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Serving Consciously

Finding Joy In Service: Exploring Compassionate Curiosity with Dr. Gabor Maté

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Powerful service to others is based in one fundamental element and that is connection. We strive to create a space of connection that will help to build on feelings of trust, openness, acceptance and unconditional care for another person.

As we go through academic preparation and learn from the less formal interactions in our lives, we learn how to create this space of connection with others; we learn how to let others know that we are present and engaged. We learn how to send the message that we care.

Offering compassion as we develop connection with another is our way of saying that we care and that it is safe. Curiosity sends the message that we have a desire to understand and to explore the nature of an experience.

When these two elements come together, the results can be magical.

Compassionate Curiosity

What is compassionate curiosity? And how do we engage in that energy? My understanding of this most beautifully combined process of exploration involves an intricate balance of energies that can open deeper experiences of conscious service.

When we bring curiosity to our experience of compassion, we gain greater capacity for understanding of our own experience as well as that of another. Curiosity keeps us exploring and opens us up to deeper levels of willingness.

When compassion guides our natural curiosity, we learn to probe gently in order to connect within and with others in this process of life and learning. It is in this place that we enter a space of authentic empathy.

Curiosity directs our compassionate energy. Compassion creates a space of acceptance and healing and helps us transcend judgment.

“Compassion does not create fatigue. Lack of self-compassion is exhausting.”

Whatever energy we are creating to welcome others and to serve others is only as powerful to the extent that we include ourselves.

Include Yourself

How can you take the position of compassionate curiosity with yourself?

Consider how you respond to you when you feel you have made a mistake or when you decide that you have not lived up to your own standards. Are your words sweet or salty?

In those moments of sadness or fear, can you be present to your experience? What do you tell yourself? Are you open to feeling better or are you mired in self-punishment? How do you soothe your tender heart?

What about those times when you have just nailed it, you experience a personal victory or success? As the sense of humble pride and confidence arises, how do you greet it? Do you quickly shut it down because it is conceited to feel good about yourself; you don’t want to appear boastful and bigger than your britches. Do you immediately downplay your joy because you don’t want others to feel jealous and ultimately, not like you?

Is it possible to embrace it all in a way that honors our full experience? Can we be present to ourselves whatever the moment brings?

I am learning this in my own life now. I realized with guidance from helpful people that I am always talking to myself anyway, so why not make it encouraging and comforting? What if I came to myself from a place of compassionate curiosity? How would that change things?

I imagine how I would respond to a small child or someone I love deeply, and I take that approach with myself. That is the quickest route I have found so far to engage in self-compassion and self-love.

So, what does this have to do with finding joy in service? Joy naturally springs from the same place as compassion and curiosity, love and belonging. One of the bravest actions we can take is to explore with curiosity and compassion that place where our joy lives. And when we find it, feel ourselves light up, and open up to receive and follow our joy, we demonstrate self-love. When that overflows to others, we are engaged in conscious service.

Join The Conversation

I remember when I first heard the term compassionate curiosity like it was yesterday. The words went directly to my heart and set off bells inside my soul. I was attending a workshop and listening to an eloquent and wise speaker. I am beyond ecstatic to welcome this man as my guest on the next episode of Serving Consciously at www.ctrnetwork.com on Friday February 10, 2017 at 12:00 Noon (PST).

Dr. Gabor Mate

Gabor Maté is a medical doctor recently retired from active practice. He was a family physician for two decades and for seven years he served as Medical Coordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital.

For twelve years he worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by hard-core addiction, mental illness, HIV and related conditions. For two years he was the onsite physician at Vancouver’s unique Supervised Injection Site, North America’s only such facility.

He is internationally known for his work on the mind/body unity in health and illness, on attention deficit disorder and other childhood developmental issues, and his breakthrough analysis of addiction as a psychophysiological response to childhood trauma and emotional loss.

Dr. Maté is the author of four best-selling books published in twenty languages on five continents, including When The Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection and the award winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction.

Gabor is the recipient of an Outstanding Alumnus Award from Simon Fraser University and an Honorary Degree of Law from the University of Northern British Columbia, among other awards.

