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Lions Roar : September 2017
HOT OFF THE PRESS highway, her heart began beating rapidly, as if an electrical current were racing through her chest. She pulled the car to the side of the road just in time. Her heart stopped and skipped a beat before starting up again. Christina’s cardiologist explained to her that her heart had a special vulner- ability, and her symptoms had likely been set off by stress or strong emotions. Then he added pensively, “We can give you all kinds of medications, even do surgical procedures on your heart. But you may want to understand what has been going on in your life that made your heart so vulnerable.” Now a forty-two-year-old with a bright smile and cautious eyes, Chris- tina leaned toward me apologetically. “I really don’t know why I am here,” she confessed. “My life is fine today. I have my daughter and husband and my work as an educator, teaching immigrant chil- dren. I should be over my past.” I replied, “Those hurts from the past are deep inside your body and psyche and need careful understanding and care.” I explained that through mind- fulness and compassion prac- tices, I could support her in cultivating relevant and acces- sible ways to heal her wounded heart and to find ease within herself and with others. Slowly and carefully, Chris- tina began to unearth the memories of her early years. She began to understand and feel tenderly toward the little girl she had been. She came to realize that, unknowingly, she had felt guilty for not having been able to save her mother’s life and, as a consequence, how she had actually been feeling alienated from her own emotions and needs. Seeing that Christina was burdened by a deep-seated sense of shame and self- loathing, I suggested loving awareness and self-compassion practices. I began our visits with mindfulness meditation, which allowed her to be calm and awake in the present moment. The quietness of the meditation gives us the opportunity to tap into a benevolent field of aware- ness within and around us. With a foun- dation of mindful awareness, we began to create phrases of self-compassion that felt true to Christina’s feelings: May I extend understanding and warmth toward myself, as I feel so afraid and wounded. May I gently contain the worry that I will lose my home and those I love again. May I offer compassion toward myself so feelings of self-blame and unworthiness can soften. May I forgive myself and those who hurt me in the past. May I include all those who are suffering in this world in my compassion. May we all find peace in our hearts again. Over time, the repetition of these phrases helped Christina to lean into her pain. It allowed her to tolerate her vul- nerability and thus restore her inner balance. As a psychotherapist and a Buddhist meditator, I have developed compassion prac- tices such as this one over many years—both for my own benefit in facing my painful life challenges and also to help my clients and students. This approach of using phrases to cultivate balance developed out of the Buddha’s teachings on the immeasurable virtues: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equa- nimity. These are ancient psy- chological practices with the intention of planting seeds to cultivate our hearts. Although these practices are often thought of as being primarily oriented toward others, they necessarily begin with developing our capacity to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves. Self-compassion allows us to take a look at our reactions, thoughts, and emotions HEARTWORK The Path of Self-Compassion Radhule Weininger, MD, PhD Shambhala Publications; 227 pp.; $16.95(paper) Fall Retreats in Santa Fe, New Mexico SEE ENTIRE CALENDAR, TEACHINGS, AND MORE AT WWW.UPAYA.ORG SANTA FE, NM 505-986-8518 ext. 112