Relationships, love, compassion and COVID-19

Relationship for human beings offers some of the most painful and exquisite moments imaginable.

As we hibernate in the melting pot of social isolation whether alone or with others, a myriad of things can rise to the surface from the emotional depths of our being. Some of us will be weathering the storm that is COVID-19 alone, while others rub up against rough edges of partners, family, friends and of themselves. There will be some lucky folk basking in warm blankets of love and joy, and all possibilities between.

For each person experiencing joy at being home with a fridge full of food, a warm ocean to swim in and good health, there will be others without food, without peace, alone and challenged deeply by their health and wellbeing. Compound this with the intricate complexities of relationship delivering to the surface many things buried deeply within our psyches and the outcomes are many and varied.

These COVID-19 days of isolation are similar to the silent retreats we know are ways to reconnect with stillness, those sparkling moments of clarity away from the busyness and chaos of life. Silent retreats are rarely about the bliss state and encourage us to roll up our sleeves and sort through the stuff that emerges from the murky depths of our being. Emergent elements both wanted and unwanted, disguised as opportunities to be seen, known and ultimately healed and sorted.

Deeper challenges during this time arising through relationship (including with ourselves) can include frustration, irritation, resentment, anger, loneliness, fear, despair, hopelessness and sadness where we find ourselves caught in reactive cycles we either don’t want or we think should be different to how it is just now. We often react and want to run from what is difficult instead of looking underneath the myriad of triggers, causes, conditions and stories that lie within our being calling for kindness and love.

Relationships ask that we work on ourselves and engage in a dance of attunement with others. The work on ourselves involves developing an awareness of our conditioned patterns, largely cultural and mediated by early childhood patterns of attachment, with trauma featuring saliently on our developmental human trajectories. The challenging side involves dysfunctional patterns, loss of boundaries, co-dependent cycles and the unintentional ignoring of an inner voice that keeps the peace and feeds unhealthy patterns.

Relating to everything that emerges in relationship with clarity, kindness and compassion is a practice of communication, asking for our commitment to ongoing work, both within ourselves and in relationship. As Rumi said our ‘task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against love’.

Communication within relationship is a skill and the brilliant program Ongo artfully blends elements of mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication and is a little like learning a new language, one that requires a commitment to practice with enormous possibilities for transforming relationship through presence, empathy and compassion. Sharon Salzberg in her book Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection writes, “With mindfulness, loving kindness, and self-compassion, we can begin to let go of our expectations about how life and those we love should be.”

In transforming our patterns of relating to ourselves and to each other, the implications for transforming our relationship with each other and the earth is immense. The wise translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thubten Jinpa speaks of meeting our pain with loving kindness to create an alchemy of compassion. Embracing these moments to contemplate the vastness of change and a new world post COVID-19 where relationship is transformed with love and compassion and becomes a medicine of contagion.


– Take the time to write a letter and connect with someone you love.

– Thich Nhat Hanh says we need to fall in love with the earth. In this spirit, write a love letter to the earth.

– Practice mindfulness, not just for yourself, but for the people you love.

– Pause and breathe, let go of tension in your body, respond with compassion and be kind to yourself.

– Know that people in your life and all things emergent offer important lessons.

– Cultivate loving-kindness with meditation and practice. The Insight Timer App has many meditations, and you are welcome to use recordings from our website

– Mal Huxter offers many Loving-Kindness practices on his website

– Consider engaging in the ONGO program ONGO is facilitated by Wendy Haynes online, contact Karen Plumbe also offers ONGO groups, for more information contact

Recommended COVID-19 Reading:

Bowers, E. (2015). Meet Me In Hard-to-Love Places: The Heart and Science of Relationship Success.

Salzberg, S. (2017). Real Love. Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection.

Welwood, J (2007). Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart.

Dealing with difficult emotions

As human beings we often resist change, and change triggered by COVID-19 presents many external and internal challenges for us all.

Our external challenges can include work, finances, housing, relationships, food and home schooling, as a mere tip of a vast iceberg we don’t have control over.

Internal challenges include the impact of stress on our emotional world. Things that are within our capacity to develop new skills and tools to help us manage in a world with COVID-19.

Emotions guide our choices and will influence how we emerge through what is being termed the ‘coronapocalypse’. Victor Frankl in his insightful book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ wrote ‘when we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves’.

The way we relate to emotions is largely shaped by our childhood experiences, through the emotional availability of our caregivers, the emotional language we learn early on to communicate or supress, our experiences of safety and of current, historical and intergenerational trauma, as well as our DNA. These early seeds of experience germinate as life unfolds and can be transformed as patterns of relating to our emotional world.

Many cultures recognise the importance of making space for our human emotions to be processed and view this as an essential and integral part of health, wellbeing individually and collectively. There are processes and practices that seek to balance the emotional with physical, mental and spiritual elements of being that can help us reach our potential as human beings.

