I love you and I love me!
How being compassionate to yourself and others enhances your wellbeing. And how learning to tame and tend to your “inner critic” will be beneficial to your well being too.
“The real shift in consciousness for me is to accept myself just the way I am in this moment. The doorway into change is the ability to be able to sit compassionately and empathetically with what is happening” (Kevin McEvenue, Dancing the path of the mystic (2002)
And Carl Rogers adds: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.
All the great traditions have compassion for self and others at their core. The Dali Lama says: “ if you want others to be happy practice compassion, if you want to be happy practice compassion”
Compassion is included in the MtM program because often people are not very kind to themselves or sometimes others. It is worth reflecting on how kind we are to others and ourselves so we can lift our awareness. We can also cultivate self compassion by practicing ‘loving kindness’ meditations.
Compassion comes from the word sympathise.
When you feel compassion for others:
- You notice someone else’s suffering and you have a wish to relieve it or take some action
- Your heart goes out to them, for example recognising “that must be hard”. You are with them, because they are human just like you. You share a common humanity. This could have been you.
- You are connected in some way and you are present to them and deeply aware of their suffering.
Empathy on the other hand is slightly different.
When you feel empathy for others:
- You identify with and understand the person’s situation, feelings, and motives.
- You can sense into another person’s world “as if” you were that other person and imagine how that would feel.
- Empathy is the gateway to compassion http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/compassion-is-an-action-not-an-emotion
One of the greatest gifts we can give someone else is to just be with them with presence and care and empathy and compassion.
Self-compassion however, means having a loving connected presence to the things we find inside, especially our negative thoughts or our unpleasant feelings or sensations
Compassion researcher and expert, Dr. Kristin Neff suggests there are three elements of self-compassion:
- “Self-kindness: showing warmth and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
- Common humanity: 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.
- Mindfulness: the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity and without judgment, so that they are held in mindful awareness.” ( selfcompassion.org )
In the Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Christopher Germer, PhD confirms this by stating, “self-compassion is the practice of repeatedly evoking good will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering—cultivating the same desire that all living beings have to live happily and free from suffering.” He also writes that; “mindful self-compassion can be learned by anyone.”
- Are you good at self-compassion or like a lot of people do you sometimes find it difficult?
- Are you tough on yourself if for example you make a mistake?
- Can you feel compassion for others but you are not so good a showing yourself kindness?
- Do you think if you are too kind to yourself that will make you soft?
- When you make a mistake, what do you say to yourself?
- Does your ‘inner critic’ pop its head up to berate you? (See more on the “inner critic’ in the next chapter.
If you do any of these things it would be helpful to learn to show yourself some self-compassion. We are born with the ability to be compassionate. All mammals nurture their young with warmth and touch and some sort of soothing – stroking or soft words or cooing. We know how to be compassionate to others and our self. We can value compassion and we can cultivate it.
One of the best ways to do this is to practice loving kindness meditations. You can download a great free app called “Insight Timer” or pay for the paid version and just search “loving kindness meditation” and experiment with different ones and bookmark the ones you like. Any of the voices you like you will be able to Google their websites. Kristen Neff has some free meditations on her website www.selfcompassion.org and Sharon Salzburg http://www.sharonsalzberg.com has some interesting material on loving kindness meditations.
When people meditate, they spend less time in the part of the brain that ruminates. When we ruminate we often get into looping thoughts about something we think might happen. We get stuck in this story even though it is not really happening. If we can become mindful and aware we can notice that we are stuck in made up thoughts and we can do something else. We can reframe and normalise and use grounding and breathing and sound mindfulness practices to help ourselves get unstuck.
Meditation can quieten our minds and self-compassion meditations can reduce rumination. This helps us to be less anxious. Compassion exercises also increase that part of the brain associated with compassion and empathy. This can enhance our resilience. Resilience is the ability to push through. Resilience can be defined as “achieving a positive outcome in the face of adversity” Bruce McEwen Recognizing resilience: Learning from the effects of stress on the brain http://www.rockefeller.edu/labheads/mcewen/mcewen-lab.php
When we are aware we can notice the toxic thought and hold it with love (and if not love, then at least with curiosity). When we are mindful we can do this in a wholehearted or if you like heart full way.
When we meditate, we become more able to be in our bodies. When we can be in our bodies we can notice when we go into hyper arousal. And then we can settle ourselves by noticing and using for example breath or a mindfulness mediation as an anchor.
Whatever you are thinking you are always more than those thoughts. Once we are aware of our thoughts and feelings and sensations we can ‘let things be’ as they are with acceptance or we can ‘let go’ of our emotions or thinking or we can “let in” self compassion and forgiveness. We can also deliberately pause when good things happen and take in the good and let it fill us up and enrich us and really feel it and absorb it and finally be grateful for it. We just need to practice doing these things. This helps us grow inner resources for dealing with the challenges that come our way.
Ann Weiser Cornell www.focusingresources.com suggests being “self in presence” is a way of being where we are gentle and friendly and compassionate and curious with the things we find. We allow and acknowledge our feelings and turn towards them and this gives our emotions what they need so they can transform. Not feeling our feelings doesn’t work and becoming completely overwhelmed also doesn’t help. Ann suggests ‘self in presence’ will allow us to know we are bigger than our feelings and once we do this they are not all of us.
Once they are not all of us, we can be beside them and turn towards them and keep them company and for most people just doing that much creates an easing. Ann goes on to say that just accepting our feelings is not enough. Focusing does more by allowing us to come into relationship with the things we find and this can allow us to move the situation forward. For example you could ask yourself how can I be with this? Can I be patient, interested, curious, kind, tender, or compassionate?
Maybe you can ask how does it need you to be with it?
Next time you find yourself not being kind to yourself or others:
- Pause, so you can respond and not react. You can also use aspirations and affirmations and loving kindness mantras
- When you are stressed you can hold an image of someone you deeply love. It is hard to be negative and positive at the same time.
In addition, focusing also allows us to turn towards and be with our painful emotions. In this way, we are neither turning away and ignoring or dropping into our emotions and becoming completely overwhelmed.
Next time you notice an attitude towards yourself that is less than friendly try saying ‘hello’ to it and give it space to be there.
The MORE than MINDFULNESS program gives student skills to tame and tend to their “inner critic” by being compassionately with these critical parts.