This morning I shared some resources I’d put together on the subject of self-compassion, but I just realized that there’s another great resource of mine that I can point you to. It’ll be especially ideal if you can’t make it to my November 22 workshop at the NY Insight Meditation Center, or a good primer if you can.
This resource is a video presentation on “How to Stop Beating Yourself Up,” on En*Theos Academy, which is a kind of Netflix for spirituality and personal development.
This class presents my latest teaching shared in a fun, high energy, 30-minute video format (you can also download MP3s and a PDF for the class). And it’s free! Check it out here!
The online course is based on my Top 10 Big Ideas on self-compassion, Here’s a sneak peek at the Top 5:
- Self-Compassion is Not Self-Indulgence
- Self-Compassion Makes Us Stronger, Not Weaker
- Being Hard on Ourselves is Not Essential for Motivation
- Self-Compassion Starts When You Accept that It’s OK to Suffer
- Most of Our Suffering is Self-Inflicted
Click here to check out my class at the Academy for Optimal Living and you’ll get the rest of my Big Ideas along with my best advice on the topic.
Hope you love it!
P.S. I’m not the only one serving up wisdom at the Academy. From health, nutrition and fitness to creativity, productivity, spirituality, relationships and parenting, hundreds of extraordinary teachers are sharing their expert advice on everything that goes into optimizing our lives – all in one place!
There are already 300+ courses to choose from (with 100+ new classes added every month), each with 10 Big Ideas that can change your life. Check out the Academy’s class catalog here. It’s huge!
“How to stop beating yourself up” is a workshop I’m teaching at the New York Insight Meditation Center on November 22. In this workshop I’ll be introducing, step-by-step, the skills of self-compassion. If you live in the area I hope you’ll be able to join me. Click here for more information on the workshop.
But we have a world-wide community here, and most of you won’t be able to attend.
I hear from a lot of people around the world who create suffering for themselves through self-criticism and self-hatred, and so I want to share some articles on self-compassion that I hope will be helpful. (And if you do live near NYC, this will give you an idea of the ground we’ll be covering.)
Self-compassion webinar. This is a recording of a presentation I did for the Zen Habits community, with a Q&A session at the end. This is one of the most recent pieces I’ve done, and it’s close to my current approach to teaching self-compassion, which is always evolving.
Cultivating self-compassion. This is also pretty much in line with what I’ll be teaching in NYC.
Developing compassion. What’s compassion? What’s suffering? How do we practice self-compassion?
Transforming hurt and anger through self-compassion . This article’s from several years ago, but I think it’s still useful.
Self-compassion for writers (and other tortured souls). The principles in this article are applicable to anyone.
Self-hatred, self-compassion, and non-self. Why the teaching of self-compassion isn’t incompatible with the Buddhist teaching of non-self.
Self-compassion is not selfish. Why practicing self-compassion is not selfish.
Meditating with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). This one includes an application of self-compassion principles to the pain and discomfort of IBS. Again, these principles can be applied to any emotional or physical pain.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Rainer Maria Rilke. On accepting difficult or painful feelings.
Again, if you can join me on the 22nd, I’d love to see you, and to share my approach to living with kindness and compassion towards ourselves, and toward all beings.
By day I’m a peace-loving Buddhist; by night a fearless zombie slayer.
That second part isn’t entirely true. Last night I didn’t actually slay any zombies, and I certainly wasn’t fearless. In fact I was terrified as I cowered inside my car as a ravening undead creature tried to force its head through the half-open window, growling and gnashing with its fearful, gaping maw. I tried to stab at it with a pointed stick, but never quite made contact. (Pointed sticks are for vampires, I know, but you have to use the tools available to you, and that’s what I had at hand.)
As it happens, this was just one of the very realistic zombie adventures that wove themselves into my dreams last night. You might think that I’d wake up feeling disturbed after all these encounters with the living dead, but this morning I actually felt elated, because I understand these dreams and have learned to recognize them as a good sign.
I’ve had many similar nightmares in which I’ve been pursued by dangerous fiends, although these were my first confrontations with zombies. Curiously, whatever form these threatening figures take, they never actually harm me. They are also immune to my attempts to harm them. In these dreams it is they who are terrifying, but it is I who am violent. I hope that strikes you as curious.
