influenced by a sense of wishing to see justice and equality in the workplace (1980’s – the suffering that I saw was around inequality for woman and people of colour) and it’s probably the instinct that later prompted me to re-train as a psychotherapist.  This time I wanted to facilitate people to heal their suffering at a deeper level than was possible through my interventions in the workplace.
  • I mentioned earlier that connection is necessary for us to move beyond our cognitive understanding of another’s suffering. Recent research has discovered – or we could say, has clarified - that a compassionate response arises from an awareness of connection to others.  It’s about a relationship between those who suffer and those who want to help alleviate that suffering. This is also linked to the care-giving instinct – as the care-giving instinct promotes relationship.  It requires a relationship to be able to give care.
  • Scans of the brain show that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is activated when we give or receive compassion – so, when we’re in relationship with another.  Whilst this is now proven at a scientific level, I want to offer you two quotes from men from very different disciplines – one spiritual and one scientific - that highlight that we have known this probably forever and science is now confirming it:
  • Thomas Merton: The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
  • Einstein: A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe” ... He experiences himself … as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
  • To most of us here being compassionate probably feels very instinctual and natural – I know it does for me.  Yet, there are factors that block it and it can be cultivated and we need to know how to do this when factors arise to block us from feeling compassion.

A story to highlight what blocks compassion and what helps us more toward it:

To demonstrate what blocks compassion and what promotes it, I’d like to tell you an anecdote from my own experience that highlights the factors that promote compassion and create blocks to compassion.

A couple of Christmases ago, my husband Roger and I were given rather a lot of sweet things for Christmas – cakes, chocolate, biscuits. Far too much for just the two of us and so Roger had the idea of going into Oxford right after Christmas and giving it to the homeless. 

I have a special place in my heart for those who are homeless. I feel deep compassion for those whose life experiences leave them on the streets. Our most fundamental basis for existence is to have a home and to belong to a community be it family, neighbourhood, friends, work or some other way of connecting and belonging.  I think it must be one of the most isolating and frightening experiences, to live on the streets without a place to feel safe. So, I really welcomed Roger’s suggestion. So, this was the cognitive component – I thought it was a good idea and it sat well with my values.

What I found though when we started to approach different homeless individuals or groups was that an aversion arose, a pulling away, a reluctance to approach and even a slight revulsion. I noticed that I no longer felt that warmth and compassion for their predicament and I was confused and shocked by my inner response. I began to question the sincerity of my compassion towards the homeless. 

When I tuned in, I realized I was frightened.  Being so close to people who were evidently high on drink or drugs and of course dirty from living on the streets, so what I was seeing visually was not encouraging me to approach. Consequently, my body and mind went into fear – it was an automatic fight/flight/freeze survival response. I was aware that at worse we could be physically harmed – or simply rejected.  And I sensed that Roger too was holding back a little and appeared wary. So, my survival instinct here was to go into flight.  This was beyond thought – it was a physical experience of pulling away and an emotional experience of fear - and my survival instinct over-rode my compassionate intentionSo, this is an example of where two basic instincts compete and this is one of the reasons why we may at times not feel compassionate – my instinct for care-giving and showing compassion to those suffering competed with my instinct for survival and without awareness of this, survival will win out. 

However, my wish to offer food to those in need and being mindful of our compassionate intention and of their obvious suffering, I was propelled forward. So that was the cognitive aspect of compassion that came up again and reminded me of my value system of helping others in need.

And I found that I could approach them and when I spoke to them, and they responded – although not always positively - some said that their teeth were poor and they couldn’t eat the hard biscuits or chocolate and they were dismissive but then, after a pause, they changed their minds and took it, saying they could bargain with someone else for something that they did want. I felt warmth because I was relating to them. This helped me feel connection to them. I also smiled inwardly at their resiliency and creativity in getting their needs met by swapping food – and this also helped the sense of connection.

So, when I experienced them as not threatening but as suffering human beings, I was able to connect to our common humanity my heart opened and I noticed my fear and revulsion dissolve. 

