What is self-compassion?

 

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Simply put, self-compassion is treating ourselves in the same way we treat a good friend.

Maintaining a good quality friendship requires us to do a few things… to pay attention to our friend, to be kind to our friend and to see ourselves as equally important.

Would you enjoy the friendship of someone who never called you, was always critical of you and saw themselves as better than you? What about someone who avoided you, was scared of you and felt inferior to you? In either case, very difficult to maintain a genuine friendship.

Now imagine the friend who is always there for you, who always supports you; someone with whom you have a lot in common. Easy to be their friend, right? Not just rewarding and fun, but genuine friendship often brings out the best in both people.

Imagine if we could befriend ourselves in the same way? This is self-compassion, and like having a good friendship with someone else, relating well to ourselves also brings out the best in us.

“By practising self-compassion regularly, we can
turn a harsh inner critic into a supportive inner coach.”

Sometimes, when we need help, having someone on your own side can be incredibly supportive. But what happens when we find that our friends are busy or not available to us? The one person we can count on being there for us 24/7 is ourself.

So cultivating self-compassion, the ability to be on our own side with kindness and understanding, is one of the most important tools we can learn in life, and is a major factor in our wellbeing, confidence and resilience. And when we feel well and happy, we can be more available to be better friends to others, too.

The good news is, our current level of self-compassion is not a done deal. It can be cultivated.

The reflection exercise Being a friend to myself is a great way to gain some insight into our habits around self-compassion.

 

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Content gratefully adapted from the Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Training Course. Lyndi is a graduate of this course, based on the work of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. Find out more or register for an MSC course in Brisbane.

Self-care break

We all need to stop from time to time and recharge our batteries. Here’s a practical, 3-min self-care exercise that can decrease stress and increases self-awareness, self-compassion and resilience.

This practice uses the acronym S.N.A.C.K.

S is for Stop and self-care. Permission to stop. We can lift our eyes from our screens, perhaps looking at something soothing like the view out of a window, a plant or a family photo. In this phase, we can investigate a soothing touch… placing a hand on the heart or belly, rubbing the arm, hugging ourselves – whatever feels reassuring.

Once we’ve found our soothing touch, we can appreciate this for a moment. Taking in the warmth from that contact or the comforting sensations from the reassuring rub.

Now we can begin taking soothing breaths. Long, easy breaths… exhaling fully on the out-breath… encouraging a sense of letting go. Tuning into the nourishing quality of the in-breath, the way the body naturally energises itself with oxygen.

N is for Notice. Noticing physical sensations… for example, tuning into the feeling of the earth supporting our feet and legs. Or the seat supporting our weight. Noticing emotions… how are we feeling? A bit anxious, irritated? Bored? Where do we feel this in the body? And noticing thoughts. I’m noticing a thought as I type of, “I hope I’m expressing this practice well!”

A is for Acceptance. As best we can, accepting whatever we feel. We can express this silently to ourselves with a phrase like, “It’s okay to feel this.” Choosing words that fit for us. Even if we’re feeling resistance towards a certain feeling, seeing if we can accept the resistance.

C is for Common humanity. We all feel this way at times. It can be a real relief to remember we’re not alone. Expressing this silently to ourselves, with a phrase like, “Everyone feels like this from time to time,” or whatever words feel right.

K is for Kindness. No matter what life throws at us, no matter how many mistakes we make, we can benefit from treating ourselves with kindness. Perhaps reminding ourselves with a phrase like, “May I be kind to myself in this moment.”

Finally, resting in this sense of kindness, or our soothing touch. Taking a few soothing breaths to complete.

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Many people find that this short practice, which can take just 90 seconds, helps them to pause the accumulation of stress and generate a sense of warmth, acceptance positivity and friendliness that is very motivating.

Just now, as I did this, I experienced a familiar feeling of anxiety and thoughts like, “I’ve got so much to do today! Should I really be blogging?” The practice helped me normalise this and not take it so seriously. Now I have a smile on my face, and though my workload hasn’t decreased, I feel good about continuing and the anxious feeling has subsided somewhat.

Taking a break like this might highlight further needs, like physical or social needs. Maybe we notice we’re feeling stiff and need to stretch, maybe drink some water, or that we feel like talking to someone.

It can be beneficial to drop any expectation that this practice will definitely ‘make us feel good’. It might be that the practice allows us to tune into unpleasant emotions that weren’t so obvious before. Here, we can lean into the acceptance, common humanity and kindness phases. The point isn’t to make us feel good. The point is to get in touch with what is real, acknowledge it and be friendly and kind to ourselves with whatever we’re experiencing.

You can find a guided audio for this practice on the meditation app Aura Health.

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Recently, Lulu Cook and I led this practice for Mind With Heart with hundreds of attendees at conferences with amazing mental health charities Standby and Roses In The Ocean, to help support everyone’s self-care on the day.

