By Ms Laurence Baretto de Souza (May 2020, UK)
By Ms Laurence Baretto de Souza (May 2020, UK)
I have been playing around and being creative with my mindfulness practices in the view to explore and nurture integration in myself and beyond myself. This exploration is driven by my much wider interest about the spectrum between integration and disintegration or fragmentation. This exploration extends to how we separate and differentiate as well as how we can connect and find harmony and unity.
Although here, the intention is to explore and nurture integration on the physical level, it is important to know that disintegration can also be a positive process. It is an integral part of adaptation and transformation.
One of the ways we can nurture integration that has been practiced for thousands of years is Metta or the practice of Loving Kindness. This meditation is central practice within the Buddhist traditions. It is used as a way of counteracting the perception of separation and differences in how we relate to various others and our own self.
Metta meditation is usually done by bringing to mind various people (including oneself) and wishing them well in order from easiest to most challenging. Here, I am going through the list from what people usually find easier to harder. This order might not be the same for yourself.
In the series on Metta on www.audiodharma.org , Gil Fronsdal gives pointers about how to bring people to mind to help in the practice for formal Metta. Gil Fronsdal guides people to bring people to mind with an image of them smiling. You can also imagine being near the person or hugging them.
In our cultures, we are not always versed in loving oneself. This can create various difficulties in us including mental health issues and difficulties with our relationship to our changing bodies. So this practice is also an exploration of our blocks to loving others and oneself.
My intention to explore and nurture integration has led me to practice Metta with various aspects of my experience in my body. I have applied the formal framework of Metta meditation to various aspects of my experiences in my body.
Here is how I have translated the usual Metta to a Body Metta.
1. The first person is usually referred to as a “benefactor” or someone with whom we have had a positive, uncomplicated relationship. I sometimes chose my hands as they are working well for me, acting out on my needs and helping others too.
2. The second person is usually someone we know exists but who is a “stranger”, like a postman or the someone working in a shop. This person is usually referred as a “neutral” person.
I chose a part of the body I am not paying attention to much usually. A part that has neutral feeling tones towards rather than pleasant or unpleasant feeling tones.
In my practice, I sometimes chose my ear lobes as I do not pay much attention to them nor do they feel like much in my direct experience.
3. We might then be invited to bring oneself to mind. An aspect of myself that I recognise as myself: my face for example.
My practice of Metta has allowed me to explore my relationship with my eyes, hair, etc… The various thoughts that come up in relationship to this part of my body and the thoughts that are in my mind habitually might not be as kind as the practice of wishing all those parts of me to be well.
4. We bring someone we have difficulties or conflicts with or traditionally, this is the “enemy”. This part of the practice can be challenging as we are turning our attention to somewhere in the body that we have a difficult relationship with, whether this is mentally or in the direct experience of having pain or discomfort coming from there. The difficulty may be of a habitual/ chronic nature or it might be an unusual but current experience.
5. In Metta, we are then invited to bring all four people to mind and wish them all good wishes equally. In Body Metta, we keep all these body parts together into awareness, sending them good wishes equally.
6. This can sometimes be expended to the entire universe. In this part of the practice, it is about spreading the good wishes to the whole of the body and possibly expanding it to other people’s bodies.
You can find a guided practice for Metta and for the Body Metta on my website:
This practice might be done for about 30min or more. As usual with practices, keeping to the same practice for a set period of time gives us a chance to get used to it and can support further exploration and nurturing of the intentions. You might choose a week, 2 weeks or more.
I am hoping to extend this exploration through the mental, emotional, physical, social and ecological levels in future articles soon. So please keep checking my posts and please share your experience of doing the meditation by contact me via email or by commenting directly on the post. All experiences are welcome in the spirit of exploration.
Uprooting the Racist in us,
a brief Guide to Anti-Racism
by Ms Laurence Baretto de Souza, Integrative Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher, June 2020, England.
Racism and anti-racism have been at the forefront of our minds lately after the tragic events that lead to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement taking momentum.
Actions are needed to make the world a safer, fairer place for all. This is what lead me to write: The relation between our sense of self and prejudices. Separateness, the process underlying racism and its antidote. This essay will soon be available on my website www.counsellingcollective.vpweb.co.uk.
We all hold prejudices whether we are aware of them or not. Those prejudices shape our lives and our perception of reality. We give preference to some people more than others. We will shy away, avoid or fear others because of them.
Racism is not only damaging to the victims of discrimination but is also a source of suffering for the people who do the discrimination. The sense of fear of others, the feeling that we need to defend ourselves are painful. They are anxiety. Furthermore, when we believe the discrimination and our mind gets filled with judgements, that damages or weakens compassion for our-selves as well as others. So, it is also for our own good that we need to trace racism to its roots, explore it, and dig it out.
The essay aims at giving us a deeper understanding of the psychological processes at play. I also go in more depth into the tools to manage our prejudices and racist thoughts in a skilful, compassionate way.
The piece you are currently reading is a little taste of the essay.