There were two things playing out here that research shows is important in mobilizing our compassionate instinct.  One was I stopped for a moment and reminded myself of why we were there. So I was mindful which meant I could stop being reactive. The Buddha said that being aware and being compassionate are intrinsically interwoven. 

The second thing was that as I reminded myself of our aim here.  This helped me to move towards the homeless men and then I could relateRelating. dissolved my aversion and my fear. So, I could connect to them in their suffering – one human being to another and that activated my wish to alleviate their suffering, albeit in this very small way by offering sweet treats.

Aversion and judgement in the face of suffering:  Again, research shows this is a common feature.  Doctors and other medical staff may experience aversion with patients. And judgement can be a feature too.  This is a significant factor in those who judge people who suffer who are different in some way (because of race, religion, cultural background).  In simplistic terms, the purpose of judgement is about understanding why someone is suffering and a wish to learn from it so we can change it and survive. 

With these powerful negative impulses in the face of another’s suffering, it’s important to be mindful of what’s happening within us rather than acting it out either by avoidance or unkindness.

Murshid said:

One must always respond with compassion and sympathy to all who are suffering, even when they are the cause of their own misery. And, by rising above one's own egocentric viewpoint and the consequential suffering, one is then much better equipped to offer a greater quality of sympathy, compassion and healing to those who lack understanding.                                                                         

Practice: Developing Compassion for those we know

Introduction:

This is a practice to enable us to feel for others’ suffering with both a mindful awareness and with compassion.  And it’s important to know that this is a life practice. If you don’t connect with compassion for another today in this practice, it’s ok.  It’s a process and all that is being invited here is to set an intention to open your heart if it will and to feel some compassion for someone else who is suffering.  If it doesn’t happen today, it’s an opportunity to be compassionate toward yourself and accepting that this is just how it is right now. Cultivating mindfulness and embodied presence takes patience because we naturally want to move away from others’ pain. So just holding that sincere intention to relate with compassion.

The practice:

So please sit in a way that allows you to be relaxed and alert. Let go of any habitual tension, relaxing your face, perhaps a slight smile at the mouth. Letting go of any tension in the shoulders. Softening your hands, your belly. Taking a few full breaths and allowing your whole body and mind to settle….

Take a few moments to scan through those who are close to you in your life, family members, friends, and choose someone who you know is having a difficult time… As you bring them to mind, connect with your intention to learn, to stay, to awaken compassion toward this person.

Now, begin by honestly look at how you might typically relate to them and their difficulty… When you hear or see that they’re having trouble, how do you typically respond?  Perhaps you’re believing they should be different or it’s their fault .... Maybe the blockage is more about you being distracted or preoccupied or maybe you think it’s too much for you to handle… Whatever your reaction has been, regard that with a very accepting heart. See if you can nurture some kindness to whatever way that you’ve been reacting. And you’ll find that if you regard your own reactivity with kindness, there’s more space. There’s more tenderness… And if you sense that there’s some armouring, some distraction or some blocks to being present with this person’s difficulty, begin by simply acknowledging this and by imagining breathing out that blockage on the exhalation … Just notice if your heart softens towards this person’s difficulties and if your body softens and opens … breathing out the blockages …  

Now, bringing your attention more fully to the person. And here we begin bringing the RAIN of compassion to this person by first recognizing that they’re having a hard time.  So the R of RAIN is to recognise the indicators that this person is struggling … Maybe you’re recalling a look on their face or something they’ve said, the tone in their voice or some way of behaving that lets you know they’re having trouble … So you begin by recognizing the signs of their suffering, their pain.

And the second stage of RAIN is to allow … so, allow their suffering … let your sense of this person, how they’re living, feeling, being, let it be just as it is right now in your mind’s eye …. You don’t have to imagine fixing it and you don’t have to judge how they’re dealing with their difficulties … just be with their suffering … as best you can …

And from this space of allowing, you can begin to move to the third stage of RAIN which is to investigate. So, begin to get more familiar with what’s going on for them, with gentleness, with curiosity, with interest. You might explore what it’s like being in their shoes. You might deepen your attention with some of the following questions.  I’ll offer the questions, and just imagine that you’re listening to this person responding. You’re sensing their response, and let yourself feel with them.

