The Art of Compassion
by Stephanie McCrackenNovember 6, 2013 Uncategorized0 comments
When talking with a friend recently the discussion turned to compassion, her gaze drew down and her feet shifted bashfully. After a moment of silence she admitted that she had little to know idea what the full meaning of this abstract concept is, and without even knowing she did not believe that it could offer any relevance to her practical life. Yet the truth is that for many of us who may be contending with the myriad of issues pertaining to basic cognizant living we could reap exquisite benefit from exercising compassion. While it may be initially trying to redirect thinking and acting towards this more illuminated stance especially when the nifty old synaptic wiring recalls pain, trauma, anguish or even simply waking up 20 minutes too late for your morning cup of coffee. Still however, when we share compassionate responses with the world we are not only benefiting others, we too are exhilarated by the positivity which we is then set coursing through our inner sanctum. Why bother interrupting a cycle of careless or hostile mode of being with something a bit more Buddha like? We are all ultimately weighted with the handsome burden of free choice pertaining our reaction to self and others. If you sometimes wonder why you notice a bewildering pattern of melancholia or inner-conflict then perhaps you may benefit from a mild dose of compassion.
The Merriam Webster definition of compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another along with the wish to relieve it. Unwittingly many of us may practice compassion already, when you notice the homeless person huddled beneath blankets along your stroll to your office, or the friend who can barely help himself but to become completely obnoxious when he drinks, the colleague who is unrepentantly ten minutes late for each and every meeting. You may notice yourself resisting the urge to be irritated by these and many others along the path of life. Maybe by leaving a pair of hand warmers for the homeless person and having a talk with both your colleague and friend about what may be going on for each of them respectively. Having compassion for those we interact with does not mean that we don’t notice or even that we don’t become irritated with the mystifying ways of others but it does require that we respond in a way that is a reflection of our most wise and caring truth and that our response is rooted in an attempt to relieve the others suffering.
I make no remark that consistently compassionate thought, speech, and action is simple, nor do I state that it is an entirely natural collusion with our at times wicked or selfish human mannerisms. I do however promise you that by living with greater compassion we become the ebullient bringers of joy, and the gregarious gesticulators of grace, the sort of buddaesque persons enthralled under our very own Bodhi trees in a whirlwind of calm clarity. I would like to encourage the reader to take the practice of compassion even one step beyond reaching outwards with this conundrum of kindness. Empathy fueled action towards others is a wonderful way to begin but just as importantly, extend greater compassion towards yourself! According to Buddhist wisdom “Our sorrows and wounds heal only when we touch them with compassion.” If you turn your attention towards your own inner world, in what ways are you your own harshest critic? Which feelings do you carry followed by that additional burden of shame? How do you unflinchingly hammer yourself upon the proverbial cross? Perhaps with just a touch of compassion for yourself you can finally lay those old wounds to rest. Keep in mind that once we become aware of our patterns of thought and deed we are afforded the opportunity to respond to life in a variety of manners and it is my insistent offering that a compassionate response to you and the many nameless and faceless others of the world will unveil a much more lovingly lived life! How may your hour, your day, your week be different if you were practicing compassion?
In health and wellness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
Something about Nothing, The Importance of Relaxation
by Stephanie McCrackenJuly 19, 2013 counseling, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy0 comments
Something about Nothing
The heated summer air is whirring beyond and within your skin, feet pounding upon the city sidewalks in an ever hurried procession. Preparation for yet another marathon, sweat beads forming and sliding, perspiring in cylindrical icicles down your front, back, and every inch of in between, an urgent reminder to go, go, go, harder, faster, more.
12 hour work days, 52 weeks out of the year, the paper work piling higher, depositions and court cases formulating another win, another dollar. You will make partner in your firm by the time you are 40 as long as you stay later in hopes of achievement, more, more, money, more promotions, more responsibility, more ways to know that this is worth it, work harder, faster, more.
Your neighbor owes you 50$ and tells you that she isn’t able to return the kindly favor until next week, you were counting on it to put gas in your tank to take your brother to the store and your dad to the doctor and your daughter to the outpatient drug rehabilitation program, maybe even buying some snack cakes to put in your husband’s lunch pail. Who else needs you today? Who else can you help? Move, go, do, more, faster.
