The Process of Meeting Striving and Driving

March 24, 2019

The Process of Meeting Striving and Driving

Right now, I am sitting at our fold up coffee table that serves multiple purposes.  In our glorious and greatly appreciated 825 square feet of living space that we call home, this fold-up table has a view of the ocean and it humbly serves many purposes.  We prep meals on it,  share meals around it, layout projects that we are working on upon it, organize our tax papers on it, layout home-baked goods to be re-packaged and delivered to friends and neighbors door steps, and simply use it as a desk as I am now.  It’s the best investment of $39.95 USD we have made in a long time.

We made this investment, because I had begun to have trouble sitting and working at our kitchen counter that had previously served all the aforementioned purposes.  The diseases I have been  fighting turned up their obnoxious presence in this body about three years ago and as such, the struggle to walk, ride my bike with my husband Robert, practice yoga, and engage in other activities that fuel my soul has become more challenged; even just sitting at a bar stool at our kitchen counter had become well, just too painful, too difficult.   But now, after some intense lengthy treatments, I am better.  We even folded up this table for an entire day while I worked around the kitchen counter just to see if I could.   It was pain free working… and all the while I noticed this voice in my head saying repeatedly, be careful, don’t overdue, you don’t want to go backwards again.

I wondered whether there was wisdom in this voice or just fear… And here I am back at the table today, working on taxes, and now, stalling to join Robert on the Sunday afternoon bike ride that has become a joyful tradition for us – at least when I am able.  Why am I stalling?

I notice I am feeling afraid.   And I am breathing in and out, observing the sensation of the breath in the body as I notice where fear has set up its own fold-up card table to take residence within.

To get these legs working again, I have been in physical therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, avoiding gluten and dairy, and receiving other types of treatments for the other diseases that are making using the legs challenging.   I feel better than I have for a long time and still I feel afraid.

I see the fear, I greet the fear, and I notice I am debating with the fear.  It won’t be my first time on the bike; we have been working with a stationary bike to rebuild muscle memory, and have even taken the bike out on flat surfaces while Robert supervises my riding ability.   I have been on this bike before and simply stopped when it feels like it has become too much. Robert was there to care for me then and he is now.  And guess what?  Fear is still present.

I see you fear.  I name you fear, and I notice I am in emotional pain because fear is here to set up a workplace within me on a beautiful day where I would love to be outside enjoying a bike ride with Robert.  Ah… this is now emotional suffering.   I want what “is” to be something other than what it “is”.

I want to have the overall confidence that this body can push through whatever physical challenge it might experience to finish the bike ride that this mind is dead set on doing. However, this body has repeatedly told this mind that striving and driving are no longer options.  This body has sent clear messages to this mind that pushing through physical or emotional pain no longer is a strategy that works … at all!  For this past year of living, it’s as if this body goes on strike in a very dramatic way anytime the mind says, I need more out of you than what you are producing now. If a body could flip the mind a finger,  and turn the other way, that is exactly what I have been experiencing this past year.

And so, I began to question, what would setting aside striving and driving look like?  The immediate response – it looks like failure.  It looks like you’re not producing enough, doing enough, and your body will get sloppy and weak because you won’t be exercising enough. (And then I notice how this also shows up in my work life and home life – ouch!)

To summarize the story my mind is telling here, looks a little like this.  If I give permission to the body to avoid striving and driving means that “I” won’t be enough.   And when I ask who is I anyway, I start to giggle and the hold that fear has begins to loosen.  And the breath begins to arrive more easily.

What do I need to hear right now?  This… what would it look like to consider that the wisdom inherent in noticing what you are experiencing and pulling back when the body starts to signal too much is simply wisdom to respond to for it is designed to help you operate in optimal health?  What would it look like to know that not even trying to do what you love is just fear that anyone in your circumstances would be experiencing if they have been experiencing what you  have been experiencing for the past 3 years and prior to that.

So, today, as this blog entry closes, the mind, the body, the fear, and the deeply felt sensation of “not being enough” are about to go on a bike ride.  We have set a goal for how long we intend to ride and to where we intend to ride.  (Of course, we have.  We love to accomplish stuff.)  We also have made a commitment to listen to the body and to invite the mind to kindly respond to the body, noticing the stories of not being enough or doing enough that will arise as we bring the bike ride to a close, whenever that might be and especially if it is prior to the goal not being met.  And we are noticing the joy that arises in moving forward with the fear as opposed to being paralyzed by it.

Sending you and I loving kindness,

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

9 Lessons from Trauma-informed Mindful Compassion Practices


9 Lessons from Trauma-informed Mindful Compassion Practices

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

It comes as no surprise that the students we serve are experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Liu and colleague’s (2019) research “point to an urgent need for service utilization strategies, especially among racial/ethnic, sexual, or gender minorities. Campuses must consider student experiences to mitigate stress during this developmental period” (p.1) is a call that can’t be ignored.  Many campus leaders are seeking to implement specific ways to heighten students’ sense of belonging and safety as well as reduce their stress and anxiety in- and out-of- the classroom.  Mindful compassion practices show promising effects in alleviating stress and anxiety, however they can also potentially have negative impact on mental health and wellbeing when implemented without a heightened awareness of well-researched trauma informed practices (Kang et al, 2018; Magyari, 2016; Treleaven, 2018, Rothschild, 2017).

What follows are a few of the trauma-informed mindful compassion practices that you may consider implementing in your in-and out-of-classroom learning and development opportunities.

  1. Assume there is trauma in your presence.Informed by thewealth of emerging research about the frequencies of racism-inflicted trauma, and sexual assault-inflicted trauma for all gender identities (Retrieved from December 8, 2018), we don’t know who among our students has experienced trauma.  As such, we invite educators to assume that someone with whom you are in service to has experienced trauma and plan accordingly.
  2. Co-Create the Container for Learning and Development

We spend a great deal of time discussing with our students what we want them to know and be able to do from whatever experience we are providing them, regardless of whether it is a course, a workshop, or an out-of-class experience.  We spend less time inviting them into a dialogue that paints an experiential picture of their optimal environment for learning and development. As such, this is an opportunity to engage in a process where you and the students you serve co-create the ways of how they want to be in their learning and development experiences.