  • Where does it hurt?
  • What life circumstances are most distressing to you?
  • What’s really the worst part of all of this for you?
  • What are you believing about yourself?
  • What are the fears, or disappointments, or hurts that you’re carrying?
  • And what’s it like in your body, your heart, to live with these hurts, with this woundedness?

As you’re imagining what it’s like being them, what’s it like being you? Where does it hurt you as you listen to them? … And what does that vulnerable place in you most want or need right now as you become aware of this person’s suffering? … Listening to that need of yours, and as you do so expand your awareness to your whole body, into the sound and space around you, to the whole field of listening, feeling, caring and mindful presence to your feeling with that person and also sensing the spaciousness of your own presence… If it helps, let your in-breath connect you with the feelings or waves of their vulnerability and let your out-breath release into that larger space, that ocean-ness of presence and care. And from that larger space, beginning to nurture them, feeling that in this heart space, this person is a part of you and you can offer what’s needed.

Is it acceptance? Does that person need to feel held, forgiven, cared for and loved, understood? … And, if it feels possible, sense that you’re offering a message of care to that person … offering that care energetically as a flow of warmth… You might sense or imagine you’re putting your hand on their cheek or their arm or shoulder or embracing them in some way, surrounding them with light, offering your nurturing… And imagine this person receiving it … they’re letting in your care… Envisioning them moving toward healing, happiness, freedom…

And now we move to a stage called After the RAIN, letting go of all ideas of the other person and just notice the qualities of heart and presence that are here within you… Is there a sense of openness, tenderness, love? Whatever you find, let go and rest in that. Get to know it as home….

Reflection:

  • What blocks you from feeling compassion?
  • What helps you to move towards another with compassion?

Dalai Lama: There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

Practice:

Ya Noor (Divine Light) - Ya Rahman (Divine Compassion) x11/33
On the fikr, breathe in Noor and breathe out Rahman
Sit in the resonance of the practice                      


SMALL KINDNESSES By Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

 

A Compassion in Action exercise:  You’re invited to spend time with someone you care about who’s having a hard time. And with interest, ask them some version of the question, “Where does it hurt?” And listen deeply. Let yourself be touched, and actively extend kindness.

Nayaz:

Beloved Lord, Almighty God!
Through the rays of the sun, through the waves of the air,
through the All-pervading Life in space,
Purify and revivify me,
and I pray, heal my body, heart and soul.


Saida Taylor-Brook
March 2021


SELF-COMPASSION

From Session 2–13th March 2021

Practice: Affectionate Breathing

Start by settling your body and finding a comfortable position … feel your feet firmly on the floor if they’re touching the floor or notice your connection to what you’re sitting on … feeling connected to the earth, grounding you, stablising you …  And now connecting to your breath … letting your breath be in its natural rhythm … soft, silence, easy …

Now, if it feels right, adopt a little half-smile, so the corners of your mouth turn up just a little bit. It shouldn’t be strained or forced … just let your mouth adopt a position of a little bit of a smile with your mouth closed … Notice how this makes you feel when your face adopts a position of contentment and peace … happiness in the present moment …. And now as you breathe in and out, notice how each in-breath feels, and how each out-breath feels … try to let your breath be infused with affection for yourself and or others … with kindness for yourself and kindness for others…

Even if you don’t really feel it, just set your intention for each breath to breathe in kindness and affection for yourself and with each out-breath send out kindness and affection to others or for the world as a whole – all beings in the world ……

Your mind will likely wander as you do this … gently bring your attention back to your breath, focusing on the feelings of affection and kindness that you’re intending with each in breath and with each out breath … if it helps to get in touch with these feelings of affection and kindness, you might try putting your hand over your heart and feeling the warmth that’s there ….