He frequently addresses professional and lay audiences in North America and internationally on issues related to childhood development and parenting, physical and mental health and wellness, and addiction.

He is Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Criminology, Simon Fraser University. His next book, Toxic Culture: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a World of Materialism will be published in 2018.

You can tune in live on Friday February 10, 2017 at 12:00 Noon (PST) at www.ctrnetwork.com. Just click on Listen Live and you will be in! And of course, if you would like to interact with us, please call in during the show at 1-844-390-8255.

Elizabeth Bishop is the creator of the Conscious Service Approach designed to support helping professionals to reconnect with and fulfill their desire to make a difference in the lives of those they support. Following the completion of a diploma in Developmental Services and a degree in Psychology and Religious Studies, she completed a Masters in Adult Education through St. Francis Xavier University, providing the opportunity to test and refine the elements of the Conscious Service Approach. Elizabeth is the host of Serving Consciously, a new show on Contact Talk Radio.

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Mental Health

Eight Characteristics of the Effective Person

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With increasing numbers of people being glued to their electronic devices, it is more important than ever that individuals focus on their interpersonal skills so that they can effectively interact with others when they do have a “real” encounter.

The importance of effective communication has been shown to be critical and has been researched over the years, with some qualities being shown to be particularly important. Based on a wealth of research, the following offers eight qualities which seem to be particularly important in developing successful relationships.

Empathy.

The ability to “get into the shoes” of another is probably the most important quality for building and maintaining healthy relationships. This selfless process builds trust by showing others that one is willing to place oneself second to the concerns of another and allows the listener to understand why others act the way they do. Those who are empathic are able to build strong, authentic, and lasting relationships.

Although all of us have the ability to be empathic, those who were brought up in nurturing relationships which fostered an understanding of others will have an easier time putting aside their agendas and be able to hear others. However, with effort, all of us can become better listeners.

Realness.

Although we often don’t like to admit it, we almost always can tell when people are not being real with us. It’s demonstrated by the way they look at us, talk to us, and behave with us. And, when a person is not real with another, the relationship cannot grow and deepen. Only genuine, transparent relationships can have the depth and breathe that develop mutual sharing at deep levels. Realness takes intentionality—a concerted effort at being genuine with the other person. Such conversations are often not easy, but they bring an intensity and honesty to relationships that are a cornerstone of positive mental health.

Acceptance.

Humans develop intricate webs of reality that make sense to them, but not always to others who observe their behaviors. Acceptance is acknowledging the fact that one may not understand the thoughts and behaviors of another, yet knowing that within the other person’s world, his or her thoughts and actions make sense. This knowledge allows one to be empathic and nonjudgmental, despite sometimes disagreeing with what others have done. Such acceptance builds strong, lasting relationships that can develop into mutually empathic and real relationships.

Cross-Cultural Sensitivity.

When individuals have regard for others and are empathic with others, they are naturally cross-culturally sensitive. But cross-cultural sensitivity goes beyond empathy and acceptance, as it also means actively wanting to know about the culture of others. The gaining of such knowledge, whether by asking others about their cultures or discovering about others’ cultures through various resources, allows one to understand individuals more fully. This deeper understanding of another acknowledges an individual’s unique way of living in the world and how that way is associated with the individual’s unique and vibrant culture.

Competence.

Being good at something, whatever it is, helps us feel good about ourselves and builds our self-esteem. Whether it’s academics, sports, cooking, or an obscure hobby, feeling competent helps us believe in ourselves and generally results in a constructive attitude toward life and others. Each of us has unique abilities and qualities, and understanding how those can be used to build self-efficacy is critical if we are going to feel good about ourselves and positively impact others.

Embracing Our Spirituality or Meaningfulness.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of our existence? Why do we do what we do in the world? If we live without a sense of our spirituality or meaningfulness, we will haphazardly live in the world as we have no reason or philosophy that drives us. Lack of a core meaning-making system results in narcissistic and selfish recklessness as individuals make decisions without reflecting on their core philosophical assumptions. Beliefs that drive a positive personal meaning making system, whether religiously-based or founded on some well-thought out philosophy, are always rooted in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you might want others to do unto you.

