Taking refuge


by Susan Prosser on February 9, 2010

No letter this week folks, so I thought I would relay a story that could give us some food for thought and comfort.

Last week my husband was having lunch at Molo’s in Wakefield where he was observing a very cute baby and her mother.  The baby was just learning to walk and having a great time until she got frustrated because she couldn’t get something she wanted. She was trying to make this happen and tried to elicit Mom’s help without success so she began to cry.  The mother looked at her with great warmth and said “it is hard when Mamma says no, isn’t it?”  Her response was to raise her little arms to be picked up.  So Mom swept her up and she melted into her with complete abandon as her problems disappeared in the safety of her mother’s arms.

My husband thought, “Isn’t that what we all long for – to be picked up, taken care of and have all of our problems disappear?”  Oh, to be a child again (and to have such a loving mother)!  The good news is that we can have a form of this – it is not too late.

For my husband, a Buddhist, this is actually possible for him because he has learned through his meditative practice to take refuge in Buddha.  For me, I have a strong spiritual life and I find ways to surrender and trust in a power greater than my own.  Also, we are blessed with a wonderful marriage which is like a haven for us and we take refuge in that.  (The only difference being that life’s challenges don’t go away.)  We also find refuge in the joy or our children, family, friends and the work we do – and we confess to food refuges as well!

What is it for you?  How do you find comfort in life?  How do you relieve stress and maintain the courage and resiliency you need to face the challenges in your life?

Finding comfort is a tricky business.  Many people find it in a bottle, food, shopping, drugs, control, rage, gambling, porn, Blackberries, television, computers, to name a few.  These can be traps because our brains become habituated to them and they become the only way we can feel OK.  Our brains need regular hits of a neurotransmitter called Dopamine in order to survive.  Dopamine is our built-in pleasure formula. So, if we eat chocolate to get that hit instead of exercising or making love we eventually become reliant on chocolate to make our world manageable.

Change is very difficult for us because the brain is a highly complex mechanism that gets pretty hard-wired by the time we are adults.  It takes great resolve to make a change that does not give us an instant hit of dopamine – like starting a new exercise regime on Jan. 2 and quitting on Jan. 3rd.  The good news is that if we stick to it our brains will become habituated and it will no longer require a high degree discipline and willpower to continue.

We all know the healthy behaviours that we want to incorporate in our lives like exercising and eating healthfully but I want to add one that I encourage you to read more about and that is what our little girl at Molo’s knows so well – seeking refuge and comfort in a loved one (that can be your own self, a person or a spiritual being).  What will happen as her brain develops is that she will know how to settle her emotions with love.  Her brain will develop that way.  (Read “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Daniel Siegel for more info.)  She will grow to have a high emotional IQ.  If Mom were to respond with anger or rejection on a regular basis she would have to learn other ways of finding comfort and produce dopamine.

For adults, even though we are hard-wired, our brains can still change and we can learn how to seek comfort and pleasure in love by training (not unlike training our bodies at the gym).  Learning how to soothe our brains is a skill that will improve your physical health, emotional health, your immune system and your relationships.  It may also prolong your life.

Soothing our brains can take the form of cognitive reprogramming (positive self talk, compassionate self talk, self forgiveness, and learning not to judge ourselves), emotional release and safety in the arms of a loved one and spiritual practice.  As we learn to do this, our brains not only produce more dopamine but can also resist the damage done by the effects of stress.  The benefits are endless.

So my dear readers, I wish you the same comfort that our Molo baby is receiving from her loving mother.  I hope that you will learn to be that loving to yourselves and reap the rewards.  We will all benefit!