First, we will look at where racism comes from in us as individuals. I will outline the psychological territory of prejudices, discrimination and racism. What shapes prejudices in us? What are some of the conditions that give rise to discriminations in our actions?
Then we will briefly look at how this expands to us on the collective level.
Finally, I will outline how we might become aware of those prejudices in a helpful way within ourselves.
Let’s start with the personal level and the Self.
Our sense of self is a mental construct that makes us feel us. It gives us a sense of being constant. This mental construct is useful for us to function. It has become more complex with the evolution of our species. This is where the plot thickens, with this sense of self also comes the sense of others.
This is not enough to create discriminatory behaviour, but it sets the scene for separateness from others.
Let’s wonder what roles “othering” may hold for us. We may believe negative narratives that were based on fear of the unknown. These narratives can also be a way to makes us feel better and / or be a justification to exploit others.
On the surface, it may seem like it lifts our egos to judge others as inferior. This dysfunctional, artificial pleasure is addictive. This is one of the reasons why discrimination persists and propagates in our cultures so easily as we can witness in the work of Jane Elliott. This is how the individual psychological process links to the collective process.
Systemic racism is partly held on the collective, cultural level in the shape of narratives. It is held in institutions such as education, the history curriculum as demonstrated so well by Akala in his presentation to the Oxford Union. In other words, narratives are systemic vehicles for racism. It also shows up in how the towns are set up and where people live, or in how different people may have different access to opportunities such as finances, healthy environments where there is less pollution and good access to services and support. It is the rigged postcode lottery that we all play. It is loaded against people in minority groups. This is structural racism. For people who are not discriminated against, this may be invisible. We might be unaware of it. Those privileges will be mislabelled through the cultural narrative we have grown up with and believe in by default.
We can start making a difference by acknowledging these processes in a discerning way. Mindfulness practices really help with observing the different manifestations of “selfing” and “othering”. This is the way we construct the self and others.
Observing how we think about the self and others whether that is in positive, negative or neutral terms.
Ethnicity is one line along which othering happens, but prejudices and discrimination can happen along any arbitrary lines.
We have the innate ability to become mindful of all those mental constructs, therefore we all have a duty to do something about this to alleviate suffering within us and for others. I urge all of us to spread the anti-racism intention to anti-discrimination. Separateness and fragmentation can be healed into inclusion and integration.
For further information about practices to nurture anti-discrimination and integration, please check out my essay and related information on my website www.counsellingcollective.vpweb.co.uk.
Ms Laurence Baretto de Souza, Integrative Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
What do Albert Einstein, Cameron Diaz, Howard Hughes and Jessica Alba have in common?
They all are said to have been sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD is a mental health condition in which a person experiences intrusive obsessive thoughts. Those thoughts provoke anxiety. Sufferers may act them out or try to avoid acting them out through compulsive behaviours to control their anxiety. Both the cognitive and the behavioural aspects can be debilitating for the sufferers and may also impact on their loved ones. It affects men, women and children, and can develop at any age. People’s conditions sometimes develop around puberty, but typically develop during early adulthood. Statistics on how common OCD is vary from 1% of the population to 3%.
The intrusive obsessive nature of the OCD thoughts may feel unpleasant, distressing or overwhelming as the sufferers believe the thoughts. Sometimes, they believe they are about to act them out. The sufferers often attach a sense of identity to their thinking leading to feeling embarrassed and ashamed. They believe that they are responsible for what takes place in their mind whilst feeling out of control. This comes from the fact that the sufferers do not see the difference between thinking and taking action.
OCD sufferers often report having trouble concentrating. As depicted in the television series Pure on Channel 4, the obsessions can be of different types but common ones are intrusive thoughts of a sexual nature, blasphemous or about other transgressions. They also include thoughts of harming oneself or others, or failure to prevent harm, and thoughts about losing something or making avoidable mistakes.
The compulsive aspect may be around trying to gain control or preventing something unwanted or awful from happening. Compulsive behaviours can include counting, checking, avoiding contamination by washing or not touching objects or people, symmetry, lining objects, exactness, etc… Compulsions only temporarily reduce the anxiety. These behaviours may start with sparse incidents of compulsions but generally, these incidents become more frequent, more intense and last for longer as the OCD progresses. When OCD is severe, rituals can take hours every day in a bid to keep anxiety at bay. This can impact deeply in one’s life.
According to the International OCD Foundation, it takes on average between 14 to 17 years from first showing symptoms of OCD for sufferers to receive the appropriate treatment (Complete OCD Workbook, Granet 2018).
OCD comes often hand in hand with depression, substance misuse and addictions and can lead sufferers to suicide. Autism and ADHD can be comorbid with OCD. This can make the OCD more severe and harder to treat.
The causes of OCD are not known but some proposed hypothesis link it to early life infections, others to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The most effective treatments are Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) which are a class of anti-depressants and/or CBT, ERPT (Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy), Imaginal Exposure, Mindfulness and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy).
For more information on OCD and its treatment check out: International OCD Foundation on https://iocdf.org/
OCD UK on https://www.ocduk.org/
Ms Laurence Baretto de Souza - Integrative Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher at Brighton & Hove Clinic.