The human experience is a continual journey along the pathways of joy and suffering. These experiences produce skill development which is either adaptive or maladaptive. Through awareness and intentional practice, we can navigate the pathways of well-being along the way. EmpowerED Pathways has identified 3 Pathways of Practice which strengthen neural pathways supporting resilience, empowerment and well-being. These Pathways include;               

  • Practices which cultivate awareness and equanimity.

  • Practices which build kindness and compassion towards self and others.

  • Practices which celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity.

Practices which cultivate awareness and equanimity.

The bird of wisdom needs two things to fly. They are awareness and equanimity.
— S.N. Goenka

Practices which cultivate awareness and equanimity are the foundation for well-being.   Awareness of self and others create opportunities to adapt personal behaviors when necessary as they relate to self and others.  The brain is the most efficient organ in the human body. It constantly and instantaneously categorizes our experience based on prior learned information and experience.  We are also wired with a propensity to grasp for the pleasant and push away from the unpleasant. Therefore, engaging in mindlessness, maladaptive and biased based behaviors are part of the human biology.  Gaining awareness, we disrupt the biological behaviors which limit and develop the habits of mind/body conducive for wellbeing.

Mindfulness is an awareness building practice that, on a neurological level, creates agency and decreases biased based behaviors.   MD, researcher and mindfulness pioneer, Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practices include focused breathing activities, noticing physical sensations and thought observation.  Emerging research indicates mindfulness strengthens the regions of the brain for cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibitions, and the initiation of monitoring actions. Evidence-based research indicates mindfulness fosters enhanced resilience and more optimal brain function. The quality of equanimity emerges with a regular mindfulness practice.  Equanimity refers to having a calm mental state when experiencing chaos and/or emotional discomfort. Practices which cultivate awareness and equanimity develop the neural pathways of; self-agency, autonomy of thought and feeling a sense of connectedness.

Creating space for and allowing time for these practices is of the utmost importance for cultivating and activating the neural networks which support well-being,

Examples of practices include and are not limited to:

  • Mindfulness

  • Reflection

  • Journaling

  • Notice the Narrative

  • PATH (goal setting)

Practices which build kindness and compassion towards self and others.

Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.
— Thomas Merton

Virtues of compassion and judgement play vital parts in personal/societal well-being.  Judgement, of self and others, tends to be the first and most frequent reaction due to the brain’s negativity bias.  The negativity bias is the brain’s propensity to feel negative experiences with greater intensity than it does with positive experiences.  Biologically speaking, a single source of negative feedback, has a greater impact on us than multiple sources of positive feedback. Ruminating thoughts of worry, self-doubt and criticism are instrumental in physical survival.  However, when left unchecked and practiced at high frequencies decrease well-being. With an awareness that suffering is part of the human experience we can extend compassion towards self and others when suffering noticed. Like judgement, compassion is an instinctual human response.  Repeated acts and expressions of compassion are shown to rewire the brain’s negativity bias. Thus, reducing the effect of negative (and perceived negative) stimuli and experiences. While acts of compassion are derived from noticing suffering, acts of kindness stem from altruism. When kindness is promoted, altruism is strengthened.  Proactively promoting kindness and compassion develops the brain in ways that curb isolating and exclusionary practices. Creating space for and allowing time for practices which are of the utmost importance for cultivating and activating the neural networks which support well-being, 

Examples of practices include and are not limited to:

  • Self-compassion

  • Perspective taking

  • Gratitude expression

  • Service projects

  • Intentional acts of kindness

Practices that celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity and isolation.

Being human is given, but keeping our humanity is a choice.
— Moumita Das

Common humanity can be defined as, “recognizing that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of the shared human experience (Neff, Rude & Kirkpatrick, 2007) and is not used to devalue an individual’s story, experience or voice for the sake that “we’re all human”.  By celebrating our common humanity, we uplift each other’s story, experience and voice because “we are all human”. Being human means, we are feeling beings and social beings and yearn to feel a sense of belonging.  In each and every story there is love, loss and a sense of hope.  By engaging in practices which celebrate our common humanity we seek to understand multiple perspectives in honor to co-construct a third narrative that honors every individuals’ experience.

While humans are wired for connection and compassion, we are also (as our histories show) capable of committing horrific atrocities.  By nature, we are a tribal species and are in closest connection and community to “those like us”. These relationships are vital for our survival, shaping individual identity and establishing/maintaining a culture. Therefore, we tend to associate ourselves with those of similar beliefs and backgrounds.  In turn this creates a system of “in groups: and “out groups” which can create dignity violations. “As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him (Efferson, Lalive, and Feh, 2008) …. Pay attention to the number of times a day you categorize someone as “not like me,” particularly in subtle ways: not my social background, not my style, and so on. It’s startling how routine it is. See what happens to your mind when you consciously release this distinction and focus instead on what you have in common with that person, on what makes you both an “us.”  – Rick Hansen, The Buddha’s Brain.  By taking a stance of, every human being has the same desire to be happy, free of suffering and seeks to alleviate the suffering of others when suffering is encountered, our common humanity is at the forefront of our interactions.  

We can decrease the frequency of this tendency by applying a dignity lens to how we navigate our personal experience.  In Dignity The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict, Donna Hicks describes dignity as an internal state of peace that comes with recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.  With dignity as the baseline for human interactions we see the value and inherent worth of everyone. Despite the stark difference, dignity and respect are often used interchangeably.   As aforementioned, dignity is an “internal state” while respect is typically given/earned (denied/subtracted) due to an individual’s behavior. Therefore, it’s possible to see everyone’s inherent value as living/breathing beings and not respecting an individual due to their actions/behaviors.  By engaging in practices which celebrate our common humanity we remove barriers that divide us amongst religious, political, racial, socio-economical and ideological lines. By honoring the inherent worth that is within all of us we can co construct a compassionate solution-focused narrative and significantly decrease frequency of dignity violations and harm.

Dignity is honored in groups when all are seen and heard.  Part of being seen and heard is intentionally and candidly discussing and adhering to the answers to the following questions:

  1. How do we celebrate each other?

  2. How to we support each other?

  3. How do we collaborate with each other?

  4. How do we repair harm and restore balance with each other? 

Removing barriers of difference decreases the impact of “in group” vs. “out group” behaviors and opportunity for joy, widen our network of support and are collaborative in building a hopeful tomorrow. If dignity violations are the root cause of harm and injustice, practices which celebrate our common humanity are the antidote to harm and injustice.   As human beings we all feel joy, need support, experience difficulties and desire a “better tomorrow.  With a core belief of interconnectedness, identifying and celebrating our common humanity strengthens this connection, increases opportunities for joy, softens the impact of loss and the likelihood of a “better tomorrow” is greater.  Creating space for and allowing time for practices which celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity are of the utmost importance for cultivating and activating the neural networks which support well-being.

Examples of practices which celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity include and are not limited to

  • Community building circles

  • Demonstrating vulnerability

  • Collaborate on identifying Dignity Drivers

  • Acknowledge unique contributions of all individuals

  • Empathetic and active listening