Some wise folk question whether the pervasive social, political and environmental disfunction currently gripping the world is an outward reflection of our inner turmoil. That we have lost our way and an understanding of what’s important and what it means to be human.

The wise and revered poet Michael Leunig says where fear is present there can’t be love. Are we being challenged to find ways to integrate difficult emotions, transforming our inner world so it may be reflected in a new outer world?

Many of us have grown up in a culture that views difficult emotions as weak, shameful, unpleasant or burdensome for others, encouraging patterns of repression. Many workplaces, government organisations and institutions have become increasingly toxic with productivity and profit valued over compassion and wellbeing, demanding employees engage in tasks that may be at odds with moral and ethical values. This contributes to avoidance, suppression and the ignoring of our inner emotional protests and can, at extreme levels, lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress in the workplace, and moral injury as experienced by many war veterans.

I was fortunate to meet a kind-hearted man in the US who was in his 80’s and said he found himself in Vietnam aged 21 as a Chemical Engineer making chemicals for the government that were used in warfare. He spoke of how overriding his sense of what emotionally he felt was morally and ethically right, led to a life of much pain and suffering. He said in his 70’s he was arrested at an environmental protest that was for him “a deeply cleansing experience”.

How do we resist and avoid emotions? Drugs and alcohol can be effective ways not to feel, as can technological addiction, sleep and a wide range of things that effectively mean we are not feeling and sensing. This can be a protective double-edged sword if we have experienced overwhelming trauma. The writer John Welwood termed ‘spiritual bypassing’ as a way of using spirituality to avoid having to feel what is difficult or unpleasant. These things all may be effective in the short term, but in the longer term can represent habitual patterns that serve to keep us locked in unhelpful cycles that at the core are connected to avoiding difficult emotions.

Ancient wisdom traditions recognise the value of understanding emotions as messengers. As Rumi eloquently wrote 700 years ago, ‘this being human is a guesthouse, every morning a new arrival, a joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes like an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all, even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of it’s furniture. Still treat each guest honourably, they may be clearing you out for some new delight…..’

How do we treat our guests of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, hopelessness, despair? Do we shut them out, try to get rid of them, fear them, fight with them, try to subdue them, obliterate them, numb ourselves out to them, or can we know emotions as Rumi suggested as ‘messengers’ and guests?

Investigating and learning new ways to deal with difficult emotions is a possibility presented during COVID-19 to develop skills and tools, and emerge with new ways of being that contribute to not only our own happiness but the happiness of all living beings and the planet.

Some things that can help us process and balance difficult emotions may include:

– Journaling, creative writing and keeping a gratitude diary.

– Art, music and creativity can help to connect with and process emotions that are beyond language

– Connecting deeply with the natural world through our senses.

– Reaching out to people we trust to make a safe space to share our feelings can help to connect language to emotion and bring a soothing and calming effect to our nervous system.

– Trauma can be activated in many ways as our stress levels increases. Talking with a trusted friend or health worker can help, as Peter Levine says ‘“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”

– Practicing relaxation, healthy eating, being protective of sleep, maintaining a regular routine that includes exercise can help to balance the mind and body.

– Reducing digital overload and making space to turn off devices and limit time on social media.

– Mindfulness Meditation – helps to become familiar with patterns of difficult emotions and can help with developing skills and tools to heal and unlearn problematic patterns of social conditioning and attachment.

– Mindful Self-Compassion programs are offered online by John Julian who is a committed practitioner and wise teacher. See

– The RAIN practice is adapted from Buddhist teachings for Western minds as a way of managing difficult emotions. You can find recordings on the Insight Timer App, or on or on our website

– You are welcome to join our community mindfulness practices via Zoom each Tuesday evening from 7-8pm. Details and the recorded meditations are on our website

Climate Emergency and the Nature of Mind

Connected to the challenges we face associated with the climate emergency there are a range of things people may be feeling and experiencing.

There is no right way or wrong way to feel. We can find greater ease through developing skills and tools to process feelings and emotions so we can notice when we are resisting our thoughts, feelings and emotions; engaging in desperate attempts wishing these moments would end; or when we feel overwhelmed by hopelessness, despair, loneliness and isolation.


There are a few key things that may help and have to do with understanding the nature of mind.


The first involves recognising that right now is an incredibly difficult times we are living though. While some of us have fridges full, comfy beds and access to the natural world, for others it is a time of survival, of trying to feed families, poverty, homelessness, dealing with grief and sometimes living in unbearably stressful situations and ongoing worry about loved ones and witnessing catastrophic environmental change.


So how do we caretake ourselves, each other and our community in the best way we can?


Understanding the nature of mind plays an important role.


