Category Archives: Mindfulness

Reflections on Inner-Peace

On Inner Peacejohncontemplation

The Dalai Lama teaches that “the most important factor in maintaining peace within oneself in the face of any difficulty is one’s mental attitude, if it is distorted by such feelings as anger, attachment, or jealousy, then even the most comfortable environment will bring one no peace.”

My life’s work is about the internal environment- the inner-landscape of mind and psyche, body, emotions, and spirit. I deeply believe that in order to establish peace in the world, we must first establish peace within our own hearts. Whether I am counseling someone using the tools of psychotherapy, or teaching the methods of mindfulness meditation or yoga, my hope is the same- to help this person reawaken their heart. Inner-peace then, is established through re-connecting into the heart. This kind of work, my friends, is very hard and it requires a great amount of “heavy lifting”, and the love and support of others and a community.

As one journeys into the heart, the recognition comes that it is not only the self that has suffered- rather it is that all beings have suffered some form of loss, sadness, or despair in their lifetime. Beyond this, we will all at some point suffer illness, death, and other challenging aspects of the human condition. I believe that when we connect into the universality of suffering, an internal transformation begins to happen. We begin to awaken self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a deliberate practice of cultivating and offering ourselves kindness, friendliness, and love over and over again and most importantly in our darkest hours. Again, this is a very challenging practice requiring a great deal of courage and perseverance. Why is it so difficult you may wonder?

It is an incredible challenge to offer oneself kindness because of the many messages we receive everyday suggesting that we are everything but OK- you do not have to look very far to see an airbrushed supermodel smiling on a billboard or the swank-looking people sporting fancy clothes driving expensive cars on television- these kind of messages are everywhere in our culture. I think you know what I am talking about!

It is the judgement we receive from the environment that layer the heart over with what I will call the “veils of separateness”. As we begin to believe these negative messages that we are inadequate, we begin to separate the self from our true heart. As we dissociate from the heart we begin to create what I will call the “shadow self”. This shadow self consists of a lot of self-hatred and judgements that overwhelm us. Unable to contain these raw emotions, we project them out into the world because we think they are so ugly and unacceptable. We put this shadow self in the world and others and subsequently create even more separateness. We begin to think in terms such as “that person is ‘different’ or that culture is ‘not good or evil’”. We go on to try to destroy the other as a way to destroy the shadow self.

Wars, violence, aggression, they might all be forms of mistaken identity. We think we are battling persons who are not the same as us. Remember, we all share in suffering; it even turns out that physically we are all mostly made up of water; human beings mostly share in our gift of consciousness and have the ability to dream, to give and receive love. By dropping into this realization that we all exist in a shared environment and are even linked through our subtle energy fields, these veils of separateness begin to thin.

Inner-peace then is about reclaiming our true heritage of the heart. This human journey is about lifting away those veils of separateness and spending time each day getting reconnected with our own hearts. As we reharmonize the internal landscape, we can only act in ways that bring us in harmony with all of existence. This extends beyond others and includes all of Mother Nature herself.

I truly believe what inspires people is not the money, the car, the designer clothes or the “things”, but it is the ability to love unconditionally, to be able to look into the eyes of the other and open to grace. To recognize that we all stem from the same sacred waves of creation. To know, we are all one wild dance of atoms moving through space. What transforms communities are individuals who are committed to awakening and being of service.

Inner-peace is rooted in taking pause, spending time in silence, lovingly gazing inward and breathing into the radiant light of the heart. It is about lifting away the veils of separateness, reclaiming and illuminating the shadow self and embracing all of life’s challenges with our arms wide open. The tools of psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga are a few among the many that have been in use over the centuries. These practices give us a chance to transform, to awaken, and to infuse our lives with love and compassion. They bring us to the realization that we are all perfectly OK, and we always have been.

As we learn to fully accept and love ourselves, then there is no reason to wage any battles against anyone or anything. We realize that the conditions of being human limit the time that we all have here on this planet together and we better spend that time wisely. I would like to close with a short reflection from a Buddhist teacher.

Our relationships with one another
are like the chance meeting
of two strangers in a parking lot.

They look at each other and smile.
That is all there is between them.

They leave and never see each other again.

That is what life is–
just a moment, a meeting, a
passing, and then it is gone.

If you understand this,
then there is no time to fight.
There is no time to argue.
There is no time to hurt one another.

 Whether you think about it in terms of humanity, nations,
communities or individuals–
there is no time for anything less
than truly appreciating the brief
interaction we have with one another.

                                             –Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

Article by: Dr. John P. Rettger

This article prepared for the International Day of Peace in Mountain View, California
September, 21, 2013

Nine Step to Gratitude

One of the ways to shift out of negative thinking is to shift our attention toward the things that we are thankful for. In this short article, I offer nine clear steps you can take toward greater satisfaction in your life.