The co-creation of this environment can be done in several ways, the most important point is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute to identifying how they would like to be or show up within an optimal learning and development environment via note cards, post-it notes,  anonymous online surveys, photos, or word doodles prior to inviting the students to discuss the words and concepts, grouping them, re-labeling, or further characterizing concepts before crafting a statement that will guide their intentions for holding space for each other’s learning exploration in alignment with their values and goals for their learning.  Here are a few ideas that you may want to toss into the learning and development co-creation process to get the dialogue started.

  • Engage/ do the work to the best of your ability from where you are and with the resources you have, knowing that your best will look differently from moment to moment
  • Honor confidentiality; hold another’s narrative with reverence for their human dignity
  • Embody curiosity, which includes observing and objectively noticing while suspending immediate judgement
  • Offer compassion/kindness/grace to self and others
  • Avoid “fixing”
  • Avoid “Doing it Right” or “Striving”
  • Use ”I” language so that others have space to speak to their experiences
  • Avoid shaming and blaming
  • The next moment is a new moment and a new opportunity for a new choice
  • Give yourself permission to take care of you at all times
  • Courageously ask questions and share comments, while inquiring into how your social context, historical social forces, and global perspectives are shaping what you are seeing, hearing, and asking

3. Invite Students to Opt-in and Opt-out of Pair and Shares. As educators, we don’t always know who is experiencing challenges within our learning and development environment. And we aren’t always sure as to whether what we have invited students into dialoging around will be a further trigger for them.  One way to address this concern is by always inviting students to opt-in and opt-out of pair-and-share dialogues or small group dialogues.  A simple way for students to indicate whether they want to join in a dialogue or journal on their own is to offer them a card with 1 of each of the heart messages listed below on each side.  At the educators invitation, students can turn the green side up if they want to engage in dialogue with their peers, or alternatively turn the red side up if they choose to reflect on the invited dialogue prompt through silent journaling.  In this way, the student experiences choice in their learning environment and the instructor can scan the room for colors to determine who may need a one-on-one check-in following the learning experience.

4. Identify well-being resources (internal and external) that can Re-Source students when they become dysregulated. Regardless of how well you feel the co-creation of the learning and development environment was experienced by you and the students you serve or how often you all invite each other into re-embodying those principles, students will find themselves in emotional dysregulation.  As such, it is extremely helpful to invite students early on in the educational experience into an exercise that allows them to identify their external resources that serve as well-being anchors for them so that they can turn to these re-sourcing practices in times of stressors that may trigger trauma.

This exercise can begin with a question such as, “What are ways that you re-source your sense of well-being?”  You may want to provide some examples such as taking a walk, having a cup of herbal tea, chatting with a friend, taking a nap following an evening of cramming for exam, looking at a photo of a redwood tree or the moon setting over a snow-capped mountain range, rubbing their thumb over a stone, listening to a favorite song, or reading a poem, etc.  These would be examples of external ways that we re-source our well-being.

Once students have at least one example that they feel good about, invite them into a guided imagery where they can see themselves doing or being in their well-being re-source practice.  As they imagine themselves re-sourcing their well-being in a particular way that feels welcomed to them, invite them to imprint that image into their mind while absorbing all the sensations associated with this well-being re-source experience. You may even – if appropriate – invite them to journal on what they noticed as they practiced their re-sourcing imaging exercise.  Perhaps they noticed their jaw softening or their shoulders becoming less tense.  Next, invite them to either bring in a small physical object that reminds them of that re-source experience to each meeting you all have together or invite them to simply draw on an index card a few words or a symbol that will bring them back to this re-source moment and the positive sensations associated with it whenever they want to re-source themselves in this moment.

Again, because we don’t always know when our students need to re-source themselves during the learning and development opportunity we are providing and when they might simply be confused, we offer another visual tool for them to use.

Invite your students to display the blue Re-sourcing heart when they are practicing taking care of themselves with their rehearsed re-sourcing exercise.  Or if they are confused and noticing they are withdrawing from the learning and development exercise, invite them to display the  yellow heart which signals to you that they are simply confused and need some other ways in which to understand the material you really want them to be able to know and do.

5. Invite students to safely inquire into what they notice when they are in their emotion regulation process. While identifying external well-being re-source experiences may be useful, sometimes, students won’t remember to bring their well-being re-source objects with them or they will forget to pull out their index cards when they need them. As such, it may be useful to explain to students that we, as educators, know they won’t always be in the most optimal state to learn and develop at all times. As such, it may be useful for them to begin to identify when they start to move out of that optimal state so they can take care of themselves to the best of their ability, which includes their giving themselves permission to seek professional support that the institution provides them and expects them to use.  The intention here is to normalize help-seeking behaviors, while also reinforcing they have the educators’ consistent and constant permission to seek those resources.

The diagram below is adapted from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Fani & Ghaemi, 2011) and Kristen Neff and Chris Germer’s work on mindful self-compassion (2018).    It may be useful to share this diagram or one that you adapt with students to illustrate how the blue safe and comfortable zone is a great place to return to when they are challenged by learning and development. It is state that we hope their well-being re-source practices brings them to.  The yellow zone is when they will likely feel emotional activation or arousal; it is an optimal place for learning and development as long as they don’t become too aroused or emotionally activated to where they no longer feel safe in their learning environment.  When they notice they begin to feel unsafe, as educators, we want to be sure to give them permission to return to the challenge learning and development zone, but that may mean they need to ground themselves by using their re-source well-being practice or other practices (some of which follow).  Returning to a sense of safety, once they feel they are approaching feeling unsafe, may be the only way in which they can then re-engage in their learning and development experience.

