Tag Archives: compassion


How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

Abuse changes our physiology, central nervous system and brain chemistry. Memories are made as we evaluate our life experiences in terms of the worldview we continuously formulate. When there has been physical, emotional, sexual or mental abuse, the memories we form – those of the abuse and otherwise – are distorted by the painful and threatening stimulation of the abuse. Instead of simply processing and cataloguing all of our experiences as normal, they are first filtered through a heightened and primitive lens of survival that includes an unconscious awareness of the physical sensations and the visual images of the abuse. Time does little to alter the abusive experience that is now unconsciously integrated into the mind, body and spirit.  A person who has been abused will struggle with anxiety, depression, and anger.

What would our culture look like if we awoke to the pervasive practices of abuse and compassionately stood witness to the the fear and shame abuse instills in the mind, body, and spirit of humans?  

Tami Boehle-Satterfield has challenged herself in 2016 to post week about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at

Shift. This week is all about flexibility. We have a new moon coming in while we are still processing the workings of the last 90 days. Seriously, begin again? That is what part of me wants to say. I’ve done a lot of good work and it has been hard work. You know the picture I am painting. The one by Jean Francois Millet where the peasants women are bent over gleaning a field of stray grains of wheat after the harvest. It is beautiful, but when you look at it you are struck by the thought, “It is a hard life.” Really, a field of stray grains? That is some back breaking work. Yeah, we all know a little bit about that.

Notice how that can create a tendency for a bit of a pity party. It might even sneak up on you. You might not even notice that you are feeling a bit injured. The world might seem ruthless. You might want to lament your perceived fate. Bemoan the whole lot of it. It is not fair!

Well, SNAP OUT OF IT. That is right, snap out of it. I might sound hard-hearted, but in fact, I am offering up compassion. That pity party goes no where. I know, I’ve been there. Breathe. Give yourself some space and some time. Then notice your feet. Place them both firmly on the floor. Terra firma, just like in the painting. Get good perspective. Remember, you are always surprised how much faster it goes, collecting those stray grains in the field when you aren’t burdened with self pity.

Do you want to talk about how to live your life with influence and creativity on a daily basis? Looking for more energy and peace of mind through the holidays. Schedule with me today.

school kid

According to the research on failure, students may need more than just grit to succeed.

A couple of weeks ago, a New York Times op-ed asked the question, “Are kids too coddled?” In other words, shouldn’t we let them fail once in awhile so they develop some backbone? Or don’t they just need more grit?

The answer is not that simple because human beings are not that simple.

According to UC Berkeley professor Martin Covington, the fear of failure is directly linked to your self-worth, or the belief that you are valuable as a person. As a result, Covington found that students will put themselves through unbelievable psychological machinations in order to avoid failure and maintain the sense that they are worthy—which, as all of us who have ever dealt with the fear of failure know, can have long-term consequences.

Fortunately, the research also provides tips for educators to help students deal with feelings of failure—and help them to fulfill their true potential.

The Games We Play to Avoid Failure

Covington’s years of research found that one way people protect their self-worth is by believing they are competent and making others believe it as well.

Hence, the ability to achieve—and the quality of performance that reveals that ability—is critical to maintaining self-worth. This is particularly true in competitive situations such as school and, later, the workplace. In a nutshell, failing to perform means that one is not able and, therefore, not worthy.

If a person doesn’t believe he or she has the ability to succeed—or if repeated failures diminish that belief—then that person will begin, consciously or not, to engage in practices or make excuses in order to preserve his or her self-worth both in his or her own eyes and in the eyes of others. The more intense the effort behind the failure, the more important the excuses or defense mechanisms become.

Covington found that, when it comes to dealing with failure, students generally fall into four categories.

1. Success-Oriented Students: These are the kids who love learning for the sake of learning and see failure as a way to improve their ability rather than a slight on their value as a human being. Research has also found that these students tend to have parents who praise success and rarely, if ever, reprimand failure.