In understanding the mind, there is an important story about a man who lived 2500 years ago, who dedicated his life to studying the human condition, recognising that part of being human means there is an inevitability we will experience some incredibly difficult times. In his book ‘Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness’, Mal Huxter writes that the Buddha was really an observational scientist, a great and brilliant psychologist who dedicated his life to study of the human condition by overserving his own mind, in the same way Michelangelo’s brilliance extended to art, and Stephen Hawkins to physics and cosmology.


One of his observations involved understanding deeply there are three poisons of that influence our human minds. These are relevant to our experience and how we can manage our stress and reactivity during the these times.


The first is aversion which emerges as ‘I don’t like this’, ‘I can’t stand that’, ‘I want this to be over’ or ‘this isn’t fair’. This creates emotional resistance and stress in the moment. There is a caveat though, which is that is doesn’t meaning passivity towards or condoning events related to social or environmental justice, rather it involves resisting our inner experience that is connected to stress in the way of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Drug and alcohol addiction, technological addiction, anger and irritability arise through aversion and trying to get rid of unpleasant, unwanted emotions like fear, sadness, shame, embarrassment, boredom and anger. Aversion to strong emotions can also be protective of being overwhelmed in the case of trauma.


The second way we cause ourselves harm involves clinging, which is a form of greed. Presently, this is showing up as hoarding behaviours, being driven by fear of not having enough, witnessed in the toilet paper isles, the absence of hand sanitizer and availability of gloves. It also involves believing that things ‘should’ be a certain way which leads to resistance of the moment and increases stress exponentially.


The third involves a way of knowing the world that is like seeing through a cloudy lense where we believe and take to be true that we are separate. A wise friend calls it ‘rugged individualism’, and at it’s core is a delusional way of understanding ourselves as humans, where we are not able to recognise or know deeply our interconnectedness.


Thankfully though, there are antidotes to these ‘poisons’ which are:


Cultivating compassion and loving-kindness towards ourselves and others, in response to aversion. Self-compassion is an important practice or skill we can learn, with an understanding that in being kind to ourselves, we can be more present and extend greater kindness and compassion to others. These are things we can develop through practices, including meditation.


Generosity, letting go, the practice of giving and sharing of our possessions in response to fear and attachment. A widespread, societal behaviour change with far reaching possibilities.


Remembering our interconnectedness, and that we are a tiny grain of sand in a complex, dynamic, ephemeral, sub-particle dance of matter and change connected to everything, plants, animals (including humans). As our Native American Lakota relatives wisely and eloquently remind us to remember ‘we are all related’.

Navigating challenges in times of chaos

Collectively we have experienced much stress in recent times, and this stress can manifest itself within each of us in different ways. The uncertainty of our current situation only compounds the anxiety many of us experienced during lockdowns, drought and devastating bushfires.

Is there a way to navigate through the coming months while maintaining our sense of balance? Are there any simple strategies we could use to reduce the emotional impact? We have called on local psychologist Lisa Brown for her heartfelt advice and words of wisdom at this time.

Lisa works in private practice as a psychologist and yoga teacher, facilitating mindfulness and compassion groups and retreats with colleagues. She also works as an adjunct lecturer at CSU in the Graduate Certificate of Mindfulness, and is engaged in social and environmental activism with an InterNational Indigenous led group. But in a nutshell, Lisa describes the work she does as:

“Supporting people to get in touch with their inner resources for healing and health.”

Definitely what we all need right now. Lisa admits that she has been fortunate to have learned skills and tools from many extraordinary teachers that blend threads of western science and ancient wisdom traditions. And each week she has offered to share these skills through some simple strategies we can incorporate into our lives.

But this week we also spent some time chatting with Lisa (remotely) to gain a better understanding of why we are feeling or behaving the way we are right now, how essential community is for our wellbeing and the importance of maintaining hope.

Many of us are experiencing feelings or bodily reactions or behaviours that seem foreign to us. Can you explain how the events of the past few months have impacted our community (both collectively and individually)?

In our basic humanness we are a complex web of systems, individually and collectively, and these systems can move in and out of balance. We’ve all experienced much stress in recent times. The enormity of suffering and loss of creatures, pristine forests, homes and livelihoods during the fires, was barely absorbed and processed, before there was flooding. This sense of grief and loss is compounded for First Nations Peoples through a history of colonisation, which continues to be a deep collective wound in Australia’s psyche.

The way we experience and cope with change and uncertainty shows up in many ways. Aversion to feeling grief, loss, anxiety, fear, depression, sadness and stress can manifest as reactive behaviours like hoarding, irritability, relationship problems, sleep disturbance and increases in addictive behaviours. Because emotions are felt as sensations in our bodies, these experiences may also be connected to our prior experience of trauma, sending the body’s alarm systems into overdrive and triggering us to find ways not to feel emotional pain.

