Presence, Self Compassion and Connection: Keys to Wellbeing and Resilience

How would you rate your current level of wellbeing on a scale of 1 to 10? How about your resilience? Are you feeling present, compassionate and connected to yourself and others?

We are living in a time of heightened anxiety and fear, and many of us are feeling disconnected and isolated from friends and loved ones, perhaps struggling financially due to loss of income, or with the loss of loved ones.

As much as the coronavirus vaccine is being rolled out to more and more people, and many of us have already or will soon receive it, the virus still represents a more or less unknown and continually evolving threat in our midst.

We’re in a liminal space, where little in life looks the way it did just over a year ago, and what lies ahead is unknown.

Whatever you are feeling right now is understandable and normal. Whatever you are doing to cope right now is understandable and normal.

Let me say that again:  Whatever you are feeling right now is understandable and normal. Whatever you are doing to cope right now is understandable and normal. 

I’ve felt depressed and anxious, I’ve gained weight, lost sleep, lost my temper, lost income, and forgotten to do more things than I can count.

I’ve also found ways to keep going, to adapt, to learn, and even grow, as I navigate that transitional space between no more and not yet.

Three of the most important factors contributing to my resilience have been presence, connection and self-compassion.

Since my dog died in January, my contact with other living breathing beings has been restricted solely to Zoom and other electronic forms of communication since the global pandemic was declared in March 2020.

There are days when I cry myself to sleep longing for a simple hug or someone to squeeze my hand. And there are days when I think I can’t possibly sit and look at a screen for another minute.

I’ve had many more days of remembering to let my attention drop into my heart, anchoring it there with the warmth of my hand, as I look at each of the little squares in front of me, rousing a gentle, friendly, curiosity about what might be arising in their hearts as we share this virtual space together.

In those moments, I offer myself a silent “Oh, sweetie, this is so hard. And just like me, all these beings are scared, overwhelmed, grieving, longing for connection.”

If I happen to be leading a meditation gathering on Zoom, I share what I’m feeling and invite others to join me in dropping their attention into their heart, perhaps placing their hand there, and looking at each little square in the same gentle, friendly, curious way. I also invite the awareness that even as we are seeing, we are also being seen, and a further invitation to notice what that feels like.

When I crawl into bed at night after one of those Zoom gatherings, I feel more connected than ever, and I know that I’m going to be okay.

Presence, Self Compassion, Connection, Resilience – Defined

Let’s unpack this a little bit, beginning with some definitions.

Presence: According to Doug Silsbee, founder of Presence-Based Coaching and Leadership, “Presence is an internal state: the inclusive awareness of stillness, possibility, and immediacy.”

Self Compassion: According to Kristen Neff, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology,  University of Texas at Austin, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, “self-compassion involves responding in the same supportive and understanding way you would with a good friend when you have a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.”

Connection: According to Brene Brown, professor of social work at the University of Houston, “Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Resilience: According to the American Psychological Association, “Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress…”

Bamboo, bending, but never breaking, a symbol of resilience that features prominently on my website and in my life.

Putting It Back Together

My own felt experience of presence, whether I’m alone or with someone, is being, fully embodied, in that stillness between past and future. I’m not lost in thoughts and emotions, they might arise in my awareness but I’m not engaging with them. I’m aware of what I’m feeling inside, sensations, temperature, movement. I’m attuned to and curious about myself and others.

From that place of presence, attunement and curiosity, I’m able to notice the subtle tightening of my belly in fear, my jaw beginning to clench in anger, or the rising heat of shame, and pause and give myself what I need, whether it’s compassion, a hug, a walk, or some time in nature.

Self-compassion doesn’t come easily for many of us, myself included. It takes practice. It can feel vulnerable to acknowledge our pain, opening us to even deeper pain. We might feel undeserving of it, especially if we’ve not received it from others in the past. We might have been raised with the idea that it’s weak, that only tough love will help us grow.

We are relational beings. We are wired for connection.  We need others.

According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our need for love and belonging is basic, second only to safety and physiological needs, and essential to our survival, as well as our capacity to attend to higher needs.

In his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect” neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman argues that our need to connect with others is even more basic than food and shelter, and the primary motivator of behavior.

We’re also wired with stress or survival responses, (fight, flight, freeze) and when they are chronically activated, as they have been for so many of us throughout the past year, our health and wellbeing suffer.  We become even less able to cope with stress, less able to bounce back from adversity – less resilient – and more susceptible to illness.

Moving Forward

There is so much that is beyond our control, in general, and specifically with respect to the coronavirus pandemic.  That makes it even more important that we take the time and are intentional in learning about and offering ourselves and others opportunities to build up our resilience.

In this blog post, I’ve named only a few of the factors that have helped me and those I work with be more resilient and have a greater sense of wellbeing, and perhaps even learn and grow, over the past year. There are others.

Let’s continue to learn and explore together in my upcoming free workshop, Presence, Connection and Self Compassion: Keys to Wellbeing and Resilience, on Saturday April 10, from 11 am-12 noon eastern. Register here!

Connecting to Change

Most of us have tried many, many times to think and plan our way through the why and how of everything from exercising more, eating less, reducing caffeine intake, being kinder, less impatient or prone to anger, going back to school, asking for a raise, being more productive, switching careers, to ending relationships and dealing with the multitude of changes and losses that are inherent in living as a human being. Understanding why we do the things we do or feel how we feel is helpful, but it’s only part of the picture.

So often the reasons that we keep doing things that aren’t good for us, or don’t do things we say we want to, relate not only to beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world and other people, but the way those beliefs and the experiences they grew out of are actually held in our body, they shape us and how we are in the world. Learning to identify those holdings and find ways to let them go allows us to take the shape of new beliefs and ways of being.

We are wired neurologically and biologically for connection with others, and we need to know that we are safe and that we matter. When those needs are not met, it makes it very difficult to live out the innate potential that we all have for resilience, connectedness, creativity, compassion, curiosity, courage, calm, confidence, and clarity, ingredients that are key in creating the lasting changes we desire, and navigating those changes life inevitably brings to us.

We also live in a society that rewards us financially and otherwise for our thinking capacity, especially if we can think our way into doing more, doing it faster, and doing it with less time, money, energy, etc. We’re not rewarded for just being, our worth is dependent on external validation and measures of success, and we’re especially not rewarded for feeling.

However, if we can’t feel our body, or don’t become familiar with the sensations it generates, what they mean, and how to work with them, we’re lacking important information about our own emotional state and the emotional state of family, friends and coworkers. Our relationships are less fulfilling than they can be. Our ability to feel connected and know that we’re safe and that we matter is reduced, which in turns limits the expression of our innate potential, as noted above, along with our sense of agency in our own lives and the world.

As your coach, my goal is to provide you with an experience of safety, connection and worthiness within which we will work collaboratively to ascertain what matters most to you and why, explore what might be getting in the way, identify the steps necessary to bring it into being, and then to support you as you take each of those steps.

It is important to note that coaching is not therapy. This article outlines the major differences between the two. Though my understanding of attachment theory, internal family systems theory, mindfulness, embodiment, as well as trauma and resilience inform my work with clients, our work together will have a much more present and future orientation with only brief forays into the past.

Curious about how coaching might help you connect with your heart and bring about that which matters most to you? Let’s connect and explore together!