Stick the needle in your arm yet again, the numbness settles within and sealing your mind from everything out there until it’s time to get up in search of another person to rob, a piece of jewelry to steal, to trade for some money to buy some silence in time without thinking of the faceless people from which you steal or the way that it makes you think to be a person who sticks a needle to go numb. More, deeper, harder, faster.
Traffic light, stop sign, all hail the whistle!
Yield, I insist upon the cessation of all of this motion for just one moment!
You, don’t move another inch towards the needle, don’t lift that tennis shoe from its connection to the ground, toss that mounting pile of paper work to the side, tell everyone to take a taxi today. This moment, this hour, this day will be sacred. In this moment you will busy yourself with nothing! Your work, your accomplishment, your effort will be the achievement of absolutely nothing at all. Settle into that seat, locate a sturdy park bench, or a shady and cool spot under a giant oak, or perhaps you will lay down in your bed, it matters not as long as you are making time to do nothing at all.
For most of us, it takes practice and effort to develop this superior skill. The ability to relax and even glean wisdom from nothing, but in time you will appreciate the restorative properties to doing nothing because, doing nothing is every bit as vital as doing all of those something’s. Moments of nothing can be brimming with einstienesque inspiration, it is the stillness and quiet that is associated with heightened vital energy. Many people are at first uncomfortable in silence, it is in those moments that the mind begins to speak and we don’t know what to feel about all of these thoughts and sensations pouring from within of us. We are typically seated with television blasted and task at hand, there is most always something that provides a barrier preventing us from hearing that inner voice the speech exuding from the quieted mind. My challenge for you is this, insist upon creating a moments time, at least several days per a week or ideally, each and every day, to sit quietly while doing nothing. Allow stillness to cloak you and with eyes opened or closed, notice the quiet settling within and without, simply be seated and breath, observe your thoughts as they meander by like rotund puffy clouds in a warm summer sky. Simply and calmly be, while at first you may find it challenging to achieve this, I will offer my unequivocal assurance that you are in technical terms “achieving.” In this quiet and calm you are equipping yourself with vitality. As the mind, body, heart rate breathing settle, thinking, feeling, and being improve. With the mind calmly alert one is best able to commune harmoniously with others in performing the thinking tasks associated with living a full life. Some may call this exercise mediation, or prayer, or even time out but I will insist upon titling it nothing, the Italians have a luxuriously simplistic phrase for this, dolce far niente, “the joy of doing nothing.” Nothing hasn’t ever sounded so good. Always remember that it is within balance that harmony is borne, silence projects sound, the yin and the yang, all of those somethings, out of nothing….
Shivasana; Life and Yoga
by Stephanie McCrackenJune 20, 2013 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology1 comment
Shivasana An exploration of why yoga feels so good!
We could make a game of picking them out of the crowds, they are the creatures who glow, in their spritely luminescence you may notice an impish glint in their eyes. The poised and if well-seasoned, they may even be able to levitate from the terrestrial sphere and stand upright on their heads. They are yogis and they could very well be taking over the world as more and more studios are popping up and raving about the benefits of doing yoga. Want more strength, endurance, balance, a physical routine which simultaneously calms and invigorates you? Then yoga may be worth a try for you. If you pop into a class and observe the blend of beginners and experts the stunning postures are dazzling to behold. When I admire the graceful transitions, forward and back, up and down, down and up, yes, these are indeed the subtle and dramatic motions of life. The sequences of Sun A’s and Sun B’s attracting and sustaining huge crowds of devotees, could it be that those postures and their meaning mirror the major stages of the life cycle itself? Were those ancient yogis offering us a message far beyond strong muscles and calm breathe, were they providing wisdom to better navigate the circle of life?
The basic structure of a Vinyasa class begins in a child’s pose or downward facing dog, like an infant sensing its basic surroundings we begin to notice the sensations within our bodies. Attunement to the heart rate and its responsiveness to expanding the lungs upon a full breath, the very first moments, linking motion to breathing in an effort to create an inner harmonization of our self, and attention guided inward.
