Practicing Self Compassion

“Once we are honest about our feelings, we can invite ourselves to consider alternative modes of viewing our pain and can see that releasing our grip on anger and resentment can actually be an act of self-compassion.” 

― Sharon Salzberg

 
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The three elements of self-compassion: 

from the center for mindful self-compassion

Kindness

Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

 

Common Humanity 

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Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is vulnerable and imperfect.  Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.  By recognizing our essential humanity, therefore, failings and life difficulties do not have to be taken so personally, but can be acknowledged with non-judgmental compassion and understanding.

 

Mindfulness

Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.  This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

 

The RAIN of Self-Compassion

by Tara Brach

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In order to unfold, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. This compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. Yet when we’ve gotten stuck in the trance of unworthiness, it often feels impossible to arouse self-compassion.

To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I like to share a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion. The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps: Recognize what is going on; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion. You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps whenever challenging feelings arise.

R—Recognize What’s Going On Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us. Like awakening from a dream, the first step out of the trance of unworthiness is simply to recognize that we are stuck and subject to painfully constricting beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. Common signs of the trance include a critical inner voice, feelings of shame or fear, the squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body. Recognizing can be a simple mental whisper, noting what has come up.

A—Allow the Experience to be There, Just as It Is Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there, without trying to fix or avoid anything. When we’re caught in self-judgment, letting it be there doesn’t mean we agree with our conviction that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the arising of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath. Many students I work with support their resolve to pause and let be by silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to themselves. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper, Yes, or It’s ok, in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.

I—Investigate with Interest and Care Once we have recognized and allowed what is arising, we can deepen our attention through investigation. To investigate, call on your natural curiosity - the desire to know truth - and direct a more focused attention to your present experience. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? What am I believing? What does this vulnerable place want from me? What does it most need? Whatever the inquiry, your investigation will be most transformational if you step away from conceptualizing and bring your primary attention to the felt-sense in the body. When investigating, it is essential to approach your experience in a non-judgmental and kind way. This attitude of care helps create a sufficient sense of safety, making it possible to honestly connect with our hurts, fears and shame.

N—Nurture with Self-Compassion Self-compassion begins to naturally arise in the moments that we recognize we are suffering. It comes into fullness as we intentionally nurture our inner life with selfcare. To do this, try to sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need. Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship? Of love? Experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to comfort, soften or open your heart. It might be the mental whisper, I’m here with you. I’m sorry, and I love you. I love you, and I’m listening. It’s not your fault. Trust in your goodness.

In addition to a whispered message of care, many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; or by envisioning being bathed in or embraced by warm, radiant light. If it feels difficult to offer yourself love, bring to mind a loving being - spiritual figure, family member, friend or pet - and imagine that being’s love and wisdom flowing into you.

When the intention to awaken self-compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture of turning towards love, of offering love - even if initially it feels awkward - will nourish your heart.


Learning to hold our own lives with a gentle compassion is a key element in all emotional healing and spiritual awakening. This two part series explores the suffering of being at war with ourselves and the pathway to freeing our hearts.

 

The Healing Power of Self-Compassion: Part 1

The Healing Power of Self-Compassion: Part 2

 
 

Writing Practice:

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How would you treat a friend?

by Dr. Kristen Neff

  1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.

  2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.

  3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?

  4. Write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.

 

The power of vulnerability

You have likely already bumped into Brene Brown and her wisdom around vulnerability, but she is worth tuning in to again….

 

Self-Compassion & Creativity

with Elizabeth Gilbert

Two of my favourite Elizabeth Gilbert talks feel like a great fit here… both have a ton of learned wisdom around compassion and creativity. Enjoy!

Trusting Your Heart

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Today your painting looks one way, and tomorrow it changes...

I can't tell you how many of my paintings have what seem to be several complete paintings underneath their final layers. During the years where my dining room also played the role of art studio, my family would joke, question and sometimes lament the dramatic turns my paintings would take in their process of coming to life.

And to be completely honest, so did I on more than one occasion. The practice of non-attachment is real in an intuitive, spirit-led approach to creative expression.

Sometimes the practice is to trust when you are feeling an inner nudge to let something go that you have fallen in love with, and sometimes our intuition leads us beyond our initially uncomfortable layers towards something that I can only attempt to understand as a more healed expression of the layers beneath.

Either way, our work is to neither attach ourselves to the parts we love, nor the parts that create discomfort, but to let our intuition to lead the way towards our next temporary destination.

What is your image asking for next?

 

Painting Review

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* Strengthen and open the lines the face, opening each sense mindfully as you do this process, using a synthetic liner brush and 1, usually darker, paint colour. Use the same process if you are painting a different image, to bring back some of the lines that may have been softened during the dry-brush process, bringing awareness to the 'waking up' of your image.

* Continue strengthening and bringing back lines throughout your painting, giving new definition and life to your image.

* Add images of symbols and helpers using the techniques used until now, beginning with using a small round brushes to draw in the outline.

* Fill in using the dry brush technique, and remembering to leave a glow

* If desired, for larger additions, you may also want to use 3 tones to add dimension to the new images. This is not always necessary since sometimes the additions may be simpler in contrast to the main imagery in your painting.