What I’ve realized is that we don’t always dream from the viewpoint of our conscious daytime selves. Often our dreams give us an insight into what it’s like to be part of our subconscious.
Call to mind a unhelpful habit that you have—perhaps a tendency to binge-eat, or to get hooked on Facebook, or a tendency to be bad-tempered. Personifying those habits for a moment—which is quite reasonable since they are in fact quite major parts of a person—think of how meditation must appear when seen from their point of view. They don’t want to change, and certainly doesn’t want to cease existing, and yet that’s what meditation is going to do to them. From the point of view of those habits, meditation is a threatening—even terrifying—force. This is true not just for meditation, but for all Dharma practice, which gently destroys who we are in order to birth a new us.
In traditional Buddhist iconography, enlightened figures have both peaceful and wrathful aspects. The peaceful forms are as you would expect: figures meditating quietly, sometimes dressed in simple monastic robes, or sometimes adorned with jewelry, arrayed as princes or princesses. The wrathful forms, by contrast, are wildly dancing, often wreathed in flames. They’re clad in flayed skins, decorated with garlands of skulls, or draped with the corpses of humans or animals. These wrathful forms represent enlightenment seen from the viewpoint of our resistance. They are the zombies I’ve fought in my dreams.
My zombie dreams are encounters with awakening, which is why I’m happy that the undead came close to gnawing on my flesh last night. Something within me is in active pursuit of unskillful patterns of thought and action, and wants to transform them. Something inside me is trying to destroy the recalcitrant habits that cause me suffering. This pursuit is only terrifying in my dreams because I’m experiencing things from the point of view of my habits. Those habits don’t want to change, and so they flee and try to fight back. The forces of compassion and wisdom, on the other hand, may be perceived as threatening but never do any harm.
Last night’s dreams confront me with the fact that although of late I’ve been meditating daily, I haven’t been throwing myself into my practice in a way that’s going to lead to deep transformation. I haven’t been putting in enough hours, or practicing with sufficient diligence. And so I feel a joyful urge to cast myself into the midst of the zombie horde, and to be devoured. In other words I feel enthusiastic about meditating longer, going deeper, and surrendering myself to change.
When I’ve turned to face a threatening figure in my dreams, it’s been revealed as beautiful, wise, and compassionate. And I have confidence that when I meditate deep and long, sitting with any fear that arises, some creative part of me will bring about unexpected and unimaginable transformations in my being.
When we turn to face our fears, everything changes.
The reactions I get when I tell people that I did an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Buddhism and business studies are very telling. Once people have stopped laughing or spluttering incoherently, they usually say that they’d assumed that Buddhism and business were mutually exclusive. But in fact the concept of “right livelihood” is part of the Buddha’s core teaching, the Eightfold Path.
In Buddhist practice we’re encouraged to make every aspect of our lives an opportunity to practice mindfulness, compassion, balance, and insight. Since we all have to earn a living, our work needs to become part of our practice.
Our mission at Wildmind is to benefit the world by promoting mindfulness and compassion through teaching meditation. Almost all the events we run are free of charge. This year (our Year of Going Deeper) we’ve been running eight events, which have had an average of 1,200 participants each. These events are by donation.
We also sell guided meditation CDs, which provide the bulk of the income that allows us to teach. And because we were selling our CDs online, we started selling other meditation supplies, both to support others’ meditation practice and to subsidize our teaching.
We don’t pay ourselves much — enough to live with simple dignity, but not enough (unfortunately) that we don’t have money worries.
But our aim is always the promotion of meditation.
There are other aspects to right livelihood as well. We strive to be honest. The three of us who work here strive to care for each other. We have a very harmonious office! We source fair trade products as much as possible. We support local small businesses (like the woman who makes our meditation cushions and the Buddhist former prison inmate who makes some of our malas).
I’m mentioning all this because I know you have choices about what you can do with your money. You can support large businesses like Amazon that treat their workers badly, dodge taxes, and use their quasi-monopoly power to bully suppliers. Or you can support people like us — not a faceless corporation, but people trying to make the world a truly better place.