2. Overstrivers: These students are what Covington calls the “closet-achievers.” They avoid failure by succeeding—but only with herculean effort motivated solely by the fear that even one failure will confirm their greatest fear: that they’re not perfect.

Because the fear of failure is so overpowering and because they doubt their abilities, Overstrivers will, on occasion, tell everyone that they have very little time to prepare for an upcoming test—and then spend the entire night studying. When they pass the test with flying colors, this “shows” everyone that they are brilliant because their “ability” trumped the need to extend any effort.

3. Failure-avoiding: These students don’t expect to succeed—they just want to avoid failing. They believe that if they extend a lot of effort but still fail, then this implies low ability and hence, low worth. But if they don’t try and still fail, this will not reflect negatively on their ability and their worth remains intact.

In order to avoid failure that might be due to lack of ability, they do things such as make excuses (the dog ate my homework), procrastinate, don’t participate, and choose near-impossible tasks. However, this can put them into a tricky position when they encounter a teacher who rewards effort and punishes for what appears to be lack of effort or worse. Ultimately, there’s no way out for these students—either they try and fail or they’re punished.

4. Failure-accepting: These are the hardest students to motivate because they’ve internalized failure—they believe their repeated failures are due to lack of ability and have given up on trying to succeed and thus maintain their self-worth. Any success they might experience they ascribe to circumstances outside their control such as the teacher giving them the easiest task in a group project.

Two more points: Both failure-avoiding and failure-accepting students tend to focus on non-academic areas where they can succeed, such as sports or art or even risky behavior. And students who, in general, are motivated by fear of failure tend to have parents who rarely praise success, and instead punish failure. This leads these students to believe that their parents’ love is conditioned upon their academic success.

Understanding how the complexity of the fear of failure can lead some students to succeed in school and others to give up makes it evident that telling students to “buck-up and deal” when the going gets tough won’t work for many or most of them.
Overcoming the Fear of Failure

So what can teachers do to help their students become success- rather than failure-oriented? There are no easy answers and not all the research-based suggestions below will work with each kind of failure-orientation. The key is for teachers to know their students well and recognize when they are starting to engage in failure-based behavior.

1. Emphasize effort over ability. Thanks to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets, many teachers have started to give more importance to students’ efforts rather than their “innate” ability. This is particularly important for teachers of upper elementary students through university as research has shown that as children get older, they tend to value ability over effort.

One way to encourage effort is to provide specific feedback to students that recognizes and praises effort. Studies have shown that students who receive this kind of feedback are not only more motivated to succeed, but also believe that they can succeed. However, be careful not to tell students to try harder if they failed, particularly if a lot of effort was expended to succeed. Otherwise, they may begin to doubt their abilities and eventually become failure-avoidant or accepting.

2. Encourage students to practice self-compassion when they fail. Covington suggests that at the heart of the fear of failure is a push-pull between self-acceptance and being able to see ourselves as we really are. This is where self-compassion can help.

Kristin Neff writes in her book Self-Compassion that in order for self-compassion to be effective, we have to first realize that, “Our true value lies in the core experience of being a conscious being who feels and perceives.” In other words, rather than making our self-worth contingent on categories such as academic success, appearance, or popularity, we must value ourselves solely for the fact that we are human beings and accept that failure is part of the human experience.

When we do that, it is easier for us to extend compassion to ourselves when we fail. Rather than beating ourselves up for not being perfect in something like academics—as the Overstriver might do—we practice self-talk that is kind and compassionate. This makes it easier to look realistically at what caused the failure and then consider what can be done to improve next time.

Research has found that people who practice self-compassion recover more quickly from failure and are more likely to try new things—mainly because they know they won’t face a negative barrage of self-talk if they fail.

3. Build positive relationships with students. This is particularly important for students who are failure-avoidant or accepting. Research has shown that students are motivated to try their best when teachers to whom they feel attached value academic tasks. Studies have also shown the opposite to be true—that students are less motivated when faced with teachers whom they feel don’t care about them.