Noticing each breath as it enters and exits your body … holding affection for yourself and for others …. holding kindness for yourself and for others … remembering your little half-smile …

Noticing the feelings of affection generated by your half-smile … or perhaps you have your hand over your heart chakra … getting in touch with the feelings of warmth there … kindness being breathed in … and breathed out …

What is Self-Compassion?:

Compassion is defined as sensitivity to the pain or suffering of another, coupled with a deep desire to alleviate that suffering.

Self-compassion is that same process directed towards ourselves.  In the face of our own suffering, we feel an impulse to take some form of action to alleviate our pain.

  • We also saw last time that compassion requires being in relationship with the one who is suffering. Feeling a sense of common humanity means we’re more likely to be moved by another’s suffering. And then be moved to take action.
  • It’s this need for a relationship to the one who is suffering that presents a dilemma for feeling self-compassionate because so often our inner critic gets triggered if we’re suffering – we get down on ourselves and this blocks healthy, supportive relationship.
  • This is where mindfulness of our suffering is so important as it’s through being aware that we begin to create that sense of a wise or witnessing self that can start to notice the suffering and respond with compassion.
  • And it helps cultivate a sense that we are somehow bigger than our suffering.
  • The other factor that can hinder being self-compassionate is our level of resiliency.  When we’re being compassionate to another and feel that we can respond to their suffering, we feel strong and resourced and hopeful that we can helpWe approach the suffering of another from this place of strength, love and support.
  • But when the suffering is ours, we’re standing in the suffering and in our vulnerability, not in our strength. There can be a tendency to get lost in the pain and it can then feel hard to connect with a belief that we can do something to alleviate our own suffering.

Practice:  Loving Kindness Meditation 

Please sit in a way that allows you to be comfortable and relaxed. Begin by feeling your intention to bring kindness to the life that’s here…

Now, scanning through your body, see if you can let go of whatever tension might be most obvious, loosening through the shoulders, softening the hands, relaxing the belly. You might bring a slight smile to the lips, allowing this to connect you with a spirit of gentleness and ease.

Now, bring to mind someone who’s dear to you – someone with whom you have an uncomplicated relationship—and remind yourself now of what you love about them. Or maybe it’s a beloved pet … What are the qualities of their heart, their intelligence, their honesty, the way they show you love?... What brings up your loving for them? As you reflect on what you appreciate, feel your warmth, and send them a caring wish, and simply let yourself feel the goodness of loving them…

Now, take some moments to remember and attend more fully to your basic goodness. You might bring to mind your love of loving, how it feels when your heart is open, your longing to love well. You might sense your basic goodness in your sincere intention to wake up, to be more loving, to wake up your wisdom. You might sense your basic goodness in your honesty, your curiosity about the nature of reality, what’s really true. You might sense your goodness in your dedication to be part of the healing of our world…

If acknowledging your own goodness is difficult, then look at yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you or may be through the eyes of a spiritual figure who’s meaningful to you… What does that being see and love about you?...

As you sense your essential goodness, rest in the tender appreciation for a few moments… Now, in the silence of your mind and heart, begin offering yourself lovingkindness through prayers of care. As you repeat each phrase, sense the meaning of the words and let them arise from the sincerity of your heart.

I’ll mention a number of phrases. You might choose those that resonate for you or feel free to develop your own phrases that have meaning for you:

  • May I be filled with lovingkindness.
  • May I be held in lovingkindness.
  • May I accept myself just as I am.
  • May I feel happy.
  • May I feel safe and at ease.
  • May I touch great and natural peace.
  • May my heart and mind awaken.
  • May I be free.

As you repeat the phrases, you might deepen the care by gently placing your hand on your heart, letting the touch be tender… May I be filled with loving presence, held in loving presence. May I be happy. May I feel safe and at ease…

As you continue to send yourself loving-kindness, imagine and feel the experience that you’re wishing for yourself …

Letting go of all words now and simply being aware of the quality of warmth and openness of heart, and the possibility of increasingly trusting this goodness as you continue on your path… Opening your eyes.

