Reflections - Catherine L. Phillips, MD

I’d like to share some reflections from the past few months, emerging from the MSC program. In MBSR we become aware of how our inner attitudes affect our experience- and we learn to recognize when our attitudes may serve us well, and when we might be better served by attitudes that are more “life affirming”. Many of us find it much easier to offer kindness, patience, acceptance or compassion to others than we do to ourselves- as though we are somehow immune to the need for these attitudes, or are undeserving of them. I have found the practice of Mindful Self Compassion to be life changing, and am now practicing the “Golden Rule” bi-directionally- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and “Do unto yourself as you would (ideally) do unto others”.

I’d like to share with you what for me was the most powerful exercise over the 5 days of MSC. For one of the practices, Michelle introduced us to an exercise in Compassionate Self Talk.  Expecting to encounter an inner block, as I followed the instructions I started writing to myself the words that Michelle gave us as examples: “I love you. I don’t want you to suffer”. I kept writing, curious to see what might emerge. I was surprised as words spontaneously flowed from deep within me:

I support you

I want you to shine brightly- to be seen for who you are

To allow yourself to emanate

To birth yourself moment by moment

To feel safe and supported in your not knowing

To trust your feet will land on the ground

I am here for you; venture forth

Experiment with being

Go deeper into who you are to bring this into the world

Have fun

I am part of you- your grounding, your footing

I am always here- you need only remember, to feel my support

I love you.

I felt this deeply- this well within me of kindness and compassion that I so often extend to others; I felt deeply anchored in and bathed in this myself. I felt loved. I felt whole.

 We each deserve the same kindness and support that we would wish to offer a cherished loved one. In remembering more often to offer this to myself, I have become increasingly aware of when I live in a manner supportive to my wellbeing, and when I do not. From love stems a desire to relieve suffering- which means releasing of things that are not supportive of living with ease.

So often we turn away from ourselves- with business, work- the rationalizations are endless. Just as we are advised to apply our own oxygen mask in an airplane before assisting others, kindness and compassion can only be easily extended to others to the degree we have these in our own lives. What more solid a base to live from than your own inner reservoir of kindness and compassion- starting at home, with oneself.

I invite you to explore Dr. Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s writings on Self Compassion, and to reflect on how this simple practice might powerfully and positively impact you and your life this year.

Warm Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Catherine L. Phillips, MD, FRCP(C) is the Founder and Director of The Mindfulness Institute.ca.                  

For more information, see About Us.

Loving-Kindness Meditation - Catherine L. Phillips, MD

Photo Courtesy of Brad Stewart

Photo Courtesy of Brad Stewart

In this meditation we will practice generating and directing compassion towards ourselves and others.

Start in a comfortable position, your posture embodying qualities you would like infused throughout this meditation and in your day-to-day life. These may include solidity, grace, poise, strength, clarity, gentleness, kindness or dignity – however these feel for you! Allow yourself to sink into your body, bringing awareness to what it feels like to be sitting, with the air flowing in and the air flowing out as you embody these qualities.

Allowing everything to be exactly as it already is. Allowing sounds to come and go just as they are. Allowing physical sensations to come and go exactly as they are. Allowing thoughts to come and go exactly as they are...and if you notice your attention carried off by thoughts or other distractions, simply noting this with acceptance, and gently bringing awareness back to the present moment.

When you are ready, and in your own good time, bring to your mind and heart the memory and image of some being for whom or by whom you have felt love or loved. This being could be someone from your past or present, a friend, family member, or even a pet. Holding an image of this being in your mind, allow yourself to feel the kindness or love you experienced at some moment in time with this being. Allowing yourself to experience the good intentions and love of this being towards you as in your mind’s eye you open to, and receive these well wishes from them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy.  May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for yourself and for others.

Continuing to hold this being in your heart as you continue to generate feelings of kindness, love and compassion. And now, holding this being in this state of love as you direct these well wishes towards them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be free from anger, pain and suffering. May you live with ease. May you be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for yourself and for others.

As you continue to sit in the presence of this benevolent being allowing this love and compassion to envelope you both, directing this same loving kindness and well wishes towards your own self, for you are no less deserving than any other being:

May I be safe. May I be free from inner and outer harm. May I be healthy. May I be happy, May I live with ease. May I be free from anger, pain and suffering. May I be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for myself and for others.

When you're ready, you could now bring to mind a more neutral person from your past or present, and direct this loving kindness and sincere well wishes towards them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy, and loving kindness for yourself and others.

As you continue to generate feelings of kindness and compassion from within, using the image of the first benevolent being to help you do so if needed, bring to mind a less than neutral person, perhaps someone by whom you have felt wronged, or even hurt. And, only if you choose, experimenting now with directing love and well wishes towards this person:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering.  May you live with ease. May you be filled with loving kindness for yourself and others.

Offering kindness, gentleness and compassion for yourself as you try this – not necessarily choosing the most difficult person in your life if you feel unready for this, and listening to and respecting your own internal cues and reactions, as you work with yourself just the way you are.

And, if you choose, now expanding this loving kindness to encompass everyone in the same house or perhaps everyone in the same community or city, wishing each and every being:

May you be happy. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy and loving kindness for yourself and others.

And as we reach the end of this exercise, knowing that at any time you can draw upon this inner reservoir of compassion, of boundless loving kindness, and offer it to yourself and to others in your life at any moment over the course of your day and your life.

Note: You can spend as much or little time on each being as you choose, and individualize the phrases as desired.


Catherine L. Phillips, MD, FRCP(C) is the Founder and Director of The Mindfulness Institute.ca. For more information, see About Us.