One final suggestion that Covington makes is to talk with students about how the fear of failure might be impacting their lives. When he did this with undergraduates, he found that they were grateful for the information as it helped them take control of their attitude and behavior toward schoolwork.

Deepening our understanding of the fear of failure not only can make us more compassionate and understanding of our students—but of ourselves as well.

Unlike Vegas, Whole Foods’ clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion… until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says ‘NAMASTE’. Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.

As the great, sliding glass doors part I am immediately smacked in the face by a wall of cool, moist air that smells of strawberries and orchids. I leave behind the concrete jungle and enter a cornucopia of organic bliss; the land of hemp milk and honey. Seriously, think about Heaven and then think about Whole Foods; they’re basically the same.

The first thing I see is the great wall of kombucha — 42 different kinds of rotten tea. Fun fact: the word kombucha is Japanese for ‘I gizzed in your tea.’ Anyone who’s ever swallowed the glob of mucus at the end of the bottle knows exactly what I’m talking about. I believe this thing is called “The Mother,” which makes it that much creepier.

Next I see the gluten-free section filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat-substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don’t meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you’ve really made it in this world when you get Candida. My personal theory is that Candida is something you get from too much hot yoga. All I’m saying is if I were a yeast, I would want to live in your yoga pants.

Next I approach the beauty aisle. There is a scary looking machine there that you put your face inside of and it tells you exactly how ugly you are. They calculate your wrinkles, sun spots, the size of your pores, etc. and compare it to other women your age. I think of myself attractive but as it turns out, I am 78 percent ugly, meaning less pretty than 78 percent of women in the world. On the popular 1-10 hotness scale used by males the world over, that makes me a 3 (if you round up, which I hope you will.) A glance at the extremely close-up picture they took of my face, in which I somehow have a glorious, blond porn mustache, tells me that 3 is about right. Especially because the left side of my face is apparently 20 percent more aged than the right. Fantastic. After contemplating ending it all here and now, I decide instead to buy their product. One bottle of delicious smelling, silky feeling creme that is maybe going to raise me from a 3 to a 4 for only $108 which is a pretty good deal when you think about it.

I grab a handful of peanut butter pretzels on my way out of this stupid aisle. I don’t feel bad about pilfering these bites because of the umpteen times that I’ve overpaid at the salad bar and been tricked into buying $108 beauty creams. The pretzels are very fattening but I’m already in the seventieth percentile of ugly so who cares.

Next I come to the vitamin aisle which is a danger zone for any broke hypochondriac. Warning: Whole Foods keeps their best people in this section. Although you think she’s a homeless person at first, that vitamin clerk is an ex-pharmaceuticals sales rep. Today she talks me into buying estrogen for my mystery mustache and Women’s Acidophilus because apparently I DO have Candida after all.

I move on to the next aisle and ask the nearest Whole Foods clerk for help. He’s wearing a visor inside and as if that weren’t douchey enough, it has one word on it in all caps. Yup, NAMASTE. I ask him where I can find whole wheat bread. He chuckles at me “Oh, we keep the poison in aisle 7.” Based solely on the attitudes of people sporting namaste paraphernalia today, I’d think it was Sanskrit for “go fuck yourself.”

I pass the table where the guy invites me to join a group cleanse he’s leading. For $179.99 I can not-eat not-alone… not-gonna-happen. They’re doing the cleanse where you consume nothing but lemon juice, cayenne pepper and fiber pills for 10 days, what’s that one called again? Oh, yeah…anorexia. I went on a cleanse once; it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I detoxified, I purified, I lost weight. On the other hand, I fell asleep on the highway, fantasized about eating a pigeon, and crapped my pants. I think I’ll stick with the whole eating thing.