Loving-Kindness:

  • I’d like to say something about Loving-Kindness as a Mindfulness concept and how it’s relevant to developing Self-Compassion.
  • The term Loving-Kindness comes from the Pali term metta, which means friendlinessSo, it’s a practice in which we learn to be a good friend to ourselves – to become an inner ally.
  • It entails general feelings of friendliness to oneself (and others) and doesn’t necessarily involve suffering. Whereas compassion and self-compassion, do involve a recognition of suffering.
  • So Loving-Kindness encourages us to develop a friendly stance to ourselves even when things are going well.  This is one way of beginning to soften and open our hearts towards ourselves (and to others of course).
  • Here are a couple of quotes from the Dalai Lama who describes the differences between these two heart-centred states of Loving-Kindness and Compassion.  He said that:

Loving-Kindness is “the wish that all sentient beings may be happy”.

Compassion is “the wish that all sentient beings may be free from suffering”.

And if we put these two ideas together, a meditation teacher from Myanmer (formally Burma) said:

“When the sunshine of loving-kindness meets the tears of suffering, the rainbow of compassion arises.”

Story:

Here is a brief story that highlights the essence of practicing self-kindness which is about seeing our basic goodness and actively expressing care to ourselves.

Some may know the story of a giant statue of the Buddha in Southeast Asia. It was a plaster and clay statue, not very handsome or attractive, but loved by many. It had endured wars, storms, changes of government, but at one point, because of an extended dry season, cracks appeared in the statue. When the monks went to investigate, they shined a flashlight into one of the cracks. What appeared was the gleam of gold. Then they went about chipping off the covering and discovered it to be the largest solid gold statue in Southeast Asia. The monks believe that it had been covered over to protect it through difficult times, much as we cover over our innocence and purity to navigate a difficult world.

Our suffering is that we fixate on our coverings, on our ego defenses, our often misguided ways of seeking safety or approval, and we forget the gold.

The gold is your basic goodness, and it’s here now – it’s always here.  We may just not be in touch with it.

With modern day psychology, we’re very open to acknowledging our unhealthy conditioning and ego coverings.  But it’s just as important on the path of opening your heart to self-compassion to remember the gold: the love, and the wisdom—the awareness that’s your essence.

Learning to see the inner gold is what will allow you to connect with the light of compassion towards yourself.

Practice: Developing Self-Compassion

  • Settling yourself with your breath … noticing the in-breath … and the out-breath …. And settling your body once again, being aware of any tensions … adjusting your posture if you need to…  being with yourself in this moment, now, quietly breathing …. (1 minute)
  • Now, I’d like to invite you to think of a situation in your life that is difficult.  Something that is causing you some stress or emotional pain. It doesn’t have to be something big or deeply painful…. It can be fairly everyday … (pause).  Call the situation to mind and heart …   You may find that more than one situation is arising … if that’s happening either actively choose one and settle with it or trust the first one that arose …  You can come back to the other situations in your own time some other time ….  (pause).  Once you’ve settled on something, become aware of the emotions involved in the situation … there may be more than one emotion … that’s fine … just allow whatever is there to simply be ….. (pause). 
  • And now see if you can feel the emotional discomfort that this situation evokes within your body… notice what physical sensations does it give rise to? … You might feel some activation in your solar plexus … or in your heart chakra … or in your head … or back … or some other place in your body … It may be that this situation activates more than one area in your body …. That’s ok … just notice this and let it be …. Breathe with it ….. (pause) …
  • Now, we’re going to move through the three components of self-compassion whilst focusing on this situation and the emotions and physical sensations that it gives rise to:

1.    The 1st component of developing self-compassion is: to begin by inviting in an attitude of self-kindness:

  • Being aware if there are judgemental thoughts around (in Sufism we know this state as the blaming or regretful nafs – it’s the activation of the ego or small self that is so ready to find fault) …. and beginning to think of yourself kindly, with care and understanding … letting go of any harsh judgement and negative thought patterns … breathing them out on the exhalation …. (pause)
  • And connecting with a desire to positively alleviate your suffering.  Knowing that you can do something constructive to change your state of mind and heart. 
  • This is an active stance … so beginning now to actively soothe and comfort yourself…  to ease your suffering, by saying these comforting words (or you may like to say another set of words that have more meaning for you):
  • You might say: (pause between each phrase)
    • This is a moment of suffering. 
    • This is really hard right now.
    • I’m really struggling.
    • This hurts. 
    • This is stressful or makes me angry or anxious or sad or frightened – whatever your emotion might be …
    • Repeat the phrases
    • Just notice for a moment what impact these words have on your emotions and physical body  …. Notice if there’s a softening or a change in your system (pause) … and, if there isn’t, that’s ok … let it be just as it is right now …..