Once breathing has been linked to subtle motion we begin Sun Salutation A, these poses are often fast paced and designed to build the heart rate while increasing strength over the long term. In the beginning of life as energetic toddlers we are at once eager to move and flow with the height of our energy and the wonder which beckons each motion. Even the term, Sun Salutations implies waking to a new day, greeting the glorious morning sun with the heightened morning chi. At times we may notice that we are struggling to maintain our breath as a focal point, the breathe is the powerhouse which energetically fuels each motion.
Sun Salutations B, or Surya Namaskar is an elaboration upon the budding strength of the Sun A sequence. Here we continue to reach for the heavens with our arms our stretched, and with our hearts open in faith; we fall bending into ourselves before finding our bodies completely upon the earth. Remembering to be strong while we stretch sending breathe to our trembling muscles when they want to give up. The instructor stands at the front reminding gently, just breathe, with the fire of the breathe all strength becomes energized and relaxation is possible even in the most complex posture. All of this motion to build the strength much as the child ever growing taller and stronger as she moves through the stages of life.
From the strength and exhaustion cultivated through the sun salutations many instructors will move on to a balancing series. Balance takes even more strength and ideally our youth and teen years have afforded us the strength to stand up and fortify the balance which is sustained by our budding strength. Flowing through Crow, Balancing Half Moon, Airplane, Dancers Pose we breathe with our drishti or point of focus alignment, allowing ourselves to tremble while holding our poise. There will be times when you fall, the postures are complex and each day is different-sometimes our muscles feel weak and our balance is wobbly, no matter how hard you fall you must get back up, it is not yet time to quit or rest states your inner yogi. Invariably you may learn in early and middle adulthood as you aim to acquire the balance of spouse, children, career, aging parents, we realize that balance does indeed fluctuate on a daily basis, we do our best. We hold our strength trying to remember to breath, enjoy the opportunities to smile, and remain present throughout while flowing through these roles of life.
As we gracefully propel ourselves to the hip opening sequence we are subtly reminded that all things which stand erect will eventually fall back to the ground. In our hip openers we are able to relax into all of that strength and effort which has been building in our bodies. All of the tension which we build is actively released as is this thing that we call life. Sometimes the greatest challenge that we have is to remain within stillness and unlock the pain and stress which is stored deep within the memory of our muscles. Oftentimes the most unusual thoughts may occur as you are settling into the tight hips, during the hip openers allow your mind to become aware of what it is thinking, it could be a great thought to journal about at a later time.
One of the final sequences to a yoga practice are the inversions such as head stand. Please do not fret, if you have not yet cultivated the ability to balance your entire body upside down upon your forearms then the less challenging shoulder stand is a great option. The most essential component of this series is to yield your freshly oxygenated blood towards the brain while simultaneously slowing one’s self down, towards the limp bodied finale. In very old age, we often invert ourselves as the realities of changing bodies are stated with cosmic exactitude, we feel ourselves slow. Inverting oneself with legs in the air, balancing precariously on one’s own stamina can be a source of much pride. It takes much strength and repetitive falls to experience the of glory of gravities defiance, just as any worthwhile life accomplishment it must be worked towards in increments after developing strength and balance.
The final pose for every last thing within the known universe, it comes after we have known the exhilaration of a hastened heartbeat, the process of learning to melt into the matt until we are able to find comfort in stillness. Final relaxation, Dead Man’s pose or Shivasana in Sanskrit. If your practice has been done well and you have taken advantage of each opportunity for movement then your relaxation may be approached with gratitude as the heart beat slows. Those sweat beads ebbing and drying, the body cooling down, and as the mind meanders in meditation you may recall that within this hour on the yoga matt you have experienced the very rhythm which hallmarks life. From the moments of your infancy where you are crawling on your hands and knees, discovering balance and learning to walk and the greater complexities of those balancing series. Later in life relaxing into the self during later adulthood until the very last breathe of shivasana, final relaxation. As your instructor beckons from this highly restorative pose and the body is summoned to bow while uttering “Namaste,” meaning the goodness in me salutes the goodness in you. Perhaps the rest of your day will somehow be a bit lighter, a bit more enthusiastic after working out those internal stresses and calming the breath. The intimate yogic knowledge that today is yet another day of life, fully colorful and abundant life which is to be expressed joyfully in all of these motions before that cosmic and eternal, final relaxation.