Do you know the part in the cartoon Grinch, when the camera zooms in on the sweet green goblin’s chest, and the narrator announces that the Grinch's grew 3x that day? (See visual if you don’t recall.)
This exuberance of joy and energy in his chest is the exact sensation occurring in my heart, as though the very chambers of my soul have expanded, filled to the brim and overflowing. I am sitting wide legged on my bed, having just arrived home from Open Floor where Maddie Ross and I held our very first self-compassion workshop. While I knew I would be giving a lot (time and energy) to this event, I never anticipated the magnificent ways it would return to me, energy multiplied one hundred times over.
For those of you who were not there- I shall now provide some context. The event was held at Open Floor, a beautiful white-walled space in downtown Ann Arbor. Its purpose was to diffuse some of the knowledge and self-care practices that Maddie and I have voraciously consumed through books, classes, and workshops. Spread the wealth, Robin Hood style self-compassion workshop. We recognized that people learn and connect with the material in unique ways and vary in their level of familiarity with this material- so we tried to bring a whole buffet of viewpoints and activities. The visual learners got an infographic. Listeners heard a loving-kindness meditation. Writers and doers wrote letters and moved through 20 minutes of yoga. Social learners did a break out sharing activity. Artists got poetry and stickers for the letters (we tried!) Tasting learners (if so a thing exists), snacked on delicious date ball treats made by Maddie.
One of our secret weapons is that I view myself as a sort of self-compassion spy- living with one foot in the granola world as a yoga teacher and another foot in the golden star seeking world as a senior in the business school. As a result, I have become exposed to the different vocabulary that people feel comfortable with respect to these “touchy-feely,” kinda uncomfortable topics. Some people connect with the neuroscience behind mindfulness, others prefer the business imperative dialogue in terms of positive organizational scholarship and validated research. And I think this is wonderful! For it really shows how universal the need to connect and belong is- we all have developed ways we feel comfortable talking about it. I also love the challenge of figuring out a way to diffuse this information so people can take it in effortlessly, like mental osmosis.
Crafting this event required some self-awareness of my own. Not everyone drinks the self-compassion Kool-Aid and gets breathless talking about Kristin Neff and Sharon Salzberg. And that is okay. This event was meant to cultivate bilingualism- speaking to the self-compassion skeptics and self-care soldiers alike. Wherever you are, we tried to meet you there. This mentality involved taking the contribution mindset- instead of a performance, Maddie and I were trying to make a contribution. Even if only one insight spoke to one person, we made a contribution and that was worthwhile. Reframing the event in this way took the pressure off and made every moment of joy even more celebratory.
One of the underlying ideas of the event was my theory about energy- the 3 Bs of Well-Being as I call them (I live for alliteration). This self-proclaimed theory says that we can cultivate life-energy by fueling our body, breath, and brain. (See infographic) According to Gretchen Spreitzer’s research on thriving, thriving involves two components: learning and vitality (having available energy). I believe that learning comes from giving energy to your brain; vitality is increased by energizing your body and breath. This workshop gave energy to each of the Well-Being Bs as we led community through heart-opening yoga (body), loving-kindness meditation (breath), and an internal narrative rewriting session in the form of love letter writing (brain).
The event was magnificent, more live-giving, authentic, and energizing than I could have ever anticipated. At the very end, we went around and said two words that encapsulated how we felt at that moment. Adjectives like “grateful, connected, thankful, peaceful, hopeful, happy, inspired, energized,” filled the room. Wow. I gave the two words, “upward spiral.” For as I looked at those glowing, radiant faces, some who drove all the way from East Lansing (shoutout Shel!) I saw that these people would go out into the world with the love we cultivated in that hour, and touch the people they touched.
A lot of people have been asking for the agenda of the event and I will provide it below with pictures and explanations of the activities. If you ever want to do an event like this, or have any questions, Maddie and I would be happy to chat about it. Please feel free to use the infographic, agenda, any of our materials, and adapt them as you wish. An upward spiral. It starts with us, but goes out into the world.
