Mindfulness, Trauma and Compassion

Anahata Retreats

Let’s look at mindfulness and how it can be applied in therapy. Some of the inner states we experience are:

Unwholesome state

  • Fear
  • Feeling split into pieces
  • Abandonment
  • Isolation
  • Revenge
  • Holding on
  • Confusion
  • Contraction
  • Pain
  • Trauma
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Desire
  • Envy
  • Greed
  • Frustration
  • Emptiness
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Unworthiness
  • Self-criticism

Wholesome antidote

  • Safety
  • Cohesion
  • Acceptance, belonging
  • Unity, oneness
  • Forgiveness
  • Letting go
  • Clarity
  • Expansion
  • Joy
  • Bliss
  • Equanimity, tranquility
  • Love, acceptance, tenderness, forgiveness
  • Satisfaction, contentment, equanimity
  • Inspiration, admiration, appreciation
  • Generosity, expansion, abundance
  • Patience, forgiveness, tolerance
  • Fullness, satiety, wholeness
  • Happiness, joyfulness, freedom
  • Acceptance, vitality, completion
  • Worthiness, actualization
  • Compassion, acceptance

As we begin to practice compassion in meditation, we find a substantial shift in brain activity to the left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with mediating stress responses and resiliency. We notice our thoughts and feelings and move from the left hand side of the table to the right hand side. Keep the list with you and practice replacing your thoughts to more positive ones.

The clinical applications of compassion and other healthy mind states deserve a
little more attention because of the effect of meditating on these reduces the stress response associated with trauma. Self-compassion may be considered the primary antidote to the fear response that is part of the stress cycle. It’s not only a form of radical acceptance of the here and now, but a shift from the brain’s avoidance strategy that keeps us stuck. Compassion can be defined as a state of empathy with the intention to help in some way. While compassion may naturally arise in the practice of mindfulness, often times it can be suggested and induced through certain practices such as heart-coherence meditation. As we intentionally cultivate self-compassion, kindness, empathy, love and courage we begin to neutralize the nervous system’s reactivity to the trauma response.

In one case, a female client had suffered a severe accident that left her permanently disabled, with one leg shorter than the other. For years, she had not looked at her mangled ankle and felt pervasive anxiety as well as anger, and often judged herself harshly. In our sixth session together, I had the client close her eyes, put her hand on her heart, and visualize the accident while silently repeating self-compassionate phrases such as, “May I be free from suffering, may I be healthy in body and mind, may I be free from fear, may I be at peace.”

At one point, she opened her eyes and looked at her ankle for the first time. She
acknowledged the difficulty that she had been through and how hard it has been. This was the experiential state of self-compassion in action. The client continued to acknowledge that this was the first time she experienced self-compassion since the accident. I continued, “What would the days, weeks and months ahead look like for you if you experienced self-compassion more often?”. She had a radiant smile that enlivened her whole being…..

Trauma causes a dramatic loss of balance and trust. By approaching what she was afraid of, the client was able to experience growth and insights. She continued to use this technique for generating self-compassion and self-trust whenever she began to react to the past trauma in the present, and ultimately developed mind-strength and her own wisdom. This is the miracle of mindfulness and is something that is available to everyone, but just like riding a bike, mindfulness takes intentional practice and repetition. The client can then begin to foster other positive mind states that mediate the stress response and bolster resiliency, including self-trust, gratitude, hope, altruism, equanimity, and connection.

I help clients focus on positive and wholesome experiences, and support them in developing qualities that initially help them flip the switch when the trauma reactivity arises. Eventually, the client adopts these qualities as personal characteristics and is able on their own to mediate the stress response naturally.

Antidote exercises
The following exercises are designed to replace an unwholesome mind state with a more wholesome one. I can lead the client through these exercises within the session; the client can then repeat them at home as needed.

Satisfaction meditation
Sit in a meditative posture, focusing on your breathing and silently thinking “in” and “out” for each respiration. Continue focusing on your breathing for several minutes until you are in a state of calm mindfulness.

Visualize yourself sitting at a table with a large glass of clear, sparkling water before you. Feel your thirst, your sense of lack, and your wanting. Then, reach for the glass and begin to drink from it. As you drink, this magic glass never empties. You feel the sensation of cool, satisfying water quenching your thirst as you drink. Drink with deep, satisfying gulps until you feel sated.
Now, become aware of a beam of warm, energizing light, a light of infinite knowl-
edge and wisdom, shining all around you and infusing you with all you will ever need to know. Radiate in this light of wisdom, becoming one with it.
As you experience the sensation of being satisfied, feel yourself glowing with white light. Know that you are an illuminating beacon, shining brilliantly with the light of wisdom, love, and acceptance. Feel this light inside of you, radiating outward. You have more than enough light inside of you. Experience it. Notice what it feels like to be satisfied, to be so filled with light that it flows forth from you, giving you a deep sense of satisfaction.
Remain present with this feeling of satisfaction.

Gratitude practice
Think of a moment today or in the last week when you received something, such as a meal, the beauty of the sun, flowers, a smile of support from a co-worker, or help from a stranger. It could be something you normally consider mundane. Picture where you are and whom you are with, pausing the video in the moment of receiving. As you recall the memory, have awareness of the feeling of receiving. Begin to feel a sense of gratitude. Notice how you feel in your body. Allow your feelings of receiving and gratitude to increase and become as big as they can get.
My teacher said, “Allow the glow to grow.”

Discard an unwholesome self-judgment
Work through these five steps to discard an unwholesome self-judgment.
1
Identify and label the judgment.
Give it a simple name or theme, such as “inadequate ………..”, “insincere,” or “people pleaser.”
2
Discover the quality of the judgment.
Ask yourself, “What is this self-judgment causing me to think or feel about myself in this moment?”
Does it make you feel ashamed, angry, or guilty, for example? Notice whether the feeling is wholesome and supportive of your well-being, or unwholesome, making it difficult for you to enter a state of spaciousness, openness, and trust.
3
Find a remedy for the unwholesome thought or feeling.
Ask yourself, “Would I like to think or feel something different? What thought or feeling could I generate to shift myself out of this unwholesome state?”
4
Formulate a new thought, image, or feeling, and begin to hold on to it firmly.
Experience it in your mind’s eye and in your body (eg heart felt compassion). Feel a wholesome sensation, such as relaxation, excitement, or expansiveness.
5
Assess whether you’ve shifted. Ask yourself, “Have I shifted out of the feeling, state, or thought that was unwholesome?”

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