This is a program from the Global Compassion Coalition titled “Rest in Renewal.”
I’m Rick Hansen. I’m very, very glad you’re here.
I’m a psychologist, author, teacher, and more importantly, really, I’m a son and a father, a husband and a brother, and I’m speaking to you now from the unceded lands of the first people who lived here in Northern California.
I wanted to offer this program out of my gratitude and deep appreciation for those of you who have already joined the Global Compassion Coalition, which I’ve been able to start with friends and colleagues from around the world. This is my particular thanks to you for being a member of this coalition.
And of course, I’m happy that everyone is here. is here. And I wanted to offer something from my heart that would be useful for easing some stresses, finding your footing on shaking ground, and feeling in good company with others from around the world as we practice together. I’ll be offering a mixture of hopefully useful ideas, some experiential practice. This will be experiential and some discussion.
Of course, as with any offering, certainly my own. Take what’s useful and leave the rest. And with regard in particular to the experiential practices, do whatever is helpful for you. Find your own way into it. We all speak and teach and offer from our own perspectives, our own backgrounds. I’m pretty obviously a white, late middle-age, American male. And you know I come from my own place and it’s really important to include other perspectives, other views, including those who are not at all as privileged as I am. Really important.
So I really encourage you to make your own use of this of this program. This is an offering of the Global Compassion Coalition and I hope you and perhaps your organization have already joined and if not, I certainly invite you. The more people we are, the stronger we are, right? That’s going to be a deep and recurring theme here and the stronger we are, the we are to ease suffering and its causes. Membership in this international coalition for compassion and action will always be free. And we welcome your support in all forms, membership, telling others about it, and donations that enable us to continue to and expand our work in the world. We’ve been actually able to launch this truly unprecedented global effort through the particular generosity of one individual. And if you have the means to offer substantial financial support yourself, we welcome it. Please reach out to me about that through the contact form at the bottom of our website’s homepage.
It’s been a challenging year. You’ve probably noticed around us unprecedented disturbances, wars, economic troubles, growing climate catastrophes, a plague that is still among us on new plagues to follow. It’s a lot going on, right? Meanwhile, personally, if you’re like me, there have been some real ups and downs, losses, speaking of myself, grief, for more since our real stuff conflicts with others challenges health issues etc etc and along the way of course just the ordinary daily grind the long hours the stresses the emotional wear and tear it all takes a toll it all takes a toll including neurohormonally physiologically it takes a toll and after a while you could start to feel kind of like you’re running on empty you know
You’re out of gas. So rest and renewal are really important, really important. They’re really important for healing, to refuel ourselves, and to build up good things inside so we have more to offer to others. It’s okay to turn toward rest and renewal. Lots of times we deny that for ourselves, even as we encourage other people to take it easy, to slow down, to find a pit stop, some little oasis in daily life from which you can be fed and then you can come back out again. We encourage them to do it. It’s really important to allow and encourage ourselves to take in rest and renewal too. It’s okay to get on your own side, to be for yourself. Your own wants and needs matter in their own right.
And of course, as you take care of yourself and you fill up your own cup, then you have certainly more to offer to others. So grounded in our own biology, I’d like to offer three keys for rest and renewal, and then we’ll do an experiential practice about them so that you can literally start to hard wire these ways of being into your own nervous system as enduring inner strength that you can take with you wherever you go through the power of what’s called positive neuroplasticity.
The first key is to slow it down. I need to remember that myself because I can just hit the gas pedal and it’s zero to 60 pretty quickly. So slowing it down, slow it down, slow it down a little. This reduces activation of the fight or flight sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system with related releases of stress hormones of various kinds, including adrenaline and cortisol. Slowing it down reduces that activation. It also buys time for the prefrontal cortex behind your forehead to come more online to help you gather more information and make wise choices.
Plus, as I speak as a longtime couples counselor and you know a longtime husband, 40 plus years now actually, we’re really learned slowing it down in interactions that are getting heated who helps to helps to cool them sometimes hopefully second key find what’s calming whatever for you you know it’s like in effect we’re sometimes I think of ourselves as like a horse my father grew up on a ranch and so I have a real feeling for that and for horses and other animals and non-human animals and And when we slow it down, it’s a little bit like settling and calming, a horse, if you will, of the body that’s gotten overly activated, nervous and skittery and jumpy, calming down.
So what works for you? Not to suppress anything or to numb yourself, but to calm yourself. What is that? Maybe just simply exhaling or looking out the window or finding something that’s comforting to you, like simply washing your hands. As we calm down, that engages what’s called the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which has the wonderful term rest and digest.