2.    Moving to the second component of developing self-compassion:

Encouraging recognition of our common humanity:

  • So beginning to foster a sense of connection with others … and seeing your experience as part of the larger human experience. … (pause)
  • And recognising that you’re not alone in this…  This is not to minimise your suffering but to recognise that your suffering is part of being human….  Some suffering is intense and terrible; some is quiet and small …
  • Recognising the Buddhist principle that life is imperfect, suffering is part of life… how you respond to your suffering is what’s important …
  • In this moment, you can choose to respond with self-compassion by repeating the following phrases to yourself (or finding you own):

Pause between phrases

  • Suffering is part of life.
  • It’s not abnormal to feel this way. 
  • Many people may be feeling this way.
  • I am not alone in this experience.

Repeat the phrases and pause

  • Now, putting your hand over your heart chakra and feeling the warmth and gentle touch of your hand. Or use some other soothing and gentle touch – you may like to cup your face with your hands or place your hands on your solar plexus or wrap your arms around yourself… whatever feels like the most compassionate touch that you can give yourself in this moment … (pause).  You can hold this compassionate touch if it feels right or release your hands – just as you choose.

3.    And moving now into the third component of developing self-compassion - being mindfully aware of your suffering:

  • So, being with the painful feelings just as they are right now… not avoiding your suffering or pushing it away … as best you can, embracing whatever is present in this moment … as Rumi says in his poem The Guest House, to welcome “our crowd of sorrows” as guests; to “treat them honourably … Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”… So, trying to honour and be with whatever discomfort is present with you now, whether at a physical, mind, heart or soul level …
  • And repeating the following phrases to yourself (or finding your own words):
    • May I be kind to myself in this moment. 
    • May I be gentle with myself right now. Repeat and pause
    • You may ask yourself the question:

 “what do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?”  Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation … may be one of the following:

  • Pause between phrases
    • May I give myself the compassion that I need
    • May I learn to accept myself as I am
    • May I forgive myself
    • May I be patient
  • Having moved through these three components of developing self-compassion, tuning in now to how you feel in your body … what sensations are arising …. (pause) … And notice how you’re feeling emotionally …. (pause) … If you’re not feeling self-compassionate, know that that’s ok … that’s how it is in this moment and it could be an opportunity to try to accept your limitations ….

Preparing to come out of this practice, feel your feet on the floor and your contact with your seat … notice the noises around you … and gently open your eyes and come back into the room …

Reflections:

  • Reflect on what blocks you from feeling self-compassion
  • What helps you to move towards being self-compassionate

Practice: a Sufi practice with two wazief invoking Divine light and kindness

Ya Noor (Divine Light) - Ya Karim (Divine Kindness) x11/33          


Poem:

WHY I WAKE EARLY BY MARY OLIVER

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
 

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

 

A Self-Compassion reflection

Reflect on the ways in which you might show yourself compassion when you’re struggling.

Saying Nayaz for yourself:

Beloved Lord, Almighty God!
Through the rays of the sun, through the waves of the air,
through the All-pervading Life in space,
Purify and revivify me,
and I pray, heal my body, heart and soul.


FORGIVENESS

From Session 3-27th March 2021

THOUGHTS AND PRACTICES FOR FORGIVENESS

INVOCATION

A Personal Journey

Why is forgiveness important? Because it cleanses us of resentment; it frees us from the past.

Without forgiveness, we are bound to the other through our anger, bitterness and resentment. We are never free.

Is forgiveness the same as pardoning?