Spotify Playlist: (Link)
7-7:05: Everyone walk in and sit down, grab date snack (made by Maddie) and poem (cut and put into jar by Maddie)
Give out infographics so people can track with us
7:05-7:10: Everyone share a 10 second celebration
7:10-7:25: 15 mins of heart-opening yoga (mindfulness) (body)
7:25-7:35: Meditation (7 mins) (mindfulness) (breath)
7:35-7:45: Role brainstorm and share with partner / sharing peak story (common humanity)
7:45-8 pm: Letter writing (self-kindness) (brain)
Ending: Go around and say 2 words that sum up how you feel
Greet (with a hug!) everyone and try to learn their names. Give each person a date ball (made by Maddie) and an infographic, and help them set up their yoga mats. Each person took a self-love poem from the mason jar we filled with typed up poems- kinda like a fortune cookie.
Everyone say their name and one 10 second victory. Hosts start and model the activity.
3) Give Context and Explain Infographic:
So there are 3 underlying assumptions that are the seeds from which this event grew. I will briefly introduce them and then at the end we have a little take away sheet with them in case you want to explore them more deeply.
First Assumption: Love is merely connection between one another and to ourselves. Connection is a fundamental human need and we were primed for love.
Second Assumption: Self-compassion consists of 1) mindfulness 2) believing we are part of the common humanity and 3) practicing self-kindness.
Third Assumption: There are three ways we can cultivate energy by practicing self-compassion. Through breath, body, and brain.
4) Heart Opening Yoga: Led by Sarah
Stretch side to side, neck
Child pose, puppy pose
Stand up: side bends, open and down
Why do Heart Openers?
The more you expand your sternum, rib cage and the rest of your upper body with chest openers, the more blood, oxygen and nerve circulation will be freed up. Reverse leaning forward postures strengthen the back and allow lungs to take in more oxygen (energizing).
Bodies are the storehouse of the memories of our acts, real or imagined, and the secrets we keep about them.
The heart contracts when our bodies are overcome with shame
Root meaning of word shame means”to cover” which suggests our longing to hide, even from ourselves
5) Metta Meditation: 7 minute Loving-Kindness Meditation led by Sarah
6) Role Brainstorming Activity:
Each person received a blank list of 25 line items to write roles that they fill in their lives. It starts really easily with things like “daughter, sister, student,” and gets increasingly more difficult like “yoga teacher, voracious reader,” and then by lines ~18-25 you get really into the essence of your being. I had stuff like “jubilance generator” and “aspiring Ted Talker.”
How to Lead the Activity:
Supply the blank lists and give instructions for the brainstorm
Give participants 5 or so minutes to silently brainstorm and fill the lists (I played music)
Once they have filled out their lists (flipped the papers over so I knew) they shared the most interesting role they came up with the person next to them (providing social validation)
At the end debrief. “You probably didn’t know you filled 25 roles or even did 25 things. The purpose of this activity is to get you out of the identity that you most frequently assume and evaluate your worth on. For example, I most frequently identify myself as a student and when I fail as a student, I feel like I have failed as a person. But doing this activity lets me see that I am more than just a student, a number.
The Point: Get people thinking about their value, seeing themselves as useful
7) Letter Writing Activity:
Now that they have brainstormed these roles and validated them socially, they are ready to tackle the hardest task of the night- writing a love letter to themselves. They are to seal this letter and open at a later date. For us, we chose Valentine’s Day because it was three days away.
Begin the activity by saying that self-compassion and self-love are not easy. Invite them to pretend they are their best friend, writing this letter to themselves.
For some, this letter could seem near impossible to write. Suggest that they write to one of the roles on the sheet or to a body part that serves them if they find it near impossible. Example: Dear legs, thank you for carrying me to class so I can learn.
How to Lead the Activity:
Supply the blank card and envelopes, and beautiful stickers to seal them
Give participants 5- 10 minutes to write these letters (I played music)
Once they are done, have them seal their letters and wait for others to finish.
Sit in a circle and go around, each person sharing two words for how they feel in that moment or take away from the experience.