Nine Steps to Gratitudephoto

Throughout human history, gratitude has been revered as a high virtue. This is evidenced in many classical and sacred texts propounding its importance across traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Western philosophy among others. Indeed Cicero’s proclamation that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others” exemplifies this. The specialness of gratitude even lives within the word itself. Examining the Latin roots of the word “gratitude” reveals the sacred dimensions of practicing gratitude. One interpretation of the Latin Gratia, means grace- which, in my interpretation, reflects the bestowal of Divine blessings upon oneself and all beings. Therefore, offering gratitude opens us up to becoming full of grace and then shining that gracefulness and gratefulness outward.

The psychological literature even reflects several health benefits of gratitude including strengthening relationships and enhancing happiness, pride, hope, and boosting prosocial behaviors. Given the wisdom of the sages over the centuries and the modern discovery of these health benefits, it seems clear that the practice of gratitude is a worthy pursuit. So you may ask, “how can I experience and offer more gratitude in my life?”

Drawing from the disciplines of Mindfulness and Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology, I offer you the following contemplative meditation practice to support you in cultivating gratitude.

9 Steps to Cultivate Gratitude

  1. Begin by simply meditating on the breath
  2. Allow your thoughts to arise and skillfully, yet compassionately scan these thoughts for negative, unwholesome, unappreciative, or thoughts tinged with entitlement
  3. Acknowledge, allow, and appreciate even these more difficult thoughts as a part of your present moment experience and notice their effect on your body, emotions, and spirit
  4. Deepen your breath and specifically breathe into your heart- the seat of love, kindness, and compassion
  5. Set your intention to consciously and kindly shift the unwholesome thoughts toward brighter, more radiant thoughts infused with love, gratitude, and an appreciation for all beings and all things; if this is challenging, simply think of a person or animal that you feel unconditionally loved by.
  6. Feel the effect of generating these positive thoughts on your body, emotions, and spirit
  7. Intentionally direct and send this positive energy outward emanating it in waves from your heart
  8. Savor this experience and resettle your awareness back to the breath preparing to let go of this practice
  9. Place your hands onto your heart and offer gratitude toward yourself for taking this time to cultivate this healing energy not only for your benefit, but for all beings

Article by Dr. John Rettger
copyright 2016


John P. Rettger, PhD
CA Licensed Psychologist (PSY27863)
407 S. California Ave STE 10
Palo Alto, CA 94306

IMPORTANT: I do not provide any psychological emergency consultations, for emergencies please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room and request a psychiatric evaluation.

Cultivating self-compassion

Cultivating self-compassion
by Dr. Rettger

Do you sometimes get down on yourself for not being perfect? Do you notice yourself being unkind to yourself when you make mistakes? Or maybe you get caught up in frustration when something does not turn out as you had hoped? Can you be self-critical or overly demanding of yourself? Or maybe you are struggling right now with incredibly difficult life challenges. If any of this resonates with you, or if you would like to simply be a bit happier, then this article is for you.

I think we all can relate to questions like the above and I most certainly have had such moments of self-berating and struggle. Recently in my work as a research psychologist, I became interested in exploring how self-compassion may be related to mental health (mh) outcomes. There is a fascinating, growing body of psychology literature that suggests a relationship between being self-compassionate and positive mh outcomes. I boiled the field down into just a few morsels of wisdom that I think may be useful for others. Therefore, in this article I have three aims: 1) describe the psychology of self-compassion; 2) briefly describe the research; and 3) offer a few tips on how to bring more of it into your own life.

The Psychology of Self-compassion

Self-compassion, as defined by a leading scholar in the field, Kristin Neff, PhD, is one’s willingness to be contacted by and receptive to one’s own suffering, rather than turning away from it (Neff, 2003). Being self-compassionate involves a desire and willingness to be with this suffering and committed to healing it with a soft kindness. Self-compassion is a practice of approaching one’s challenges, limitations, and shortcomings with a loving acceptance and recognizing them as a universal part of our basic human condition. It is a remembrance and honoring of one’s innate, human worthiness and an invitation to forgive ourselves for our imperfections and slippages of virtue.

Neff (2003) suggests that self-compassion has three facets: (a) self-kindness- the application of kindness and understanding to oneself instead of harsh judgment and self-criticism; (b) common humanity- remembering and feeling that one is a member of a larger human tribe, rather than a isolated and separate being; and (c) mindfulness- to embrace fully the painful aspects of one’s experience with equanimity, rather than becoming enmeshed in them.