The coming days, weeks and months are likely to challenge us all deeply. These challenges offer opportunities to develop our inner skills and tools in facing uncertainty, and to bring about longer term positive societal change through waking up our hearts, making choices to do things differently, in particular helping the most vulnerable within our community.

How important is it that our community comes together at a time like this?

We are tribal, collective beings in our hearts, and the illusion of separateness and individualism has been enormously problematic throughout recent history.

We do best as humans when we practice kindness and compassion to ourselves and help others. This is also an opportuntity to own more deeply, our collective shadow and the shocking history in Australia for the past two hundred and thirty years, reflected in the way we continue to treat human beings, including our most vulnerable.

Humans are immensely creative beings and we face phenomenal opportunities to profoundly change how we do things.

Is it important for all of us to look for a point of hope despite the current chaos?

The coming days and weeks ahead will be deeply challenging for us all. Knowing we can’t control what is going on around us, but that we are most powerful choosing to be present and respond in each moment with mindfulness and compassion, can help with the anxiety of uncertainty. Jon Kabat Zinn says, ‘we can’t stop the waves but we can learn to surf’.

Seeing change as part of life, waking up our hearts, finding joy in the simplest of moments, and remembering we are feeling beings. Being kind to ourselves in the same way we are towards those we love can help to meet our challenging moments with love. Asking for help as we need it and honouring our collective vulnerability.

Life in its essence is fleeting, precious and brief. There will be pain and suffering, and we have immense choice individually and together about how we move forward. Within those choices, lie beautiful seeds of change and hope.

Can you share three simple measures that our community could embrace to cope in these uncertain times?

Somatic practices like Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Qigong and Mindful Movement to help balance our nervous systems and develop interoception, the ability to sense and feel what is going on inside our body. The ability to sense and feel is an important part of regulating our emotional response. We have some amazing local practitioners offering classes and practices online.

Relaxation during these times is essential. Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice to calm the nervous system (the Insight Timer App is an excellent resource with many Yoga Nidra practices including iRest Yoga Nidra for Healing Trauma by Molly Birkholm).

Mindfulness Meditation to understand the nature of mind and see more deeply how our reactive patterns and cycles contribute to stress. There are many online courses and guided practices available through the Insight Timer App. You are also welcome to use recorded practices from our website:

Wendy Haynes and I are offering a community mindfulness meditation practice each Tuesday from 7pm to 8pm via Zoom by donation. Everyone is welcome, please email us for more information or

Tallowood Sangha are also offering a guided meditation by Zoom each Monday evening 7pm to 8:15pm, for more information please contact

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction – Healthcare Professionals

A professional training course for Healthcare Professionals to prevent burnout and to integrate mindfulness into life  and work.

To Register

Trauma Sensitive Yoga, Relaxation and Mindfulness for First Responders


Coffs Harbour Classes commencing September, 2021

Mindful Self Compassion (MSC)


Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is an empirically supported training program designed to cultivate the skills of self-compassion and mindfulness. MSC has been developed from the innovative research of Kristin Neff and the clinical expertise of Christopher Germer.

The three key components of MSC are: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity and mindful awareness. Research demonstrates that self-compassion is strongly associated with reductions in stress, anxiety and depression. It has also shown that MSC increases emotional wellbeing and the maintenance of healthy habits.

This course will aim to teach participants to:

  • Practice self-compassion, mindfulness and loving kindness in daily life
  • Understand, experientially, the empirically-supported benefits of self-compassion
  • Motivate oneself with kindness rather than criticism
  • Handle difficult emotions with ease
  • Transform destructive emotional patterns and challenging relationships
  • Approach difficult relationships with equanimity
  • Practice the art of self-appreciation

MSC is suitable for anyone who wishes to cultivate these skills. Professionals from health and education often attend MSC courses, as this training is helpful to prevent burnout and enhance wellbeing.

MSC sessions include meditation training and practice, short talks, experiential exercises, small and large group discussion, optional mindful-compassion movement and home practices. Online MSC  will involve an introductory session of 1 hour and eight 2.5 hour training sessions and one recommended 3-4 hour silent retreat.

For those wishing to follow the MSC Teacher Training pathway, this course counts as a pre-requisite.

Malcolm Huxter is a certified MSC teacher, a Lismore based clinical psychologist and meditation teacher. For more info about Malcolm go to:

Lisa Brown is an MSC teacher, a Coffs Harbour based Psychologist, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitator and yoga teacher. For more info about Lisa go to:

Price   sliding scale of between   $295 – $550 AUD

* Some Health Funds may contribute to MSC; Workers Compensation may be an option for some; we are happy to discuss payment plans; if you are financially challenged, please contact us to discuss options. Our intention is to make MSC available to everyone. Lisa Brown or Malcolm Huxter

To book a place go to:

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Online – September 23rd, 2021

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Online

2021 – Commencing September 23, 2021 Online