After completing a walking session with a client who was ashamed of being estranged from her brother, Baris reflected on his own lingering shame as he headed back toward the office complex.
Baris’s daughter Esma, 23, hadn’t gotten along with her father for a few years before her parents divorced. The divorce amplified their tension, and they currently haven’t spoken in more than a year. Baris, 55, worries that Esma will never speak to him again, and dwells on this fear several times per day. He usually blames himself for the situation, and his fear of Esma blowing him off has hindered Baris from attempting to reach out to her.
Through the guidance of Elizabeth, a 71-year-old retired schoolteacher and experienced mindfulness practitioner, Baris has been learning and applying various practices to help him confront his shame and deal more skillfully with other stress and disappointment in his life. This has helped him lose his temper less often with his ex-wife and be more attentive to clients when they’re sharing, including catching more non-verbal cues than he did before.
“I see you trying to ‘master’ all of this mindfulness stuff,” Elizabeth told Baris the other day when he popped into the office complex resource center where she worked part-time. “Mastery is a journey, and you never fully arrive because you never know it all. At some point, hopefully soon, you’re going to have to take the chance and call Esma.”
“Text her,” Baris corrected Elizabeth. “Esma doesn’t answer her phone, unless it’s one of her friends.”
“You know what I mean, Baris,” Elizabeth said, sounding very much like a patient but firm schoolteacher. “Make contact. However you do it.”
“I know, I know,” he said, giving Elizabeth a sheepish grin.
As described in this previous post , the process of healing shame through mindfulness first involves embracing the core Buddhism teaching known as the Four Noble Truths. The Fourth Noble Truth is also known as The Noble Eight-fold Path.
The Noble Eight-fold Path
- Right View. A mindset that’s deeply grounded in the Four Noble Truths (1. Suffering exists; 2. We cause our suffering through attachment, avoidance, and aversion; 3. We can stop causing our suffering; and 4. There’s a path for cessation of suffering).
- Right Thinking (or Intent). The practice of staying present and engaged, regularly challenging the content and quality of your thinking through self-directed questions such as, “What am I doing” and “Am I sure?” Right Thinking also involves noticing what Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls “habit energies.” such as incessant thoughts. but without judging them.
- Right Speech. Right speech is, most importantly, “loving” speech that’s grounded in deep listening and awareness of one’s personal motivations before speaking.
- Right Action. These efforts are also grounded in awareness of personal motivations before acting.
- Right Livelihood. Right Livelihood is the intentional embrace of work or a career that enhances the well-being of all life and the earth herself.
- Right Diligence (or Effort). This is the ongoing, disciplined practice of reinforcing healthy, helpful thoughts and habits and “dismissing,” or exposing and therefore reducing the power of, unhealthy ones.
- Right Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more fully aware of, and attentive to, what’s taking place within and around you. Mindfulness is the “energy” that empowers all eight paths and is at the heart of Buddhist teaching in general. (And, as you might have noticed, it’s one of the three core topics of this website.)
- Right Concentration. This is the practice of looking deeply and focusing intently on one’s self, others, circumstances, nature, and so forth.
It takes time and practice to become comfortable with processing your thoughts and situations through the lenses of each of the eight paths. Here’s how Baris is applying them toward the shame he feels for being estranged from Esma, and toward embedded, lifelong shame he feels about himself in general:
- Right View. Baris is reminding himself that continuing to cling to a fear of Esma’s permanent rejection is fueling his ongoing suffering.
- Right Thinking (or Intent). Baris is getting consistent at “catching his cascading thoughts in the act,” such as recognizing when his mind goes from simply missing Esma to “catastrophizing” the situation by convincing himself that they’ll never have a relationship again.
- Right Speech. When he imagines a future conversation with Esma, Baris explores the positive outcomes he wants for the conversation and considers what outcomes Esma might want as well.
- Right Action. Baris is considering more skillful ways to relate to his former wife, since he knows, logically, this ultimately affects his relationship with their daughter Esma.
- Right Livelihood. As he reflects on how his work as a clinical psychologist helps other people to heal, Baris is finding himself motivated to continue to cultivate his active listening skills.
- Right Diligence (or Effort). Baris has started keeping a journal where he jots down the helpful and unhelpful thoughts he lingered on across the day, usually before going to sleep. Writing down the unhelpful thoughts helps Baris more fully recognize them as just that: thoughts.
- Right Mindfulness. Baris is practicing meditating on his breathing for a few minutes each day in order to, as Elizabeth puts it, “build muscle memory” for being more fully present and relaxed in whatever situation he encounters.
- Right Concentration. When out in nature by himself, Baris is practicing finding an object such as a tree or cloud to focus on for a few moments and trying to simply observe it without letting his mind wander.
Healing internalized shame involves more than just mindfulness practices, and in a future post Baris will apply some therapeutic work toward his recovery efforts as well. Mindfulness and therapy can be a powerful combination for addressing any kind of suffering you’re experiencing. Baris’s ongoing recovery will give him even more “head space” and energy toward contemplative, peaceful living and ongoing growth, facilitated by resources such as the Enneagram.