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Gillian Florence

Compassionate inquiry - "What is it like to be you?"

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Thanks for this. I enjoyed the film and Campfire Stories’ website. The film’s use of the soft and warm contact with others’ eyes brought back to mind Chris Germer’s  presentation for this site on Wednesday. I thought it was amazing. A few things really resonated with questions about which I have been reflecting for some time.  

One of the exercises that really had a big impact on me was the one that had us act out with our bodies a series of things like comforting ourselves, asserting ourselves with, “No!,” celebrating positive experience with, “Yes!,” etc. What  impressed me was that it was acknowledging the primary importance of bodily experience. Chris was not demonstrating mindfulness, but a sort of basic pedagogy by which a parent or nurturing figure enthusiastically acts something out and says, “This (whatever he was having us imitate) is how we care for ourselves,” while greatly engaging us with his eyes. We don’t learn it by watching and inferring. We learn by imitating and experiencing how exhilarating and right it feels!

This raises the question, how do we do that for ourselves? The answer, “By mindfulness,” really misses something. Moreover, it relocates the locus of learning from our bodies to something we imagine to be in our heads—that little controlling homunculus that we experience as running the show.

Chris’ program Mindful Self Compassion does this in another basic and obvious way. It doesn’t simply say, “Cut yourself a frigging break and be kind to yourself.” It has you softly and kindly touch yourself and imagine being so touched. It takes us back to how we really learn in the first place—by our bodies experiencing what interactions feel safe and rewarding versus threatening and painful. We seem to think those feelings  also have to be cognized and consciously acted upon, but that is total nonsense. A good read that seems to attempt to drive that home to us is Proffitt and Baker’s Perception, How Our Bodies Shape Our Minds.

I am not knocking how helpful thinking and consciously guided mindful attention can be. There is a greater context, however, that we ignore at our peril. The Perception book demonstrates this with an account of veteran with late-onset PTSD who would not engage with therapy. After a time the patient asked if he could bring his wife to therapy but even her presence did not seem to help...until she slid her chair close to her husband and took his hand. The therapist reported, “It was like flipping on a light.”

I’m no professional at these sorts of things. I would be interested in how anyone would elaborate on them.

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Lovely reflections David. I hadn't thought about that practice we did with Chris in this particular way, but what you've said here really resonates. While we were doing that exercise with him, it reminded me a very simple gesture I sometimes do for myself - that is, if my mind is racing or I have a headache, I will gently rub my forehead the way a parent would a child's. I can't remember when I started doing this, but it is a very simple, soothing gesture that naturally overrides the thinking mind.

I do think that we often forget the power of touch and yet it has a language all of its own. Another thing Chris said that exemplifies this is how we can pick up different energies and meanings in different types of touch. In other words, the body knows when something is tender, romantic, dismissive, or embodying any other type of intention really.

I am also now thinking about yoga and how different types of poses stimulate different sorts of energies within the body. Standing in one of the warrior asanas makes one feel much different than child's pose/balasana or garland pose/malasana. Something as simple as our posture, too, can evoke different feelings - both conscious and unconscious I believe.

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It’s not just touch. It’s the rewarding nature of effective movement. Dance demonstrates that, but it could be something as simple as making a checking motion with our index finger in affirmation or holding our arms wide open in a gesture of acceptance and inclusion. Try it and tell me if I’m wrong.

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