I’ve become aware that noticing my ease or discomfort with a situation or people informs me. It informs me of the compassion or forgiveness which is present. It informs me that I may be biased or prejudiced or be passing judgment. It informs me of much I can notice and be with and perhaps choose to rethink and notice what next arises. It is not from a place of self-criticism, more of being in a tense situation or challenging people and discerning a next step to respond rather than react in a relationship.
What about you? How do you know you are at ease or uncomfortable with a situation or another person? What part of your body informs you? Your mind or thoughts? The sensations in your body? Feelings or emotions which erupt?
This awareness encourages me to bring my best self to all relationships, including work. Teaching mindfulness and meditation starts with me having my dedicated mindfulness practices first. To be an authentic teacher, I embrace and practice the practices: of silent
sitting meditation, breathing practices, embodied or mindful movement, body scans, loving kindness or compassion practice, plus others, including a practice known as “Just Like Me.” I like to combine compassion practice and “Just Like Me” to deepen the experience, especially when I offer to someone with difficulty. Connecting me and this person unites us in a commonality of being human; “Just Like Me,” this person needs love, shelter, food, clothing, meaningful relationships, work, etc.
I bring this up because I’d like to offer you a moment to reflect on a situation or relationship with someone you have found challenging. Perhaps you have a judgmental opinion about them. To bring living peacefully as an intention, I’ll provide you with this moment to consider how, “Just Like Me,” this person may have a similar or common goal.
A lot of research reveals how the health and well-being of both individuals, the receiver and the giver, are elevated to a more significant state when a practice like “Just Like Me” is offered. Notice how accepting these common ways of being or aspirations shifts a hold on
your opinions, allowing you to change your mind. Seeing how there is less “me” vs. “them” and more “we.”
Dive in and explore what’s lingering within. What current societal concern challenges your thinking or ability to accept another human being? How do you interact with people you may disapprove of their behavior? Begin by saying, “Just Like Me, this person wants/would like/needs...and offer an aspect of life that would be common.
How easy was this practice for you? What did you notice within your body as you offered this practice? Can you offer more, or prefer to rest with this brief encounter?
One occasion I brought this practice forward, “in the moment,” was when I was involved on a committee to create a safe and welcoming play space for children who were visiting dads who were incarcerated in a correctional institution. The committee had representation from many different groups, including the inmate population. One incarcerated dad was inquiring about a program to learn how to talk more effectively with his kids. He wanted to know how to tell his kids that daddy had killed another man. Phew. My insides were catapulting. As I noticed myself getting caught up in my unraveling, I silently brought forward the practice.
“Just Like Me,” this parent wants to connect with his kids. “Just Like Me,” this dad wants to know how to share sensitive information. “Just Like Me,” this dad loves his children.
Phew. This man and I are parents seeking ways to be close to our children. I didn’t need to know the circumstances of the incident or the outcome of the justice system; I just needed to meet another human being in their role as a parent.
As you listened to this brief anecdote, what is arising for you? Take a moment to offer a “Just Like Me” practice to another person with whom you may not approve of their behavior or actions. By finding the commonality of existing as human beings, we can lessen the hold
and separation of them and me.
On another occasion, I’m in a Zoom room, waiting for a group of women to arrive for a mindfulness program. The women are in jail, and I’m facilitating a mindfulness program called “Path of Freedom,” which was created by Dr. Vita Pires and offered through the Prison Mindfulness Institute. Besides the practice of “Just Like Me,” I’m aware of an overwhelming sense of not knowing. From an intimate reflection of “life delivers incredible circumstances, and I could be the one on the other side of the bars,” I feel a settling or calmness and compassion for those whose life situations I have no understanding or knowing. Not knowing
practice opens my heart to seeing and being with another human being. Not Knowing means I don’t have to be told the details; I accept the other person.
It is not about judging the severity, intricacy, or history which brought another human being to this stage in their life but to be present to witness them as a human being who, “Just Like Me,” began their life as a child of someone. “Just Like Me,” the women want to sleep well, feel the warmth of a shower, and find more skillful ways to deal with challenges, fears, complicated people, and the demands of the society in which we live.
As the women enter the room and find a chair, I hear comments about the delays which caused them to arrive late and how it has created more anxiety. Research has offered insight that the physical wiping down of the body helps let go of the tension of being in a stressful or worrying situation. So I invite the women to vigorously wipe down with their hands, starting from the top of their head, reaching as far around their back as possible, and swiping down their arms, body, legs, and feet. Whoosh! Transitioning to slow and gentle self-massage of the head, neck, and hands, combined with coordinating slow inhale and exhale, brings a noticeable shift in their agitated states. Now, those who claimed they couldn’t sit still earlier are finding the comfort of sitting still.
Continuing to include some gentle slow movements, I begin a guided meditation. Inviting the women to notice the sensations they may become sensitive to as I offer a body scan, heads begin to lower, shoulders relax, and yawns emerge as their breath comes in slower and they exhale for longer. The women are experiencing quite quickly how they can bring in the sense of calm, creating the space between the breaths, which allows them to notice and ponder the quality of their thinking and sit with emotions that arise. “Just Like Me,” the women appreciate an opportunity to relax and release tension from the body. As I gradually guide them to leave this meditation and begin to be more alert to the room they are in and join in the discussion, many women comment that it is the calmest they have felt in a long time. Some claim they are ready to sleep and are amazed because going to sleep
has been challenging or impossible for them.
“Just Like Me,” the women are better able to cope with challenging situations when they have ample restful sleep. Most incarcerated people have shared they want less anxiety, manage their anger, have more calmness to think more clearly, and make more skillful choices. Everyone who participates in “Path of Freedom” mindfulness and meditation practices and topics of discussion experience a greater sense of calm and reduced
anxiety and is more willing to explore how they can shift from reacting to responding when dealing with tense or provoking situations. “Just Like Me,” the women have gratitude for learning about mindfulness and meditation practices.
For more information about the “Path of Freedom” program, visit Prison Mindfulness Institute.