Knowing Our “It Factor”—Being Ourselves.

Each of us has a unique way of thinking, acting, and being in the world, but not all of us readily embrace our individuality. Being ourselves means that we are willing to take risks with others—say what we really think, act like we really want to act, and be who we really are. Of course, in a civilized world we cannot do everything we think, feel, and want to do, but we can acknowledge to ourselves all aspects of self, and, in healthy ways, strive to fully be ourselves.

Social Sense.

Because our existence relies on living with civility in what can sometimes be a pretty chaotic world, it is important that each of us understand, be aware, and act in ways that are sensitive to others and the communities in which we live. This manner of co-existence allows us to live with a sense of safety and love as we strive to be ourselves while simultaneously acknowledging and monitoring how we impact others. Like the ripples in a lake that follow after a stone is thrown into it, a social sense means that we have a keen awareness that each action we take affects all others.

These eight characteristics seem to be critical in developing strong, effective relationships—whether it be with a friend, significant other, or colleague. However, one should keep in mind that relationships take work and knowing these qualities will do little if one does not practice them.

Most importantly, each of us should be intentionally empathic, real, accepting, cross-culturally sensitive, competent, have a sense of meaning, embrace our “it factor, and have a social sense if we are to get along with others and have a more peaceful and loving world.

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Global

Getting Stuff Done

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I used to manage a wonderful multidisciplinary team in East London, who prided themselves on going the extra mile for families on their teamwork and joined-up support. I remember an imposing senior manager visiting, and the staff sharing with her descriptions of their casework.

As she listened intently and I idly read the screen-saver on the computer behind where she was seated, I realised with dawning horror that it was repeatedly scrolling across the monitor “The East Welford Team* gets S*!%T done!!” It didn’t take long for me to find an excuse to show her another part of the office, making dagger-eyes at my team to get them to change the message to something more positively corporate-sounding pronto!

But I was very proud of that team, and I was reminded of them last week when I walked into the Project Room at work to offer to make a round of tea. I found Marianne (one of our team co-ordinators) talking excitedly with Emma and Theresa (two of our Family Workers).

The subject of the discussion was the intensive afternoon-into-early evening they had had the day before, “holed” up in an office at a GP surgery with a parent, supporting her and making phone call after phone call to get the various agencies to respond to the crisis she and her children were dealing with. The excitement didn’t arise from anger or triumphalism related to the battle with other services; it certainly wasn’t taking satisfaction in or credit from someone else’s misfortunes.

But what those team members were remembering and celebrating was a job well done and achieved through team work and partnership. Just for those 15 minutes, Emma and Theresa deserved their place under the spotlight, although to be honest most of their weeks are filled with unheralded skill and hard work to help parents, children and even other professionals achieve their potential. Marianne said that from this point on she would call them Starsky and Hutch because of their partnership, dynamism and commitment to getting the job done – even under intense pressure.

That made me smile, but also reflect on at what point we in the voluntary sector stopped talking about the “work”? And by the ‘work’ I mean the hands on engagement with and support given to our service users and beneficiaries. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are lots of people involved with charities whose work is little acknowledged and often not recognised.

A voluntary sector bulletin recently dropped into my inbox from a major national newspaper, and to judge from its contents, charities like mine are increasingly effective in our campaigning about we do, striving to identify outcomes for what we do, tweeting and blogging about it, and of course fundraising for what we do. All the people who undertake those tasks and who support the aims and values of their charities deserve to be appreciated and applauded. But lately, it doesn’t seem (purely a hunch – no hard research was undertaken) that we explain what it is we do exactly “to help”. Or that we celebrate that work.

Yes, we do talk about outcomes – but rarely about how those outcomes were achieved, even if it was only by simple but vital acts such as providing a space to talk, enabling respite for carers by finding children a holiday scheme, or setting up an awards ceremony and disco for young disabled volunteers so they can party and have fun like many of their non-disabled peers.

