I am so grateful for the teachings of Master Liu He of Ling Gui International Healing Qigong School. Please join me in practicing this meditation to give the gift of compassion and create peace on Earth.
I’ve been enjoying this simple, but profound practice together with my child. One of the hidden blessings of the Pandemic has been being able to attend a Zoom class with Master Liu He again. Learn more about her workshops and classes at www.linggui.org
Ling Gui International Healing Qigong School
1631 NE Broadway #409
Portland, OR 97232
“When the sun dropped behind the lower clouds and the evening sky began to darken, something happened that was so profoundly unexpected, it shocked me into a new level of awareness and understanding.” -Karah Pino
My first year at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, I commuted by foot over the Montlake bridge to attend undergraduate classes. The Montlake cut connects Lake Washington to Portage Bay and the bridge is a double leaf bascule bridge that raises in the middle to allow tall masted boats between the bodies of water. I had moved to Seattle from Santa Fe, NM after high school. The smells of wet earth were intoxicating and a landscape defined by water astounding to me for the first years I lived there.
One trip across the cut was during a rare spectacular sunset and the rising bridge stopped me at the pedestrian platform at the north end of the bridge. While waiting, I gazed east at the wetlands and Foster Island, the north end of the UW Arboretum. The setting sun had dipped below the stratus clouds in the west and illuminated them from below all the way to the eastern skyline across the lake. It was Autumn and the leaves of a giant maple tree on the island were beginning to fall. A slight breeze was stirred by the moving water and I strongly smelled the drying leaves and the microbes of decay from the fading summers growth.
I marveled at the height of the tree glowing in the distance and wondered in amazement at the size of the leaves dancing in its branches. The trees and wetlands and water flowing under the bridge vibrated with life in a way that constantly surprised me as a desert dweller. I had seen many sunsets growing up in the Sangre De Cristo mountains with a hundred mile vista of the desert and I considered myself a connoisseur. I had found solace and comfort in the silent permanence of the surrounding geologic formations that framed the desert sky each evening. Distant mountain ranges illuminated by the vast dome of deep blue sky contained all matter of cloud formations that glowed in hypersaturated colors during the evening hours.
The Montlake bridge lowered again and the sounds of traffic picked up behind me. I stayed at the waiting area at the north end of the bridge, watching the leaves moving in the distant tree as the sky shifted from dark red to purple. The glow of sunlight after so many days of rain heightened my awareness of the myriad of changes taking place in a landscape defined by monumental deciduous trees rather than by staid evergreen scrub.
When the sun dropped behind the lower clouds on the western horizon and the evening sky began to darken, something happened that was so profoundly unexpected, it shocked me into a new level of awareness and understanding of this new world around me. Perhaps my shock was in part due to my trust in the steady consistency of the desert I had known. Or maybe it was a result of my expanded openness to the moment I was observing, but the event I witnessed next held me in an infant-like experience of newness and wonder.
The darkening sky still held a shade of deep purple that marked the end of that evening’s sunset as the leaves danced on the distant tree. There was just enough light still slipping through the branches to distinguish the sky from shadow. Without any indication by sound or a rising breeze, all at once, hundreds of leaves lifted momentarily in the branches of the tree and then fell heavily, scattering in all directions.
My mind, shocked in amazement, whirred with calculations of all preconceived possibilities that could explain what I was witnessing. I gasped and felt my heart stop beating as time slowed. I gripped the concrete railing to steady myself as the entirety of my awareness was absorbed in the fluttering motion of the scattering leaves. They twisted and twirled, seeming to spin in a heavy wind blowing through the tree.
But this strange wind only seemed to be affecting this one single tree. And the way the leaves were spreading made it seem that it was blowing from inside the trunk, pushing out in all directions. I watched breathlessly, held fascinated by a permeating curiosity at what would happen next.
The darkening shapes continued their outward momentum from the tree, but after their initial heavy fall, they slowed and seemed to lighten. Some lifted as they spun away. As they gained distance from the branches, I noticed that the random black shadows became more organized. Clusters seemed to be gathering together and moving in the same direction. Some continued to rise even higher in the horizon.