Sounds like rest and renewal, right? To some extent. The parasympathetic branch slows the heart rate or is involved in slowing the heart rate. And when you calm down in this way, you reduce the wear and tear on your body and you already start building up inner resources.
And then the last suggestion, and there could be more certainly, but this last key is to connect from the heart. Caring and concern for others, simple friendliness, kindness, good wishes, flowing out, that helps others to be sure. Receiving, taking in the simple friendliness of others, the fact that they see you or include you, when it’s true, only when it’s authentically true. Feeling their appreciation maybe. Maybe they’re liking even their love. Slowing this down.
Even having a sense of just opening your heart. Breathing in, breathing out, opening the heart. This engages the, or activates, draws upon what’s called the social engagement system in your brain and your body, which does wonderful things, including increasing oxytocin activity in your brain. And all this tends to quiet the alarm bell of your brain, the amygdala. So it’s not so loud and so sensitive and whee.
And wonderfully through the vagal nerve complex, as we open to positive social connections, that tends to naturally slow the heart rate and ease breathing and support the viscera in the core of your body. And it just feels good, doesn’t it? to feel connected from the heart.
And last, it’s a primal signal of safety because as our ancestors lived together for hundreds of thousands of years and there are ancestors before them, for millions of years, feeling included, feeling part of the group, positively connected with others, was really important for actual safety and certainly for experiences of safety.
Pretty good, huh?
Good things, three simple things. Slow it down. Find what is calming and connect from the heart are all under our control. Even when the world is jangly and busy around us, we can do those things ourselves. And just knowing that it’s under your control, it’s in your power to do this, unless you’re in a total state of shock or overwhelming pain. And sometimes we are. But other than that, we can deliberately, as we will in a moment, slow it down, find what’s calming, and open the heart.
So want to try this as an experiential practice? I’ll do it along with you. This will take about 10 minutes, and then we’ll come back and I’ll ask you how it is, how that was for you.
So let’s give it a try. your eyes open or closed, standing, sitting, walking, or lying down, get a sense of just being here in this place, in this time, coming home to yourself. present with whatever you’re experiencing.
Sounds, sensations, perhaps some pain in your body or anxiety in your mind, perhaps some interest, maybe some easing.
Whatever’s there is okay.
You can let it flow while you remain present here and now.
See if you can remain aware of a single breath from beginning to end.
Just that is slowing it down.
Just this simple coming home to yourself, aware of your body, if that’s comfortable for you, or breathing if that’s comfortable for you, naturally disengages the mind and the body from rushing about.
Know what it feels like to slow it down a little, just in by this coming home to yourself that we’re doing here.
And also notice what feels good about slowing down a little.
It may be, understandably, that a part of you is still revved up. And it may be that some part of your mind is still kind of racing,
Maybe looking for a problem to solve or something new to want or, you know, rehashing over and over something that’s been painful for you, it’s okay.
Some part of your mind may still be doing that.
While more and more of you is slowing down. And it’s nice to recognize that we can still be functional at only 40 miles an hour or 40 kilometers an hour, not the usual 100.
You’re still here, you’re still alert, you can still think, you can still deal with things of a little more centered place, a little more stabilized place inside.
There’s a saying, go slow to go smooth, go smooth to go fast. Actually having a core inside that is stabilized and not racing about and jerked around in all directions, that stabilized core inside that has a stillness at its essence.
Stability actually is what enables us to really function appropriately when we have to at full speed. And it’s good also to be aware of what feels good about slowing down.
You like this experience?
The liking of it actually helps to increase the wiring of it in your own brain, turning beneficial states of being into beneficial traits woven into the fabric of your own living body.
Being aware of what and focusing on what is rewarding, what feels good or meaningful about a way of being, like slowing down a little, helps it become a habit woven into you, a natural place you come from.
Let’s focus on the second key here, which is find what’s calming, which you may already have been doing.
If you open your eyes and lift your gaze out to the horizon and get a sense of the room you’re in as a whole or anything as a whole, neurologically that’s naturally calming.
It’s really a nice little neuro hack you can draw on anytime you want. raising your gaze, getting a sense of things as a whole. You can feel it. Ooh, naturally calming.
You might have a sense of relaxing in your body, deliberately easing tension. That’s calming.
And Also being aware of anything that gives you pleasure, it’s enjoyable Perhaps looking around the room you’re in and finding something you like like I like the doorknob I’m looking at right now. I like being here with you.