Once you share this diagram with your students in the context of learning and development, invite the students to journal for 1minute on each of the following prompts for each zone.  Prompts: A) What within you (thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations) signals to you that you are operating in this zone?  B) What well-being strategies help you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe?  C) In what ways can your educator(s) empower you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe?  D) What would you like your educator(s) to know about how they can best empower you into your optimal learning and development zone?

The point of emphasis is that if students can begin to recognize the experiential attributes of each zone as they arise, they can utilize strategies that serve them well in order to move back to the optimal learning and development zone or the safety zone.  The intent is also to re-enforce permission for them to seek their educator’s and/or professional support if they find themselves in the feeling unsafe zone or check out zone and not knowing what to do about it.  As educators, it is important for us to infer that if students find themselves in those zones, they won’t be alone to navigate their way out. We must consistently invite our students into awareness of the choices they have to respond, so they feel empowered to healthfully respond to what they know they need in any given moment.


6. Begin learning and development experiences with the invitation to engage in grounding exercises. In the interest of leaving the student in choice, beginning learning and development exercises with “invitations” to engage in any activity is important. This invitation leaves students in choice about when and how to engage, thus empowering them into their own emotion regulation strategies (assuming they have been coached into awareness of what their healthful strategies are, which is what we are inviting trauma-informed practices to facilitate).

Each time you meet with the students you serve, it may also be useful to invite them into a physical grounding exercise of gentle movement such as stretching, where they are invited to bring their attention to rest gently on parts of the body that are moving.  You might also invite them to bring their attention to simply sitting on a chair, noticing the sensation of their feet on the floor, seat in the chair, back upright or slouched, etc.  This can be a fairly quick exercise that brings the students’ minds and bodies into the space where invitations for learning and development are about to be experienced.  If your students are opened to it and following an invitation for them to become aware of their bodies in the chair, you could also invite them into bringing a gentle attention to rest on the breath sensation in the body, noticing for instance, the sensation of the belly rising and falling with each breath. Many students find this brief practice quite useful.

However, not all students will welcome arriving into the learning and development space and bringing immediate attention to their bodies in the chair or bringing a gentle attention to the breath sensation in their bodies.  As such, it may also be useful to begin with an invitation for them to move – in whatever ways are comfortable to them – and to bring attention to their bodies in the way they move with each inhale and exhale.  What is important here is that as educators, we are offering as many supportive alternatives as we can to aid in our students full arrival into the learning and development space.

7. Give permission to regulate the arousal system in a way that honors students’ survival skills. Continuing forward with the theme of inviting students into choice in any given moment, acknowledge that they all have survival strategies that have served them well. As such, give them permission to engage in those if they find themselves nearing zone 3 or in zone 3.  A symbolic practice to illustrate this to your students may be this one, taught by David TreLeavan (2018).  Invite your students to close their dominant hand’s fist as tightly as they can, if they are able.  Invite them to imagine that their safety is dependent on that fist remaining closed. Then invite them to take their other hand, if they are able, and attempt to pry their fisted hand open with force. What do they notice?  Now invite your students to take that fisted hand and rest it gently in the palm of the open opposite hand.  Invite them to imagine that their survival strategy is welcomed here. What do they notice?

8. Invite Students to Use an Arousal Scale from 1-10.  It may be helpful for students to gauge their own arousal by using a 1-10 scale.  David TreLeaven  suggests putting some framing on this scale such as 0-3 means I am feeling foggy and spacey, 4-6 means I am in the optimal learning and development zone, and 7-10 means I am experiencing anxiety.  Inviting students to place a number on what they are noticing within their own arousal process before and after inviting them into these practices may be very helpful to their noticing which practices are working well for them in which situations and which are not.

9. Inviting in Other Anchors of Attention.  When practicing mindful compassion, we often use the breath as the anchor of our attention of the object of our focused attention.  David TreLeaven invites us to offer students other anchors of attention or objects of focused attention such as sound, smell, the body connecting to the chair, the feet on the floor, or some small movements.  Just as you would guide an opening arrival to class mindfulness practice, you may want to change the object of focused attention around so students can explore what works well for them in particular situations.

There are many other trauma-informed practices, specifically those drawn from mindful compassion work, that we can invite into our in- and out-of-classroom settings empowering our students to safely care for themselves, while we work to reform the systems where they may not feel they belong.   I am happy to share those with you so feel free to email me at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comif you are interested.  In the meantime, I invite you to consider that the very fact we are re-designing our learning and development spaces to be compassionately mindful of our students who have experienced trauma is a powerful step toward that transformational process.


Do you want to use the hearts in your classroom? Simply email us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comto learn how to get your colorful, laminated, card stock heart trauma-informed messages.



Fani, Tayebeh & Ghaemi, Farid. (2011). Implications of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in Teacher Education: ZPTD and Self-scaffolding. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 29. 1549-1554. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.396.

Kang, Y., Rahrig, H., Eichel, K., Niles, H.F., Rocha, T.,  Lepp. N.E., Gold, J., and Britton, W.B. (2018). Gender Differences in Response to a School-Based Mindfulness Training Intervention for Early Adolescents. Journal of School Psychology, 68, 63-176.

Liu CH, Stevens C, Wong SHM, Yasui M, Chen JA. (2019). The prevalence and predictors of mental health diagnoses and suicide among U.S. college students: Implications for addressing disparities in service use. Depress Anxiety. 36(1):8-17.PMID: 30188598.

Magyari, T. (2016) Teaching Individuals with Traumatic Stress: Applying a Trauma-Informed Framework to Teaching MBIs.In McCown, D., Reibel, D., and Micozzi, MS (eds).Resources for Teaching Mindfulness: An International Handbook. New York.

Neff, K & Germer, C.(2018). The mindful self-compassion handbook. Guilford Press: New York.

TreLeaven, D. A. (2018). Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing. WW Norton & Company: New York.

Rothschild, B. (2017). The body remembers volume 2: Revolutionizing trauma treatment. WW Norton & Company: New York.