My surprise mixed with alarm as I watched one group moving toward me. The fluttering, spinning movements became rhythmic and steady as they approached. They seemed to be alive. An instant of recognition registered in my mind and confused wonderment coalesced into concrete awareness. I smiled wide as the shadow shapes rose higher to crest over the towers of the bridge. As the band of crows soared overhead, I laughed aloud, both in relief and in amazement.
Over the next years, I spent many sunsets with this tree. Sometimes, I walked along the maintained path through the wetlands onto the island to experience the cacophony of crows in close proximity. On days when I arrived early enough, I witnessed each band of crows arriving from different directions to alight on the branches of the enormous tree. By the time the sun had set, hundreds of crows had gathered from all directions to share commune in the waning light. And each evening, once darkness began to spread across the sky, they would rise together in a synchronous farewell before scattering once again.
Each of these evenings I was reminded of that first encounter with the crows of Foster Island. In each of the 5 other places I lived in Seattle, I observed the crows head to Lake Washington as dusk approached and was reminded of that sunset. The moment of awakening had been so penetrating that it pulsates anew even with the memory of it nearly 25 years later as I scribe this story.
Sometimes the moments seem overwhelming or insurmountable and it can take time to realize how our lives have been changed by them. A car accident, the death of a loved one, a national tragedy, the birth of a child, and then the eventual realization that our concept of ourselves, our best laid plans and our daily life will never be the same.
What I appreciate about vipassana meditation is how the practice of awareness in full acceptance of the moment as it is can prepare us to be in those moments
MOST HIGH, All Powerful, God of Goodness;
To Thee bepraise and glory, Honour and all thankfulness
To Thee alone, MOst High, are these things due,
And no man is worthy to speak of Thee.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for all Thy creation,
More especially for our Brother the Sun,
Who bringeth forth the day and givest light thereby,
For he is glorious and splendid in his radiance,
And to Thee, Most High, he bears similitude.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Sister the Moon, and for the Stars:
In the heavens,
Thou hast set them bright and sparkling and beautiful.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Brother the Wind,
For the air and for the clouds, For serene and for tempestuous days,
For through these dost Thou sustain all living things.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Sister the Water,
For she giveth boundless service, and is lowly, precious and pure.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Brother the Fire,
Through whom Thou givest light in the night hours,
For he is beautiful and joyous, vigorous and strong.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Sister Mother Earth,
Who doth nourish us and ruleth over us,
And bringeth forth divers fruit, and bright flowers and herbs.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for those who show forgiveness through Thy love,
And that do endure sickness and sorrow,
Blessed are they that do suffer in lowliness of spirit,
For by Thee, Most High, shall they be exalted.
Be thou praised, O Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no man living may escape.
Blessed are they who shall be found doing Thy most Holy Will,
For the second dying shall work them no evil.
Be Thou praised and blessed, O Lord, in endless thanksgiving, and served in all humility.
-Karah Pino 3.23.18
“Be more confident,” a friend once told me as we made the rounds at a swanky networking event where I felt terribly out of place. Faking confidence is easy: I pulled my shoulders back and spoke louder and with more assertiveness.
Like many soft-spoken, mild-mannered people, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to present myself this way. As it turns out, confidence may be overrated.
“We like confidence because it feels good and gives us a sense of control. The alternative would be constant anxiety,” said Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.”
We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.
In his book, Mr. Barker asserts that productivity culture often promotes faking confidence without considering these drawbacks. Namely, when you fake it, you may start to believe your own lie, which can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Because confidence feels good “we often don’t notice when it creeps across the line to overconfidence,” Mr. Barker said. This is better known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: a cognitive bias in which you overestimate your ability in something.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asked people to describe themselves while being recorded on video. Those subjects were then told they would be rated on how likable, friendly and intelligent they seemed in the video. Subjects who had high levels of self-compassion had generally the same emotional reaction no matter how they were rated. By contrast, people with high levels of self-esteem had negative emotional reactions if the feedback was simply neutral and not exceptional. They were also more likely to blame unexceptional ratings on outside factors.
“In general, these studies suggest that self-compassion attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem,” the researchers concluded.
Without the pressure to be superhuman, it’s easier to accept feedback and criticism. It’s much harder to learn and improve when you believe you already know everything.
