Mindfulness, Love, Joy, Compassion, and Equanimity
Mindfulness has been defined as, “…awareness…of present experience…with acceptance” (Germer, 2005, p. 7). Although mindfulness seems to refer only to the mind, it also involves the body as well as the heart. Your body is a vehicle for the experience of present-centered awareness, and without it, some of the most elevated heart-centered expressions of mindfulness practice—love, joy, compassion, and equanimity—cannot become manifest. Love in this context is about unity, the absence of separation, which provides a pathway to peace, harmony, and healthy living. A loving attitude is one that supports the wish for the happiness of others. There are many interpretations of joy. Joy can be a consequence of resonantly rejoicing in the happiness of others. I like to view joy as the result of connecting with the energy of life with full acceptance, without the distorting filter of thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions. Compassion is about recognizing the suffering of self and others with an intention and effort to relieve it. Equanimity allows you to be stable and composed in the face of changing external conditions. Equanimity is most tested when people and situations are not operating in accordance with our wishes or liking. When the mind, heart, and body are relating to self and others with equanimity, there is no hostility or reactive stress, even when others intent on pushing our buttons provoke us!
Practice, Ideas, and Embodiment
Without practicing mindfulness, the ability to focus upon and cultivate qualities of love, joy, compassion, and equanimity are limited. Mindfulness allows you to know how aligned your thoughts, speech, and actions are with those qualities, as well as the values and intentions that you uphold.
Through the practices described below, I invite you to experiment with embodying love, joy, compassion, and equanimity. Embodiment is about bringing a mental concept into physical form. For example, the idea of love is different than the embodied expression of love. Although the idea of love (e.g., through the written word) can touch others in unseen ways, the embodied expression of love can literally touch others through a reassuring, gentle grasp of a hand or a soft tone of voice.
Practice I: Imagining Embodiment
First choose a mental quality of love, joy, compassion, or equanimity. You may also consider another quality such as kindness or optimism if that is more relevant for you. Then, write a brief description of how a person who strongly embodied one of those qualities would speak, act, think, feel, and relate to others. Create a mini-script that describes how such a person would appear in your everyday life. If it helps, you might imagine the person to be someone that you admire, like a spiritual or religious figure who clearly exudes love, joy, compassion, and/or equanimity.
Practice II: Embodiment in the Real World
After you have developed a sense of the “script” that such an individual might follow, allow yourself to step into the role of being like that individual, although this time, transitioning from imagining the embodiment to practicing the embodiment of love, joy, compassion, and/or equanimity in relation to self and the others in your everyday life. How do you speak? What thoughts do you cultivate? What feelings are embraced? How do you relate to yourself during stressful times? How do you relate to the people who challenge you? How do you relate to the people that you love and care for? How does your posture express the quality that you are cultivating? How does the eye contact you make with others embody this quality? How does your body feel when you are aligned with love, joy, compassion, and/or equanimity?
Questions for Exploration
What did you learn from this practice? How can this practice help to relieve the suffering and distress of self and others? In what other ways can this practice be applied to your work, family, close relationships, or relationship with self?
An Open Invitation
Intentional embodiment is like a vessel that holds the nourishing liquid of your choice. Your thoughts, speech, and actions can give form to your highest values, mental qualities, and aspirations. The invitation is to continue the practice of embodiment in your everyday life, the place where it can truly make a meaningful difference.
Germer, C.K. 2005. Mindfulness. In C.K. Germer, R.D. Siegel, & P.R. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 3-27). New York: Guilford Press.
(with contributing editors, Heather Butts, J.D., MPH, MA, Linda Cammarata, RN, RYT, and Ed Glauser, M.Ed., N.C.C., LPC)
Photo by Emily Nichols Photography at http://emilynicholsphotography.com
Self-Soothing: A Mindful Practice for Health & Wellness by Linda Cammarata, RN, RYT Consultant, Contributing EditorOctober 3, 2013 at 11:58 am | Posted in Mind Body Medicine, Mindfulness, Pain Management, Pain Relief, Self-Regulation, Sleep Health, Stress Management, Trauma | 2 Comments
A soothing backrub was a nightly ritual for my sister and I. Those backrubs warmed us during the cold winter nights and helped us doze quietly off into a deep sleep. Thoughts of my nightly backrubs have created a sweet, soothing childhood memory for my sister and myself.
Has our increasingly busy lifestyle contributed to the lost art of self-soothing? I wonder; if we engaged in more self-soothing, would we have less anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia? Does our health and wellbeing suffer as we become more disconnected from the practice of self-soothing? Has technology displaced our deeply rooted need for touch, connection, and feeling soothed? How does the rise of using medications for stress, anxiety, and pain reflect our diminished relationship to self-soothing?
Atlanta-based physician Anne Namnoum, M.D. has written an excellent article entitled Self-Soothing vs. Self-Medicating. In her article, she explores the importance of self-soothing in the face of today’s anxiety, stress, and discomfort. She makes the distinction between the health benefits found in self-soothing and the challenges found in self-medicating. She points out that self-medicating includes numbing and avoidance, whereas self-soothing promotes acceptance and the decision to do something that will become helpful for our wellbeing in the long-term. She also shares that the hazards of self-medicating vs. self-soothing can result in addiction, obesity, emotional disorders, physical complications, plus a variety of other potential health risks.
The attitude of acceptance that Dr. Namnoum shares in her article reminds me of the mental attitudes found in the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to stay in the present moment. Mindfulness promotes a mental attitude of curiosity, gentleness, and flexibility, with a willingness to face reality on reality’s terms. There is something quite soothing about the idea of letting go and accepting each moment as it unfolds before us. We can learn to relax and cherish every moment and every breath.
Today, there is an active movement of nurses providing hands-on-therapies for their patients. Medicine is returning to the healing power found within therapeutic touch. I recall the nightly backrubs we provided to our patients when I first began my career as a nurse. Providing soothing touch was an integral aspect of our healing work. Self-soothing can relax the nervous system, reducing pain, anxiety and stress. It is an expression of our human need for connection.
· Dr. Anne Namnoum http://www.annenamnoum.com
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(with contributing editors Heather Butts, JD, MPH, MA, Larry Cammarata, Ph.D., and Ed Glauser, M.Ed., N.C.C., LPC)