Sacred Time

Sacred Time

When I was a kid, everyone seemed to die young. At school, it seemed that deaths from suicide, car crashes – many of which were alcohol related – , strange diseases allegedly related to  chemicals commonly found on a farm, firearm accidents, farm machinery accidents and news about 18-year old friends and family killed in military related incidents all just seemed so common.

When I was a kid, growing up amidst the constant reminders of the circle of life that seemingly only country living can imbue, death among young people was a given.

Life is sacred.

Time is sacred was inextricably intertwined with Life is sacred.

Time is sacred was a truth I knew in every cell of my being growing up. I didn’t have to be taught this.  Nonetheless, in the late evenings just before I put myself to bed, I could often hear my father saying, time is the most valuable resource you have, invest it wisely, invest it in developing your mind. No one, Marilee, no one can take away from you what you put inside your mind.  His large, work-worn hand,  stained from the chemicals of the day would land wearily on top of my head with a thud as he continued, so get as much knowledge as you can out of the time you have.

He spoke with such great conviction – with the kind of firm, loving, urgency that made me think, I am going to die in my sleep. I better get a few more things done then before I fall asleep.

Remember, Marilee, his words echoed in my mind, you will never get time back once its spent, it’s the message I awoke to every day. And thus began my fervent pursuit of learning and the study of how people learn.

Life is sacred.

Time is sacred… or am I confused?

Time is scarce!

Wait… is there a difference?

I wrestled with this question for a long while. Until…this belief emerged front and center – amidst my obsession with time – and it did so when I came to San Diego State University to serve as an untenured  professor of education.

What’s the belief?

It is the belief that All humans are worthy of dignity, regardless of how much I agree with their ways of being and doing. That is the belief that brought a glimpse of clarity into my relationship with time. More specifically, it is the belief that Life is Sacred and therefore I must hold in reverence the experiences of these humans with whom I am so privileged to guide along their learning journeys. Their lives are sacred regardless of how they have chosen to invest their time; regardless of whether I agree with where they have placed their priorities.

So, here I was, only 2 semesters into my experience at SDSU, with two beliefs now deeply embedded in the center of my heart and prominently screaming in the fore-front of my mind.

  • If I view time as scarce, I will not see my investment of time as sacred.
  • Life is Sacred therefore all human beings must be treated with dignity and their experiences must be held with reverence.
  • If I view my investment of time with my students as sacred, rather than scarce, perhaps the students will see their investments in themselves and their education as sacred – perhaps they will seem their own lives as sacred.
  • Time is Sacred
  • Life is Sacred

It was as if the missing piece to my previous research – which sought to measure the most effective and efficient ways that students learn and develop in a manner that informed improvements in their learning and development prior to their graduation [read: time is scarce] – had revealed itself.  Investing in Human Dignity and holding human experiences with heartfelt reverence is synonymous with sacred time.

Though this cognitive and heartfelt realization was vivid, I had questions. For instance, how do I hold each human with the dignity they deserve and view their lived experience with reverence IF their words, choices, or actions are not in alignment with what I wanted for them? [read: they are not fully engaging in the work that will earn them their degree in a timely manner]. AND while sacred time is synonymous with honoring every human’s dignity and holding their experience with reverence, how do I “do” that while also trying to get the work done? [read: get tenure and fulfill my other responsibilities while also supporting these students in the ways they need to be supported so they can obtain the learning that will lead to them securing their degrees in a timely manner when time still feels scarce].

Bleh – Quite a quandary I found myself in…

My historical research said that everything must be measured and everything must be improved and it needed to be improved quickly because students were only with us for a brief time. Time is sacred continually became confused with time is scarce – it can’t be wasted…

And with all that came a drive to produce more and more in my sacred life’s allotment of time – something which I have recently come to call Productisease. You know…becoming obsessed with gathering as much data as possible; getting as much done as possible within the time that I have that the sacredness of time becomes warped and construed losing all awareness of human dignity and the wisdom that arises from being with whatever it is I am experiencing with grace and reverence for others’ human dignity.

Given all of this, how do I now integrate the holding of all humans with dignity; the holding of each human’s experience with reverence, while also ensuring (with the case of the students I serve any way) that evidence is gathered for the knowledge and skill sets they have developed and are also needed so they can obtain meaningful work or gain entrance to graduate school and do so in an expedited manner?

With regard to my current research in pursuing this question,

  • the holding of each human being with dignity and viewing their lived experience with reverence is integrated into
  • the research methodology that understands how students learn and develop
  • which is integrated into the opportunities we provide students to learn and develop
  • which is integrated into the methodology to evaluate that learning and development
  • which then informs the improvements needed in the design of their learning and development.

That is the research I do now – over 10 years of research published in a book that came out in 2016; 10 more years of research in a book that just came out in November 2018 and one in progress with yes, former students.  And it wouldn’t be possible without bringing a gentle attention to the awareness of the sacredness of the moment-to-moment breath in the body that is connected to the breath of the human being sitting across from me.

In summary,

  • Being with each human as a human whose dignity must be preserved as they learn and develop, as opposed to their being viewed as a data point is sacred.
  • Being with each human’s lived experience with reverence and how it informs the learning and development design and assessment methodology is sacred.
  • Time intentionally invested in those experiences is sacred.

Alas, where is my drive to produce in all of this?  It’s still very much alive. Simply noticing what I noticing with kindness and curiosity, naming what is and  equally important, what isn’t. Then, connecting with the sensation of the breath in the body until the mind remembers that Time is Sacred; Life is Sacred…. there is no scarcity in that.

With awareness of breath and the body in this moment,


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.




Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Whenever I try to write for someone else or for some audience regardless of who it is, something that has to do with my heart gets lost in the writing; not all the time but some of the time.  It’s as if I self-edit so much that the meaning or intent of what I am really wanting to convey gets completely lost.  Does this ever happen to you?