Under the stress and pressure, our wonderful staff carry on talking the talk and walking the walk. Sometimes in the face of hostility, but also receiving more gratitude and thanks from our service users than people would ever expect was expressed. Last month I conducted the final observation of our social work student on a visit to a parent and family she had supported during her placement.

Amongst lots of really concrete outcomes achieved by the student, including getting the children into an afterschool club and linking the family with advice around a child’s special educational needs, the parent told me that “you couldn’t wish for a better person to work with you”. When I passed it on I saw how my student positively glowed at that piece of feedback. And what could be a stronger endorsement than that someone is willing to open up some of the most private areas of their own or their family’s life to you?

If something is not talked about it is effectively unseen and unacknowledged. What we do – the day job – is a big part of our identity and people need to feel able to be proud of it. They may not look or act like Starsky and Hutch, but every day voluntary sector staff contribute to thousands of supportive conversations in bedsits, flats, living rooms, hostels, interview rooms and group work sessions to create the opportunity for positive changes in people’s lives. And we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about how they are getting sh…I mean STUFF! done.

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Mental Health

Self-Connection Through Daily Mindfulness

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If you are anything like me, you may have confused mindfulness with meditation; something requiring you to be in a certain space, a particular position and removed from distraction or other activity.

Well, I’ve come to learn that while mindfulness practice can be enhanced through meditation, they are not one in the same.

Mindfulness is about bringing conscious awareness and presence to what is right in front of us or perhaps, what is occurring within us as an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual sensation.

The Heart of the Matter

Before I had even heard the term mindfulness, I received a teaching that helped me to understand it more clearly today.

Many years ago, I attended a silent retreat centered in Buddhist meditation practice. We spent many hours in a seated position. Silent. During the course of the weekend, we were also introduced to chanting.

A space had been carved in the silence for a question and answer period on the last day of the retreat. Most of the questions focused on the accuracy of the chant; saying the right words, holding the right tone and doing it in the right order.

Our teacher for the weekend guided us to recognize that it was not about right or wrong, that the clarity of the words, the volume of the chant or the correct order or perfect pronunciation was not at the heart of the matter.

We were reminded that feeling into the practice was the most crucial element. The ability to hold a pure and objective intention to simply engage in the moment within our hearts would be more powerful than a day’s worth of disconnected chanting.

So, when mindfulness became a hot topic of conversation and sought after state of being, I was reminded of this learning as I struggled to understand what mindfulness would look like in my day to day life.

Some of the essential ingredients involved in mindfulness include acceptance, non-judgement, willingness to observe, openness to feeling, and release of resistance.

Mindfulness.  It’s a Gateway to Self-Connection

Here’s what I have noticed. Mindfulness leads to self-connection. Mindfulness is a pathway to self-connection. In self-connection, I have a front row seat to my own experience including the emotions, the feelings, the thoughts, the beliefs, the desires of my heart and I become intrigued and curious about this exploration.

Using mindfulness as a gateway to self-connection makes it easier to stay out of the stories that we often create in order to make sense of our circumstances in a logical and intellectual way. This can be helpful or harmful depending on the details of the storyline.

In a mindful place as you experience deeper levels of self-connection you can begin to cultivate a deeper capacity to witness yourself. You become the observer who is deeply present and engaged AND also open to whatever arises for you through your senses. And this is where self-compassion is born.

Self-compassion is the capacity to hold space for our own evolution and process without expecting it to be different in any way and to love ourselves through it all. There is no need to resist what we discover, no need to berate ourselves for anything and no need to fix. Self-compassion is the utter acceptance and unconditional love for you.

And guess what? This depth of self-connection and self-compassion expands your ability to offer connection and compassion to others. Real, genuine, authentic connection and compassion.

Is there anything more powerful than that within the context of transformative relationships?

It is a practice that deepens your experience of joy and softens your times of sorrow. It is a practice that provides a glimpse, moment by moment into your authentic nature. Your most powerful gifts of service to others is found right there.

With a mindful approach, you can move away from “right and wrong,”  step out of the contrast of “good and bad” and embrace what is in this moment. The only “right and wrong” that becomes important is what feels right or wrong to your own heart.

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