Finding things we like. Simple, authentic things. Things that are reassuring. Beautiful, even.
That’s calming too.
The natural endorphins in your nervous system, in your brain, that are released when we have enjoyable experiences, are naturally analgesic, pain-regulating, in basic ways.
And Mother Nature evolved these wonderful ways to help her little babies calm down, in part, by eating something that tastes good, finding something pleasurable, calming down.
You can feel that right now as you calm down.
Noting what feels good about being a little calmer.
And remembering that you can still solve problems.
You can still stand up for yourself. You can still get the job done. You can still help others. From a place inside, that’s a little calmer.
A little more at ease, a little more at peace.
You can be effective from a calmer place, including as you head into the next year.
And then the third key, the last and certainly not the least, is to connect from the heart.
Simple experience, here, disengaging from any complicated stories or issues with others, just a simple sense of, oh, maybe simply opening your heart, getting a sense of breathing in the area of your heart right now, finding a sense inside yourself of basic wishing others well.
Maybe a simple feeling of friendliness, bringing into awareness someone you like or care about.
Maybe just a sense that who you are is fundamentally, you know, has a basic compassion and kindness that sort of radiates off of you or it’s sort of who you are, and other people move through that field of your own unconditional goodwill, including toward people that you don’t agree with or don’t approve of or have conflicts with, you can rest in this fundamental warmheartedness.
What’s that feel like right now?
And you can receive into yourself, of course, as well, positive connections flowing toward you. What’s it like to be with others that you know, even if they annoy you sometimes, they like you. You’re included. You’re part of the group. Maybe you’re part of a family. Maybe you feel in common cause with others who care about this earth. Being aware of people who appreciate you.
Being aware perhaps of a pet, your cat, your dog, the birds. you feel connected to life and nature altogether around you.
It’s nice, isn’t it? The fundamental source of rest and renewal, this feeling of positive, open-hearted, warm-hearted presence. And as we finish here, know what this is like altogether. Slowing it down a bit, calming down some in authentic ways always, genuine ways, nothing forced ever.
Slowing it down, calming down, resting in warm-heartedness. These three weaving together, appreciating right now whatever feels good about this, whatever feels beneficial or wholesome about this, appreciating this way of being as it sinks into you as it kind of spreads inside. And as you establish yourself more and more in this way of being as a basic foundation for you as you move through this life and move through the year to come. Letting yourself kind of stabilize and land in this way of being as you open to it and it lands inside you, weaving its way into your nervous system to become a part of you that’s durable and you can count on and take with you wherever you go.
Okay, come on back and it’s really okay to continue to feel a little calmer, maybe a little stronger, a little more at peace inside, a little more open-hearted, even as we move into a kind of a more active presentation and discussion. As we build up psychological resources inside, like a greater sense of calm or a sense of ease or a sense of open-heartedness, as we build up these resources inside, That helps us face the hard things in life that affect others and ourselves. Then as we build up these resources, then we don’t feel so overwhelmed by personal pain, the sorrows of others, and social injustice. It doesn’t mean that we check out from it. It’s that we actually become more able to face it and to deal with it effectively and in particular, bring compassion to it. Compassion is simple. It’s a fundamental, warm-hearted response to suffering that is moved to relieve it and to change the things that cause it. And it really is, perhaps, the essence of being human.
Remarkably, most primate species, and there are hundreds of them, depending on how you count it, generally live together in bands based on a kind of social structure that Professor Paul Gilbert has termed holding and controlling. In other words, the few dominate and control the many. That’s the standard operating procedure in all primate species except our own. Wow. Over millions of years, our human and hominid ancestors evolved a very different way of living together, one that’s truly unique among the many hundreds of other primate species.
As they evolved their big social brains, that’s the term, in their small hunter-gatherer bands, living together their whole lives with roughly the same 50 people, some leavings and some comings, but pretty stable, small group of people. The foundation of their social life is what Professor Gilbert has termed “caring and sharing.” In other words, compassion and justice. This is central to our human nature. It’s central to your personal, biologically evolved human nature. And it has been the fundamental basis for living together for most of the past 300,000 years that our particular anatomically modern Homo sapiens species has walked the earth.
This is the natural healthy foundation of social life, the recognition of suffering in each other, and in ourselves, a caring response to it, and a desire to relieve it if we can’t. This is fundamental. This is who we naturally really are. That alone is a cause for celebration and comfort, and it’s a challenge to us to actually find ways to live on that basis now in the 21st century.