In reflecting, I realized how much of this has happened in my life – not just in my own writing but in other aspects of my life (my speech, my actions, my choice-making) but I didn’t really know how to name ituntil I began to read Michelle Robinson Obama’s book entitled, Becoming. And in reading this book, I felt inspired to look again at this process of self-editing.

I was drawn to this book in great part because of its title, Becoming. As one who has been studying the science and practice of being for over a decade and a half, I was curious about how much of being as juxtaposed with doing might be within the practice of becoming.  Furthermore, I was intrigued as to what someone I idealize might have to say about it all (more specifically the only First Lady in all the first ladies that have ever been, except for Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom I have felt a deep connection).

There is so much about this book that has pulled me in, pulled at my heart strings. And there is also so much about this book that has pushed me into some new and not so new-found convictions. So, when it came to reflecting on this over-editing approach, I’m not sure whether it was a push or a pull, but regardless, I found myself looking again at this innate not-so-new nature I have of not wanting to overwhelm people with my speech (verbal or written) or my actions so much so that I would spend more time self-editing than just being with what I was experiencing with grace and kindness toward all involved.

What I once thought of as a little, simple, country girl way of being kind had in reality become a strategy to belong, a defense to go unseen, and an offense to avoid confrontation.  Who was I to be so bold after all?  I don’t know enough; haven’t experienced enough; I haven’t “whatever” enough.  My historical way of being kind, of being polite turns out has nothing to do with kindness.

As I aged and was slowly introduced to mindful compassion practices, the mindful compassionate eye observed that the root of this over-editing behavior, woefully mistaken for kindness, was suffering.   Suffering perhaps created by embodied rejection. Suffering perhaps created by believing others’ judgments of not enoughas true. Suffering created perhaps by abandonment or unhealthy attachments.   Regardless, mistaking kindness for people pleasing behavior had at is core, suffering.  And this form of suffering was a moment when one believes that the preservation of another’s human’s dignity outweighs the desire to honor one’s own human dignity – one’s own awareness of what is whole and complete.

So, I still notice this desire to over-edit in my writing and in my speech primarily and sometimes in my actions.  I notice the rising of a desire to honor another’s version of their human dignity over my own version.  And the mindful compassion practice that helps me meet this noticing is a specific self-compassion practice adapted from Kristin Neff.  Here are the steps I love to follow, when I remember to practice.

  • First, is this practice of noticing the suffering. “I feel icky – something is not OK within me about what was just said (or done or witnessed or directly experienced).  I don’t want this icky feeling to be here.  I don’t like it and I want to be experiencing something other than this… as in, I want something different than what isright NOW.”
  • Then, it’s time for the wisdom of the pause or stop and breatheto arise – noticing the soothing sensation of the breath in the belly for as long as it takes until I can remember the next step to practice.
  • And the next step is the silent naming of the suffering as suffering. “This is a moment of suffering.” That sounds crazy, but when I just silently recognize that I am wanting something to be other than what it is right now, some internal struggle begins to lift and as such, I have more access to clarity of seeing what it is I am actually experiencing.
  • Now, thanks to Michelle Robinson Obama’s book, I know how to a name the suffering(which is the next step) and so I silently can say, “I am suffering because I feel the need to self-edit in order to honor this other person’s version of their human dignity over my own human dignity.”
  • And then, I can notice the feelingsthat may be associated with this particular experience of observing this type of suffering. And for me, it varies, it might be anger, or sadness, or frustration, or irritation, or shock, or confusion where I am questioning whether this person does deserve a higher level of human dignity in this moment than I do or I might feel embarrassed because implicit bias is not unveiling itself to reveal that I just behaved as if my needs were more important than this other person’s.  In the wisdom of the pause and breathe, some feeling arises and I can silently name and notice where it is taking up residence in the body.
  • Next, Dr. Kristin Neff recommends silently offering oneself soothing words. To me, it is a lot like Dr. Laura Rendon’s validation theory in action, except the validation is directed toward the self, as opposed to other. And often, my soothing words begin with a common humanity phrase– a way to connect myself with other humans so as not to feel so alone in the moment (another Kristen Neff recommended practice), “Of course, I am feeling [fill in the blank of the feeling]; who wouldn’t be feeling this way in this situation?”  This common humanity practice really helps me gain access to soothing words; the words I would offer my best friends if they were in this situation, words like, “It’s okay to feel this way, of course you feel this way.”  Sometimes, I will even tell myself, “uh hum, I hear you. This is a shitty situation to be in right now.”
  • And after that practice, what usually arises is an awareness of some underlying feelingsuch as fear of not being seen or heard, or sadness about how much pain is right here within both of us or we wouldn’t likely be in this type of conflict right now where one is feeling less human dignity than the other. And if I can, I’ll silently name that (however in my practice, most of the time, I am zooming right past this step).  The good news is that this awareness can come later and the naming of it can come later… as I reflect on a situation that I want to handle more skillfully in the future, I can say, oh wow, I was really feeling fearful, or responsible to fix this [whatever this is] for everyone involved and I couldn’t fix it.
  • And then I can identify what the unmet needs arefor me. Perhaps, I am feeling a need to be heard or seen; perhaps I am feeling disconnected from the team… all of that is valid, however, what are my specific needs informing these feelings?  I can softly name that need OR, if courage is present, rather than self-editing some sort of response that elevates one person’s human dignity over another’s, I can say, “I hear you saying this [insert whatever this is].  And when I hear that, I need for you to know that I am concerned that these other people might be jeopardized in this specific way or that I might not get [insert whatever it is] that I feel I need right now. Can you help me understand how that won’t be a plausible outcome of this decision [or whatever it is]?
  • And thenoffer compassionto whatever happens next. What I mean is offer kindness to yourself if you are not sure you can identify what your needs are. Offer kindness to yourself if you get more caught up in judging the other person’s needs as selfish or even judge your needs as selfish. Offer kindness to yourself if you were courageous enough to speak to your needs and the other person dismissed them or you don’t feel your needs were heard.
  • And if appropriate or even possible, determine how you can meet your now silently or perhaps audibly named unmet needs. I hear you, sometimes, it is not possible particular if the cause of my suffering is needing someone else to realize something they are not realizing. But then I have to ask myself the question, “why do I need them to realize it so much?  Is there some way I can meet my own needs without being attached to this other person meeting my needs? Is there someone else I can work with to have these needs met?”
  • And finally, how can you offer yourself compassionwhen you can’t find a way to have your underlying needs met? Perhaps practicing this sequence again may be useful.