Dr. Neff said resilience may be the most remarkable benefit of self-compassion. In one study, she and her colleagues worked with veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subjects worked with clinical psychologists who determined that nearly half of the group (42 percent) experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Using a 26-item self-report questionnaire that included statements like, “I’m tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies,” Dr. Neff and her colleagues rated subjects’ level of self-compassion. The study concluded that the more self-compassionate veterans were, the less severe their PTSD symptoms were.
Dr. Neff added that self-compassionate people also tend to ruminate less because they can “break the cycle of negativity” by accepting their own imperfections.
Still, of course, there are many benefits to being confident, even if it’s a put-on. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that simply appearing more confident makes people believe you deserve more respect and admiration, possibly helping you reach higher social status. Another study published in Plos One found that when people are overconfident, others overrate them as smarter and more skilled. In other words, there’s something to the “fake it until you make it” phenomenon.
But self-compassion and acceptance can offer a whole suite of other benefits: It’s easier for self-compassionate people to improve on those mistakes, failures or shortcomings because they view them more objectively. Research shows self-compassion is an effective motivator in this way.
Self-compassionate people are better at owning up to their mistakes. Juliana Breines and Serena Chen of the University of California at Berkeley conducted a series of experiments to measure the effect of self-compassion on personal growth. In one study, they asked people to think about something they’ve done that made them feel guilty (lying to a partner, for example). From there, subjects were assigned to a group: self-compassion, self-esteem control or positive distraction control. The self-compassion group had to write to themselves “from a compassionate and understanding perspective.”
The self-esteem group was instructed to write about their own positive qualities, and the positive distraction group was asked to write about a hobby they enjoyed. According to the study, those who practiced self-compassion were more motivated to admit and apologize for their mistake than people in the self-esteem group or positive distraction group. The self-compassion group was also more committed to not repeating their mistakes.
But this isn’t to say you have to go around feeling inadequate. Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, suggests a solution to the problem of overconfidence: self-compassion.
“Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, care and concern you show a loved one,” Dr. Neff said. “We need to frame it in terms of humanity. That’s what makes self-compassion so different: ‘I’m an imperfect human being living an imperfect life.’”
By that definition, self-compassion is the opposite of overconfidence. Admitting we have flaws just like anyone else keeps us connected to others, Dr. Neff said, and also keeps us from exaggerating our flaws or strengths. Unlike overconfidence, which attempts to hide self-doubt and other pessimistic shortcomings, self-compassion accepts them. Self-compassion, Mr. Barker writes, includes the benefits of confidence without the downside of delusion.
“A lot of people think self-compassion is weak, but it’s just the opposite,” Dr. Neff said. “When you’re in the trenches, do you want an enemy or an ally?” Whereas confidence is aimed at feeling adequate and powerful despite how adequate and powerful you actually are, self-compassion encourages you to accept a more objective reality.
What’s more, self-compassion has been shown to help people better empathize with others. Dr. Neff and her colleague, Tasha Beretvas at the University of Texas at Austin, have found that people rate self-compassionate partners as more caring and supportive than self-critical ones. So if your partner points out a flaw, you’ll do better to accept it and forgive yourself than beat yourself up and dwell on it.
Pulling your shoulders back is easy. Learning to be kind to yourself takes considerably more effort. In his book, Mr. Barker suggests a few ways to embrace self-compassion: Accept that you’re human, recognize your failures and frustrations, and avoid dwelling on mistakes.
“The first and most important thing to do is to notice that voice in your head – that running commentary we all have as we go about our lives,” Mr. Barker said. “Often that voice is way too critical. You beat yourself up for every perceived mistake. To be more self-compassionate, you need to notice that voice and correct it.”
That doesn’t mean lying to yourself, Mr. Barker says, but rather changing the way you talk to yourself. It may help to imagine the way a loved one would talk to you about your mistakes, then switch that voice out for a more supportive one. Keep in mind, however, that the harsh critic in your head is not your enemy. This is a common misconception that can make things worse, Dr. Neff said, because that voice is a survival mechanism that’s intended to keep you safe.
“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up,” she said. “We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.”