Your money is power. You have the power to choose (or least influence) the kind of world you want to live in. Your choices matter.
So when you’re buying gifts, we’d ask that you consider our online store.
We’re participating in a Triratna campaign called #ethicalchristmas, along with other Buddhist businesses. You can read about the how Evolution in the UK benefits the environment by selling recycled glass products, and how they’ve been supporting children orphaned by HIV in Thailand.
This is consumer power at work: the money of people like you being used to make the world a better place.
Karma is one of the most misunderstood Buddhist teachings. Often people think of karma as some kind of external, impersonal force that “rewards” us for our good deeds and punishes us for our bad. Consequently, even some people with an otherwise good understanding of Buddhism reject karma (usually along with rebirth) as being non-rational.
But karma is not external, nor is it about rewards and punishments. Karma simply means “action.” As an ethical term, it refers to the intentions underlying our actions, understood very broadly as anything we might think, say, or do. As the Buddha said, “I declare, intention is karma” (Cetan?ha? kamma? vad?mi).
What this means is three-fold:
First, ethically speaking our intentions can be seen as skillful or unskillful. Skillful intentions embody qualities of mindfulness, contentment, clarity, and care for the wellbeing of oneself and others. Unskillful intentions embody the opposites: they are motivated by impulsive selfishness, craving, confusion, and ill will.
Second, the importance of this distinction is that skillful actions (i.e. those arising from skillful volitions) lead on the whole to a decrease in unhappiness and an increase in ease. Unskillful actions, as you might expect, do the opposite. So in choosing our actions, we also choose (whether we know it or not) the consequences of those actions. We create much of our own suffering and happiness through our actions.
Third, habits are like muscles in the brain. By exercising a habit, it becomes stronger. As the Buddha said (and with apologies for the gender-specific language), “Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness,” and “What a man wills, what he plans, what he dwells on forms the basis for the continuation of consciousness.”
We create our consciousness through the actions we take — even our thoughts and words — and so, as Eliot observed, not only do we create our actions, but our actions create us.
Mindfulness (samm? sati), right view (samm? ditthi), and right effort (samma v?y?ma) can free us from this feedback loop, breaking open a circular track and turning it into a path that leads to awakening.
Mindfulness is necessary because without it, we’re submerged in our thoughts and feelings. Unable to stand back, we act unreflectively, strengthening our unskillful habits and creating suffering for ourselves.
Right view is important because it allows us to evaluate our potential actions. We can realize, “If I act in this way (e.g. angrily) then there will be painful consequences. On the other hand, if I act that way (e.g. with patience and kindness) then the consequences will be more beneficial for me and others.
Right effort is needed because it’s not enough just to know what we should do: we have to be able to act. Right effort is our commitment to bring into being and sustain the skillful, and to eradicate and prevent the further arising of the unskillful.
Karma is essentially a feedback mechanism, showing us the extent to which we’re in tune with reality.
Something the Buddha was quite clear about is that not everything we experience is a result of karma, even though some Buddhist traditions seem to have overlooked that fact. If it rains on your wedding day, or if you hit a red light when you’re already late, that’s not the result of your karma (neither is it ironic, as many people have no doubt pointed out to Alanis Morissette). But how you respond emotionally to such events, and how much you suffer as a result, does depend on your karma. If you’ve developed the emotional “muscles” of acceptance, patience, and flexibility, then you’ll be able to meet these events with elegance and with a minimum of suffering, or perhaps none. If your emotional muscles of impatience and anger have been bulked up by a lifetime of exercise, then once again you’ll experience these events as acutely frustrating, painful, and stressful.
The extent to which we’re able to meet life’s difficulties with grace is the measure of our wisdom.
One thing we have to be aware of is the tendency to say “My intentions were pure, therefore I’m not responsible for the fact that you got hurt by my actions.” Our own intentions are never entirely clear to us, and the Buddha pointed out that we have to look at the consequences of our actions in order to divine them. If we’ve caused pain to ourselves or others, then there was likely some kind of unskillful motivation mixed in with the skillful.
Karma, then, isn’t anything mystical. It’s simple a description of the psychology or happiness. It’s not an external force, but a feedback mechanism. And it’s not a judgement, but the natural result of how we act.