Sending you all my love and light,


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

When I was diagnosed with a neurological auto-immune disease the first time, I immediately wouldn’t accept that what the doctors were saying about the prognosis of the disease was my present or my near future.  And you know what?  It wasn’t.

Recently, I have faced more health challenges and the primary treating physician literally said to me last month, “You are a ticking time bomb, your body is going to crash one of these days and when it does, it will crash hard.”  Yup, that is what he said.  However, as opposed to 14 years ago when I gave the physician who pronounced something like that my middle finger and a few choice words; this time, those words really hit me.  They landed like a hard blow to my gut and then radiated up toward my chest, stealing away my breath and making me feel like I was going to pass out.

What I mean is, that I immediately believed those words to be true; not just for the present and the near future – but for all of my future. As I left the doctor’s office, everything I looked at was as if I saw it through those words.  It was as if they were a lens that over laid everything I experienced.    It took me a full week to gain the courage to pull that lens away from how I was viewing the world and to lay it in front of me, observing it as it was.  And when I did, I immediately laughed.

Think of it… those words are true for all of us…. Every single one of us in wearing a body suit that is going to “crash” one day.  It is inevitable.   As Jim Morrison says, “no one here [earth] gets out alive.”

What perplexed me however, was why did it take a full week for me to find my way back to my sense of humor in the midst of this adversity when 14 years earlier, I looked at a different physician with equally grim news and gave her the finger?

Pema Chodron explains that as we grow older and are faced with health issues, (as opposed to being younger and being faced with health issues) we feel more fragile, we see the body failing us and we know it is a part of the aging process, even if it really isn’t.  We know that at some point, the body failing is not reversible. And as we grow older, we are never really sure when that might be.   As a result, as we age, we become more rigid in our ways.  We don’t want, for instance, the lamp moved 2 inches to the right because it makes us feel safer and more secure to have the lamp right there where it has been serving us well the years prior.  We make it about the lamp but it isn’t about the lamp.  It’s about feeling fragile that we are now even more aware that this body will one day “crash” and while some of us have prognosis from doctors with estimated times of the great bodily collapse; others of us don’t.

In that week of feeling incredibly fragile, instead of being rigid about the lamp (which gets moved regularly), I became rigid about how I had to approach my work schedule – you know, the work that I love to do and that which inspires me. I thought that if I couldn’t make myself productive within a certain time frame, I surely was “crashing” and it was irreversible.  I also made those doctor’s words about my finances and as such, I couldn’t see any way to carve out of the budget for the additional money needed for alternative treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover. I became so rigid, I wouldn’t even answer a question my husband asked me upon waking in the morning, if simply looking for the information to answer the question felt like it was a diversion from my typical morning routine.

I felt so fragile, so vulnerable, so afraid all because I believed those doctor’s words as true NOW.  As a result, those words fueled a feeling of losing my fierce independence, and all the while not wanting to feel alone to figure it all out inside my head.

And then Pema Chodron’s wisdom came.  She invites us to lean into the fear and just name it “fear,” breathe into it and settle, observing it as fear taking hold of the body.   So, I practiced that.

And as I practiced, I noticed an intense yearning to fix the fear.  I wanted the fear to go away.  I wanted to find the “solution” to all that which the rigidity that fear created would not let me observe.  [All because I chose to believe some human being’s words as true for my immediate present and near future.]

And then I laughed again, realizing that likely what my fear/my rigidity is making it about today (a work schedule, finances) will change tomorrow. And it did; the next day was about cheese and toilet paper. (I’ll spare you the details.)   And at the end of that day of leaning into the fear, naming it, and breathing into it, settling and observing, I wondered, what I would make it about tomorrow.   Will I make it about the lamp being moved 2 inches? Or about where I place my walking shoes and socks?

It doesn’t seem logical… It doesn’t seem logical that when I notice feeling so fragile because of some truth I am experiencing or the experience of fear being fueled by the sharp edge of someone else’s words landing in my body… that when I notice that, I must lean into it, name it, breathing and settling into it so that I can observe it. But if I don’t, the rigidity that arises is so intense, I don’t even know where I am directing that fear.  I don’t even know that my thoughts, words, and actions which emerge from that rigidity are making me feel even more fragile.  I don’t know that I can’t discover any solutions to the underlying cause because my rigidity is freezing me into a pattern of behavior that may need to change for my own and others’ benefit.

So, when I notice feeling fragile, this is step one in the work I know I must do so that I can flourish in the reality of this present moment and see all the possibilities for flourishing in the future.

In closing, from my heart, I wish for you freedom from physical and emotional suffering, regardless of whether the source of that pain is from something you chose, something you didn’t choose, or some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) person’s words,




Strategies to Decrease Frustration when Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace



Strategies to Decrease Frustration when

Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

Recently, I have had the honor of listening to a number of masters-level and doctorate-level students who are experiencing high levels of frustration in working with what I would like to call low levels of awarenessin the workplace. So, what does that mean?  Borrowing from the wisdom archive of “it takes one to know one.”  I can easily identify low levels of awarenessin the workplace because for most of my life, that is the place in which I have operated.  What do I mean?

