Those who read last week’s post would remember that I had already admitted I was quite scared about attending the Self-Compassion course in Byron Bay. Just imagine my inner terror when, on the first day, the facilitators announce that the only way to truly learn about self-compassion is to experience it…I had been hoping I could hide within the words, get lost in the theory and spend most of my time mulling over concepts presented. I didn’t actually want to do it – and certainly not in a room full of strangers! However, by the end of the week I was grateful for the experience, and this prompts me to encourage you to explore this for yourself if you are interested in the points I share. Regardless of the number of words I write on this page, the best way to learn it is from the neck down.
In many ways mindful self-compassion is using the practise of mindfulness to simply give yourself a break. It’s about giving ourselves some love and compassion as we would with a good friend. I’m an expert at inwardly beating myself up – using thoughts like ‘typical’, or ‘yep, once again you didn’t do it’, or ‘told you so’ so practising mindfulness is the first step to identifying my pain (yes, it is pain…how would a close friend feel if you were to think/say such words to them?).
I mentioned last week that it’s easier to learn in a positive state of mind – to expand our experience of life. Being free from the weight of personal pain and shame allows us to more fully embrace other experiences. Practising mindulness is a means of identifying the pain of failure and disappointment, and rather than push it aside, simply acknowledging it.
It’s ironic that when we feel inner-pain we often feel isolated yet this is the one thing that connects us all so profoundly. We all carry some form of pain or shame within ourselves and mindful self-compassion makes the load a lot easier to carry. Why is this so?
I learned that mindful self-compassion (MSC) is the antidote to our pain. Mindfulness enables us to be present to, and feel pain, and self-compassion provides a means to self-soothe – to take the rawness of the pain away and diminish it. If you’ve ever experienced a state of mental angst then you know how tough it can be to escape negative thoughts at times. MSC is a way to acknowledge the feelings, be with them, and help yourself to move on. After all, what we resist, persists.
Why aren’t we all doing this? Sometimes it’s because we confuse self-compassion with narcissism; or with weakness; or perhaps with self-pity. For me, I was concerned that too much self-compassion would equal self-protection – I would use it as an excuse to avoid difficult situations or circumstances (oh no, I’m looking after myself by distancing myself from this person, for example). In fact, regular practise of mindful self-compassion has been linked with the ability to develop greater resilience and coping mechanisms when life throws us a doozey. As Kristin Neff and the MSC team explain, we give ourselves compassion not to feel better, but because we feel pain.
So, how can we practise mindful self-compassion? Firstly we need to be able to acknowledge our pain (the biggie!), allow it, and be kind to ourselves as a result. Take a self-compassion break – take a deep breath and say…
- This is a moment of suffering
- Suffering is a part of life
- May I be kind to myself at this moment.
Meditation is a big part of mindfulness practise because, among other things, it provides an opening to spend time with yourself free from distractions. Comedien Ruby Wax does a great job explaining why this is so helpful for her and her battles with depression here. This was a real challenge for me because my mind simply won’t shut up! However, I learned that exercising my meditation muscle is a lot like exercising any other part of myself – it takes practise and compassion. When I notice my mind wandering, I simply guide it back with a sense of self-kindness. I also realised that the mantras I had been using previously were doing a wonderful job of distracting myself from my real feelings. My issues will always re-occur if I don’t go there and address them (and love them) so I’ve replaced my meditation mantras with guided mediations that enable me to better care for myself. MSC meditation is the door that opens and allows me to step into my feelings.Once I acknowledge them with a dose of self-kindess I feel better able to embrace the day.
I’ve realised that if I want to experience something different, I have to be willing to try something different and I would recommend a daily dose of meditation as a first step to feeling some inner change. Do you already meditate? If not, give it a try this week and see how it feels. More about this next week. xxxx