I grab a couple of loaves of poison, and head to checkout. The fact that I’m at Whole Foods on a Sunday finally sinks in when I join the end of the line…halfway down the dog food aisle. I suddenly realize that I’m dying to get out of this store. Maybe it’s the lonely feeling of being a carnivore in a sea of vegans, or the newfound knowledge that some people’s dogs eat better than I do, but mostly I think it’s the fact that Yanni has been playing literally this entire time. Like sensory deprivation, listening to Yanni seems harmless at first, enjoyable even. But two hours in, you’ll chew your own ear off to make it stop.

A thousand minutes later, I get to the cashier. She is 95 percent beautiful. “Have you brought your reusable bags?” Fuck. No, they are at home with their 2 dozen once-used friends. She rings up my meat, alcohol, gluten and a wrapper from the chocolate bar I ate in line, with thinly veiled alarm. She scans my ladies acidophilus, gives me a pitying frown and whispers, “Ya know, if you wanna get rid of your Candida, you should stop feeding it.” She rings me up for $313. I resist the urge to unwrap and swallow whole another $6 truffle in protest. Barely. Instead, I reach for my wallet, flash her a quiet smile and say, “Namaste.”

Oliver in a Winter Wonderland

“I love that old man,” he said
And hunched over swinging his arms and picking up his feet,
Looking like an elephant muppet.
Flippity flop, flippity flop,
He showed me how you moved across the floor and out the door.
Like a puppet in a curly white coat,
Feet made of mops,
Off you went.

We calculated you were nearly 98 years old
When you didn’t come back.
We called and called for you
And we called others
To call and call for you.
Searching the yard, the road, the woods;
making a wide berth around the river,
Your favorite morning drink.

From the street I heard
The great moan of a tree just before it lays down.
I ran, knowing
Before I ever descended down that hill.
The earth quaked up out of me.
The trees picked it up and the early January sky filled
As the river valley echoed it back to me.
This drowning wake I came to know as ours.

And the other,
Dressed for handling papers and pens,
Squatted on the muddy bank and
Agreed to be keeper of time, witness of grief,
Pulled us from what was becoming our own etheric, watery world
And helped lift you from the gentle drink you rested in.
So peaceful looking.
I couldn’t help but notice.

Your beautiful tendrils of hair afloat like that of a mermaid.
Your body relaxed in the cold, clear Gunpowder River
And for a moment it all made sense.
You, that lovely, graceful creature.
In the flow of life.
Setting off.
Floating away.
F l o a t i n g o n b y.

By the tree, where you had minded over a decade of laughing kids,
Barking and nipping at their untucked shirts as they defied gravity from a tire swing.
And the boy, who is now a man,
Came flying through the field of beasts of burden.
Still and wide-eyed, they watched, bearing witness to our drama.
And down that hill
He fell to his knees and cried “No!” at seeing you so still.
And I heard her cat cries as they broke into sobs of sorrow from miles away.

I imagine
That everyone in the river valley felt our grief that morning
Vibrate through their kitchens
As they poured coffee.
For a moment and in a moment,
They paused,
“Did you feel that? What was that?”
Hymns of the Greek Chorus.

He carried you up to the garden where all before you lie.
And the earth was kind and opened easily for you.
We placed you in a bed of forgiving dirt.
Forgiving us
For our human tangle of doubt and fear.
Our clumsy words,
Flippity flopped, flippity flopped,
Absorbed into the soft clay hole of our hearts.

And like the earth,
And the river that morning,
The night sky opened to the Heavens.
A sailor’s paradise.
Jupiter sat right above your grave.
Stars and planets shivered in revery as you passed,
Curtseying and bowing to your greatness.
And he and she and he and I stood on this earth and waved goodbye.

You twisted your-self into a pretzel

Trying to tolerate something you hated in me it turned out was essential.

Does that mean I should twist myself into a pretzel

Trying not to be the thing that made you twist yourself into a pretzel?

Having been salty and wrenched for so long

It’s a relief I find to unwind and simply be bent,

But not twisted;

Neither of us can be pretzels anymore.

Why is that so hard to understand?

I’m sad about it too,

But I’m not angry.

No, I’m glad I’m not twisted into a pretzel.

You be glad too.