Beginning with a definition from Merriam Webster, awareness is “the quality or state of being aware : knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists promoting a heightened awareness of the problemseemed to have only a slight awareness of what was going on, an acute awareness of subtle differences.”  Extracted from on 11-15-18.).  And now noticing the frustration of having a word defined by using the word, perhaps it is useful to examine the synonyms of awareness and they are ”attention,  cognizance,  consciousness,  ear,  eye,  heed, knowledge,  mindfulness,  note,  notice,  observance, observation.”  If the use of these synonyms is still not helpful, I like to operationally define awareness as simply noticing what you are noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness.  So, as opposed to the kind of intensity that researchers bring to their research, this is more of an effortless effort of noting what is being observed and inquiring into what else is there.  And then engaging in this – noting what you are noticing – in a manner that goes beyond the first impression where judgment ensues and inquiry shuts down.  ‘Ya know what I mean?

According to the National Academies of Science (2017) and the Institute of Educational Sciences (2016), we can intentionally educate our students to become more open, mindful, and conscious.  I have interpreted this to mean that we can move ourselves from low levels of awareness to high levels of awareness but ONLY if we want to do so.  I want to do so because I have become so sad knowing all of the harm my choices have created when they emerge from low levels of awareness. As such, I have found myself enrolling in training program after training program for the last 13 years all in a passionate effort to move myself from operating consistently in low levels of awareness to a higher level of awareness.  In essence, I have sought to change the way I see the world.  I seek to move from a self-preservation, quick to judge, survival modality that informs decisions that can harm self and others to an open, vulnerable, curious, gentle, and kind way of being in the world that then leads to wiser and more skillful choices.

Yes, I notice I have a long way to go in moving to a high level of awareness – to a more consistent and frequent way of noting what I am noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness that informs wise and skillful choice; the training (and continued training) have been immensely helpful. And what I have also noticed is that the students and colleagues I serve are my best teachers – of course they are. And here is what they demonstrated in their being with my low levels of awareness behavior that was particularly valuable for my moving forward in this awareness training.  In other words, rather than their moving to meet my low level of awareness and judging me (which would trigger survival behaviors such as avoidance or fighting), they remained at their high levels of awareness and engaged in inquiry that places the responsibility for doing something differently directly on my shoulders, as opposed to their needing to fix what my low level of awareness behavior was creating.

SO, when you notice low levels of awareness, consider practicing this…

  • What I heard you say is…
  • What I heard you feel is…
  • What creative solution is possible from the statement you just made?
  • What would that choice that you are considering create for [fill in the blank for the person or people your high level of awareness notices may be harmed from the choice they are about to make]?

There are many more questions and practices to engage in if you would like to do so… but these, as I can attest, have been useful in moving me forward.  Thank you students, colleagues, and my trusted teachers and mentors.

In joy,


Testing your Vision for 2019

January 4, 2019

Testing your Vision for 2019

Welcome to a new year… we are four or so days into it (depending on what part of the world you find yourself in as you read this) and I am trusting that you have found some time to ponder what you would like to be, do, or create in your 2019.  If so, I trust that what you hope to be, do, and create aligns well with the Life Mastery Institute’s*list of criteria to test your dreams.  Basically, does what you want to be, do, or create in your life align well with:

  1. what you would loveto be, do, or create in the world – the kind of love that really warms your heart space in a way that you notice that warmth resonating in the heart space;
  2. what brings you alive– you know that champagne bubbly kind of feeling inside your veins where you just can’t wait to wake up and “get on it” kind of aliveness;
  3. a requirement to grow– to learn or discover something within and outside of yourself that is more than what you already know or are confident in;
  4. your core values– those personal, cultural, spiritual, familial, professional, ethical values that when you even think about compromising them or justify in your head compromising them, you throw up or at least get really queasy. So, is what you want to be, do, or create in 2019 in alignment with your core values?
  5. honoring your own human dignity and the human dignity of others*– sometimes, acting on a vision for a better way of living life means what you want to be, do, or create in the world might hurt another person’s feelings or be counter to their vision for your life. What we are speaking of here is a requisite that your vision is informed by a non-violent wisdom – the wisdom that states clearly and unequivocally that we are all human beings worthy of being treated with the highest level of dignity even when we vehemently disagree.  So, while I may abhor another human being’s behavior, my disgust of their behavior does not constitute justification for me to bring that other human being harm. Similarly, if another human being’s behavior is causing me harm, honoring my own human dignity means I can envision living in greater dignity than perhaps my current circumstance is revealing and therefore, I will make a new choice.  This also doesn’t mean absolving the harmful human behavior that led to the downfall of human dignity – either yours or another’s.  Finally, it also doesn’t mean that harmful behavior isn’t sanctioned; it means human dignity is not harmed in the process of sanctioning.  As you can see, this one will require more of our attention as we seek to restore injustices in the world, so we will be focusing on this much more in future blogs.  For now, consider what is possible for you with regard to this criterion as you test your vision for 2019.  Finally,
  6. trusting the life force that is breathing you* – you know that whole notion of sometimes “you just gotta trust what you can’t see”?Well, that is what we are talking about here.  While there is a lot of science that allows us to study and witness the life forces within every human being (respiration, digestion, circulation, neurology, etc.) that allow them to thrive and make choices to create, be and do, there is also a lot we just can’t see.   Most of us wake up each morning and just trust these various life forces to work so we can actually wake up (which has a lot of life force properties we can’t see going on) and function (whatever that means to you).  We don’t see it all working, we just trust it.  Choosing what you are going to be, do, or create in 2019 requires you to trust in what you cannot always see.  If it doesn’t, you chose an easy to attain goal and this world needs more from you so choose again.

In closing, if you haven’t yet decided what you want to be, do, or create in 2019… perhaps starting with these questions may be useful.  If you have decided, we invite you to test that vision against these Life Mastery Institute Criteria* and give yourself permission to adjust your vision for 2019 or choose again.

Wishing you a loving, alive, fully growing in alignment with your core values and in support of human dignity for all while trusting in what you cannot see kind of 2019!


*Note that criteria 5 and 6 are not the exact criteria from Life Mastery Institute but modified criteria based on my life experience with human beings while trying to assure organizational members meet productivity requirements.