Psychological Research on Self-compassion

Being self-compassionate appears to be connected to numerous positive mh outcomes. A meta-analysis study, which is an aggregate analysis of many similar studies, conducted by Macbeth and Gumley (2012) surveyed the larger field of compassion and mh. They found that having higher levels of compassion were related to lower levels of mh symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. A study published two years ago by Van Dam & colleagues (2012) of about 500 adults with mixed anxiety and depression remarkably described the role of self-compassion in predicting mh outcomes. The researchers found that participant scores on a measure of self-compassion predicted participant reports of depression and worry. In a subsequent analysis, they combined measures of self-compassion and mindfulness and discovered they could predict not only depression and worry, but also anxiety and quality of life. When they further teased apart their findings, they discovered that self-compassion was actually a more robust predictor of anxiety and depression symptom severity and quality of life than “dispositional” (or innate) mindfulness. They calculated that self-compassion accounted for as much as ten times more unique variance in mh outcome variables than mindfulness. Findings such as these speak to the importance of self-compassion as both an independent practice and perhaps as an essential ingredient to be included in mindfulness training and practice.

As a scientist, I must acknowledge these studies are limited by their cross-sectional designs, homogenous participant demographics, and researchers readily acknowledge the challenges associated with defining and measuring such complex, theoretical constructs such as mindfulness and compassion. Despite these and other limitations, I think these findings are worthy of igniting enthusiasm among practitioners and cause for reflection on how to include compassion training in yoga and mindfulness programs.

Practices to Cultivate Self-compassion

In this last section, I discuss how to utilize Neff’s (2003) three facets of self-compassion to practice and inspire self-compassion in your own heart. Next time you have a difficult experience or are struggling with challenging emotions, consider trying out these practices:

1. Practice self-kindness: Soften into your own pain, and move deeper within to connect to yourself in a way that acknowledges and honors something really good about you. Know that it is common, when experiencing intense emotions, to not be able to think of something good, so in that case, do something that brings you happiness and joy. One of my practices is to take myself out for a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe with a really good book or a caring friend. In meditation, you can offer yourself supportive phrases of encouragement that honor the suffering and hold intention for its resolution.

For example, you can offer to yourself Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Love Mantra’s: 1) Darling, I am here for you; 2) Darling, I know you are there for me…and I’m so happy you are truly there; 3) Darling, I know you suffer… that is why I am here for you; and 4) Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.

By turning this practice towards oneself, one is able to empower more self-reliance and confidence in being able to skillfully manage challenging emotions without turning toward external (or in some cases, unhealthy) coping mechanisms. We establish our own heart as our place of true refuge.

2. Connect to a common humanity: When in strife, remember your sacred membership to an abundant planet of fellow human-beings, animals, plants, natural resources, and a larger universe of stars, planets and all things cosmic. It is common when something traumatic or really difficult happens to us, that we may feel as if we are alone in the experience. Finding safe ways to get more connected to a positive community builds self-compassion by fostering feelings of warmth and affiliation. Broadening one’s perspective outward beyond the self puts one in contact with others who have walked a similar path and this may relieve feelings of isolation. In meditation, one can imagine being fully and beautifully interwoven into this inseparable web of life and sending well-wishes of healing, love, and kindness toward the self and outward to all beings, plants, animals and the universe.

3. Practice mindfulness: Perhaps an oversimplified way of describing mindfulness is that it is present-moment awareness, held with intention, in a way that is discerning, yet non-judgmental, and compassionate. Mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways including yoga, meditation, art, and all of the variety of mind-body practices. Even many of our everyday activities can be practiced with mindfulness, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. Mindfulness builds self-compassion by providing a lens to notice self-judgments, and it offers us a framework to intentionally let go of the desire for things to be other than what they are. As we develop a radical acceptance of all things, including ourselves, exactly as we are, we are essentially laying down fertile soil for a flowering of the seeds the practices sow for positive self-transformation. It may sound paradoxical that change comes through acceptance, but imagine how much easier it would be to move through the world without the ten thousand pounds of self-judgment that you may have been carrying around all of these years.

Here I have described several ways in which practicing self-compassion can be a powerful way to bring more happiness, freedom, and grace into your life. The tools of self-compassion are simple, yet they hold the potential to make profound, meaningful, and positive contributions to your well-being. Now is the perfect time to begin to practice. As you finish reading, I invite you to take a few moments to honor yourself for your commitment to your well-being and reflect on how you may deepen this commitment by offering self-compassion and kindness to yourself every day. You can write your thoughts down and create a self-compassion action plan.


MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545-552.

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. J Anxiety Disord, 25(1), 123-130. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.08.011


John P. Rettger, PhD
CA Licensed Psychologist (PSY27863)
407 S. California Ave STE 10
Palo Alto, CA 94306

IMPORTANT: I do not provide any psychological emergency consultations, for emergencies please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room and request a psychiatric evaluation.