No, it’s not about excusing or exonerating from blame. It doesn’t mean that bad behaviour is no longer bad. It’s not about saying that “it’s all right”, it’s saying, “this no longer hurts me now”.  Forgiveness is about the present, and not about the past.

My own journey with forgiveness starts with my mother. My mother was an unhappy woman, bitter after her divorce, she was landed with two small children (one of whom was learning disabled), having never wanted to have children in the first place. She took her anger and frustration out on me, both physically and emotionally. I was scared of her, and I don’t remember her ever saying she loved me, either as a child or as an adult.

Our relationship didn’t improve as I got older. Even having my own children didn’t ease matters between us, and at one point it became so poisonous that we didn’t speak to each other for 12 years. When we reconnected, she was still cold and hurtful.

Towards the end of her life, a change happened – not from her, but from me.  I was working on compassion as part of my Sufi path, with Ya Racham; Ya Rahim as my daily practice. By this time, she was bed bound, although still completely mentally strong, and being cared for at home.  I was visiting her several times a week. During one visit, I suddenly became aware that I was enjoying being with her! I realized that everything that had happened during my childhood didn’t matter anymore! It didn’t change the fact that I had been abused, but it was no longer part of my present, no longer part of my self-definition, my narrative.  I was no longer “someone who had an abusive childhood”; I was free. And what had happened was that through understanding compassion I had been able to let go of the past.  It didn’t make her behavior to me ok; no, her behaviour had been terrible. But that was then, and this is now, and I could see her and be with her without the past encroaching.  This change, this forgiveness, enabled me to really enjoyed seeing her for the remainder of her life – even though she still never told me she loved me!

After she died (which was in January 2020), I felt at peace with myself and with her, but my understanding grew after she passed when I was able to examine more closely what I had learned from having had the mother I had.

What did I learn? So much!  But an example is that, whilst many children who grow up in similar circumstances take the pain into themselves and become “victims”, I felt outraged by the injustice of it and was filled with a fierce righteous anger. It doesn’t take a psychologist to realise that this is probably what motivated me to become a human rights lawyer.

Nelson Mandela said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years.  I was in a prison of my own making for 60 years. 

  1. Opening the Heart

Focus on your breathing, being aware of the rhythm of the in and out breaths. After a while, breath into your kalb, the subtle centre in the left of your chest. Let your breath go in and out through your kalb.  Now let your breath turn into light, into a deep red light, and breathe that red light into your subtle centre, seeing the kalb get brighter with each inhalation, and letting the red light emit from your kalb with each exhalation. 

Now add the fikr, Fattah – the Opener – on your breath, on the inhale and exhale.

Relax back into your regular breath.

What is forgiveness?

Our, Murshid, Pir Hazrat Inayat Khan said:

“Forgiveness is a stream of love, which washes away all impurities wherever it flows. By keeping this spring of love, which is in the heart, running, one is able to forgive, however great the fault of others may seem. One who cannot forgive closes their heart. The sign of spirituality is that there is nothing you cannot forgive, there is no fault you cannot forget. Do not think that someone who has committed a fault yesterday must do the same today, for life is constantly teaching and it is possible in one moment a sinner may turn into a saint.

At times it is hard to forgive, as it is hard to take away the thorn that has gone deep into one's heart. But the pain that one feels in taking away the thorn deepest in the heart is preferable to keeping the thorn in the heart constantly. The greater pain of a moment is better than the mild pricking going on constantly. Ask the one who forgives what relief there is in forgiveness. Words can never explain the feeling of the heart when one has cast out the bitter feeling from one's heart by forgiving and when love spreads all over within oneself, circulating like warm blood through one's whole being.”

LOUISE HAY:

“No matter how justified you feel you are, no matter what “they” did, if you insist on holding on to the past, then you will never be free. Forgiving yourself and others will release you from the prison of the past.

When you blame another, you give your own power away because you’re placing the responsibility for your feelings on someone else. People in your life may behave in ways that trigger uncomfortable responses in you. However, they didn’t get into your mind and create the buttons that have been pushed. Taking responsibility for your own feelings and reactions is mastering your “ability to respond.” In other words, you learn to consciously choose rather than simply react.