Happy New Year’s Eve Eve


December 30, 2018

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  It’s a time when we are to get excited about resolutions for the new year – it’s a time to nurture hope, fuel dreams, and resonate with all the possibilities that are to come.  This typically positive dreaming time of year is important medicine for the soul.  Holding hope that things can be better than they are, dreaming of a future where you feel more empowered, more alive, healthier, where the world feels safer, where equality is evident, where peace is possible… this kind of hoping, this kind of dreaming… well, it’s almost like it’s a prerequisite for optimal living.

To top it off, the Christmas season can prime the sensation of hope with its focus on love and generosity.   And whether you have a lot to give or a little, whether your heart has been broken or is overflowing, or whether you just received a life-threatening diagnosis, the Christmas season seems to absorb it all … it’s like a sponge for all the pain and suffering.  It’s as if the lights and the music and the smiles lighten the pain and you find yourself in a place that still allows you to prepare for something different to come in the new year.

Unless of course, Christmas season is a season that worsens the pain (like during the time following the divorce of my former husband and right smack within the heightened onset of my transverse myelitis).  When stuff like that happens, you can’t wait for it – Christmas season that is – to be over.

But what if your heart breaks afterChristmas? What if you lost something or someone you love afterChristmas?  What if you get your life-threatening diagnosis afterChristmas? What if Christmas magic (or even the wishing for “it to be over”) didn’t work for you after all?  Is there enough magic left over from Christmas day to sustain you into holding hope for a more positive future on New Year’s Eve?  Is there enough holiday love and generosity left to bring a positive new year’s resolution into your awareness?

I dunno. Maybe that’s why there are half-price holiday candy sales and so many people giving away leftover candy, cookies and other excess items.  Maybe those people are unconsciously trying to create some space for the people whose pain and suffering wasn’t absorbed by Christmas magic; at least not long enough for them to feel a flicker of hope to fuel at least one new year’s resolution or intention for a brighter tomorrow.

So, if you already have your new year’s resolutions or your intentions to live life in a particular way in 2019 – good on you(that is if those resolutions and intentions are in alignment with your higher levels of awareness and if they cause you and no one else harm).

If you are in the camp that is struggling with setting your 2019 intentions, just as I am, then join me in a mindful self-compassion practice created by Drs Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber (2018).

First, simply acknowledge the pain and suffering you are experiencing.  Yes, name it. For example, right now, I am calling mine WtF?  And if WtF?is a lot of stuff…. Pull it apart, like, look at all these kids dying… can’t we stop this for heaven’s sake…WtF?  I can’t believe she wasn’t promoted to full professor; her work is so powerful and important… WtF? What do you mean this disease isn’t treatable…WtF? How on earth do I get these board members to realize that just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it won’t create social injustice for those to follow…WtF? 

SO, after you acknowledge the pain and suffering and name it, then stop for a moment and just breathe deeply (whatever that means to you).  Then, remind yourself that you are not alone in this pain and suffering… for example, others are feeling the grief that they can’t stop a particular group of kids from dying; others are angry that this particular amazing scholar wasn’t promoted to professor, others are in shock that this life-threatening diagnosis has no treatment, and others (obviously not these particular board members) would be frustrated that they can’t see the policy they are creating is allegedly promoting social injustice.

Then offer yourself some soothing words of kindness that also validates the pain.  Validating the pain doesn’t mean that you agree with the underlying cause that created it.  It’s more like what you would say to a best friend who is experiencing what you are experiencing.  For me, I am choosing something like this, Yes, this sucks; I feel for you.  Who wouldn’t be feeling that way if they experienced that or witnessed that? I so wish I could fix this for you right now but I can’t.  And I’m feeling so upset that I can’t fix this.  So, how about I sit here and be here with you in this; would that be alright?  I’ll also be here with you through this, as long as you need me – I’m here for you, OK?

Yeah – it may sound silly… I used to think it was goofy… that was until I tried it on.  And now, I practice it a LOT!

And then one of my favorite things to do next is this… count my blessings…

Hey, I saw those eyes roll. Seriously, try it on just for a second… yes, you can count big blessings (aka what you feel grateful for) like friends and family, the amazing partner who loves you just as you are, fresh drinking water, electricity, and the ability to breathe, hear, and see (in all the ways that breathing, seeing, and hearing can occur).

HOWEVER, what I am really talking about here is this:

Let’s count the little blessings we take for granted every day such as a loving touch, the sensation of sun on the skin, a paper clip, a facial tissue, the waft of a welcomed fragrance that took just a fraction of a moment to recognize, a fraction of a moment invested in noticing what there is to notice, a genuine smile, a welcome song that randomly comes to mind and the amusement it brings as you realize you can hear inside of you what no one else is hearing.

The list can go on and on, yes?  I invite you to allow this list to go on and on until your attention drifts to something else… and perhaps that something else is a new year’s resolution.  Or perhaps your attention is now on an intention to invest in a new way of being and doing such as practicing self-compassion.  Perhaps that something else is a small flicker of hope that there is some beauty in the midst of intense pain and suffering, even if it is a fraction of a moment when you are slightly amused by the pattern in the sidewalk cracks or the dirt path before you or the letters, WtF.

Regardless, know you are not alone in either the joy of planning your new year’s resolutions or the post-Christmas season heavy heart that simply wants to be acknowledged with loving kindness.  And so here is something else we can now add to our list of blessings… Dr. Kristin Neff and more of her self-compassion exercises; check them out at

And if your heart is still super heavy and you need affirmation that you are not alone in this pain and suffering, we invite you to call this number (or perhaps a number you already have) so they can offer you support you deserve (1-800-273-8255).

In closing this entry, it isn’t easy to carry the burdens of your very real pain and suffering all by yourself… it isn’t.   And one of those little blessings is that we don’t have too… you don’t have to…remembering that can be another little blessing noticed in just this little fraction of a moment.

In loving kindness,


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.





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