Forgiveness is a tricky and confusing concept for many people, but know that there’s a difference between forgiveness and acceptance. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you condone their behavior! The act of forgiveness takes place in your own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person. The reality of true forgiveness lies in setting yourself free from the pain. It’s simply an act of releasing yourself from the negative energy that you’ve chosen to hold on to.

[And you release the other person too] You forgive that person and then you release them. Taking a stand and setting healthy boundaries is often the most loving thing you can do-not only for yourself, but for the other person as well.

No matter what your reasons are for having bitter, unforgiving feelings, you can go beyond them. You have a choice. You can choose to stay stuck and resentful, or you can do yourself a favor by willingly forgiving what happened in the past; letting it go; and then moving on to create a joyous, fulfilling life. You have the freedom to make your life anything you want it to be because you have freedom of choice.”

Practices to begin to foster forgiveness

I’d like you to think of someone who you feel has wronged you, disrespected you, or upset you. If you can think of no-one, then maybe someone who you just don’t like, or who irritates you.  But for today’s purpose, make it someone towards whom there is at least a little spark of openness – not someone who has wronged you so deeply that you feel you can never even begin to forgive. Because it’s ok to feel that about some people, in some circumstances. Those people are for another, deeper process – at the right time, but only if a little seed of openness has already been planted.  But start with someone   for whom you may, just, maybe, be able to open your heart a little.  Just a crack…

  1. Connecting with the Other

Now, I’d like you to focus on the person you identified who you’ll work with today. Close your eyes and really picture them, in as much detail as possible.  You may feel distaste in doing this, but stick with it. See their face, the colour of their hair, their eyes, the way they hold their face. Do they frown? Set their jaw, keep it slack, smile, smirk? Set your own face in the manner of this person.

Now see how they use their body. Can you see them sitting? Walking? Sit like they do. Get up, and walk the way they do, holding your face like theirs. Try to be this person, without judgement, without caricature.  What do you notice? Do you get any insights into the other person, why they use themselves this way? What can you understand from moving like them? Do you get an understanding of their mind and their heart?

Let us assume that we can learn from everything that happens to us, that every experience, even the bad ones, are a gift from the Divine to help us evolve.  Think about this person and what happened. What can you learn from it? What is the gift in this learning? How can you  evolve as a result?

  1. Qassab Practice to Heal the Past

Breathe in L nostril, hold, exhale R nostril – 5x

As inhale, look over your life as a film observing the past.

Hold, knowing anything that needs healing can be healed; the past can be changed.

Exhale, see how the future can be different if the past is healed.

Breath in R nostril, hold, exhale L nostril – 5x

As inhale, imagine a future which is lighter.

Hold, knowing the future can change the past.

Exhale, be with the past that is different.

 Breathe in both nostrils, hold, exhale both nostrils – 5x

Inhale, acknowledging the present is what it is.

Hold, getting in touch with the Divine world.

Exhale, being in touch with the Lord of my being, the majesty in me, thinking:

“Dhul Jalali wal‘Ikram” – (the source of generosity)

Say Ya Dhal Jalali wal’Ikram – 5x

  1. Wazaif 

Ya Ghaffar; Ya Ghafur x 33

Ya Ghaffar (inexhaustible forgiveness, the All Forgiving); Ya Ghafur (deepest possible forgiveness, The One who completely forgives our faults and sins)

Fikr: Feel your heart opening to the power of divine forgiveness flowing through you, open yourself to be a channel of forgiveness, let the forgiveness enter you, cleanse you, and wipe your own slate clean. Let it fill you, and flow from you with each out breath, out towards all injustice, and out towards the world. 

Fikr A Sirr: Let go of the words and sit in the silence of your mind, allowing the forgiveness in your heart to glow and surround you.

 

  1. Prayer Nayaz

Beloved Sovereign, Almighty God
Through the Rays of the Sun, through the Waves of the Air
Through the All-Pervading Life in space
Purify and Revivify me, and I pray
Heal my body heart and soul.  AMIN

© Inayatiyya Healing Order (UK) 2020