If you’re regularly noticing unpleasant emotions and feeling a bit stuck, you might want to get more help with this. Lifeline and Beyond Blue operate helplines in Australia 24/7. If you’re in another country, The Samaritans are an international charity offering emotional support to anyone in crisis.

Please call me by my true names

 

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A contemplation for ANZAC Day.

This day commemorates the loss of lives of thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, who were dropped off in the Turkish sea in the wrong place and, left prone to enemy forces, were slaughtered.

How to contemplate

Traditionally, we sit quietly for a few moments before beginning a contemplation, to allow the mind to settle.

Then we begin reading.

From time to time, we pause and reflect on what we have read and how it relates to our lives.

Some questions for contemplation are suggested below.

Contemplations are designed to challenge our fixed ways of seeing things. Sometimes they touch our soft spots or provoke our emotions. This is quite normal. It is suggested you take care of yourself during this process. If you find yourself feeling triggered, please drop the contemplation and do what you need in order to be kind to yourself.

 

Please Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

 

Questions for reflection:

You might like to let the words of the poem sink into you first, and see what thoughts and questions naturally arise.

When using questions for reflection, it is suggested you pause every now and again, drop the reflecting, and rest the mind.

—What is meant by still arriving? Which parts of you are still arriving?

—How can we be both the mayfly and the bird eating the mayfly?

—”We all have the capacity to hurt and be hurt.” When is this true for you?

—Can you remember a time you felt angry? In what ways were you suffering, in that moment? How can anger cause suffering to the one feeling the anger?

—Can you remember a time someone annoyed you? How did it feel? Could you feel compassion for the annoying one, their ignorance and suffering?

—If we live in safety, satisfaction and feeling connected to others, we are statistically less likely to cause harm. In what ways does our lack of safety, satisfaction and connection guide our thoughts and actions?

—Imagine living in a place which is unsafe, and constantly under attack. Imagine the people around you are at risk daily from losing their lives. Would it be compassionate to fight?Would it be compassionate not to fight?

—In Hacksaw Ridge, a Christian soldier refuses to carry arms. He is willing to serve in the army as a medic, non-violently. He is imprisoned by the army for this. Eventually he is sent to war, unarmed, and saves the lives of many, many wounded soldiers, on both sides. Can you remember a time you stood up for your principles like this?

—Imagine carrying a weapon and pledging to serve and protect, like the police. Could you shoot a person who was about to murder hundreds more? What would make this an act of compassion?

—Some people grow up in extreme poverty, without feeling safe. As citizens, neighbours, social workers, teachers, police officers, what is our duty to help people in this situation, so that many more ‘pirates’ do not emerge in society?

—How do we help those who are threatened, dissatisfied, disconnected?

—Can we help another without truly understanding?

—If we can accept and work with our own anger, how might this help us accept and work with the anger of others?

—Where is the dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’?

—In what ways do we contribute to the wellbeing of others? In what ways have others contributed to our wellbeing?

These themes can evoke strong compassion in us. Can you feel a sense of compassion now? How does it feel, in your body? What thoughts and feelings do you notice? You might like to take a moment to soothe your feelings, or offer yourself some kindness.

What compassionate wish do you have for yourself, your feelings and actions?

What compassionate wish do you have for others, their feelings and actions?

Traditionally, we close a contemplation practice by dropping any reflections and sitting quietly, resting the mind for a few minutes.

What arose for you?

Further reading: Monk and Nobel Peace Prize winner Thich Nhat Hanh’s explanation of how he came to write this poem, in response to hundreds of letters.

Befriending stress

Let Go

 

When we feel stressed, we can feel very uncomfortable…

…and there is often another secret struggle happening. The resisting or fighting of our experience. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the second arrow’.

BAM! The first arrow of suffering lands… something happens that triggers our feelings of stress.

BAM! The second arrow of suffering… we fight feeling this way.

So how can we work with this?

First comes awareness, we actually have to notice that we are feeling stressed. This means paying ourselves attention, with kindness. It can help to make a regular habit of checking in with ourselves and taking time to ask, “How am I feeling right now?”

How to form this habit? Try setting a timer on your phone, or using an app like Mindfulness Bell or Aura to ring randomly. We can also anchor check-ins to a daily activity, like ‘every time I take a drink of water’. Whatever works for you!

Second comes acceptance… telling ourselves it’s okay to feel like this, and breathing out, letting go of resistance and struggle.

We can use the breath to help trigger our relaxation response in this way… breathing in acceptance of our feelings, breathing out and letting go of struggle. Continuing at our own pace, in our own time, for several minutes.

There’s a guided practice of Befriending Stress, to coach us through these phases and transform our experience of stress, on my Aura channel, You Unlimited.

Would love to hear how you go with this, or any other tips you have on befriending stress!

Relaxed and alert

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In mindfulness practice, like most things, we are looking for balance.

Too drowsy, and our mind will be prone to daydreaming, a kind of zombie-state. If we are too alert, we will find our minds busy, agitated and even anxious.

There’s a traditional story of a musician who is frustrated in his meditation practice. He either falls asleep or concentrates so hard he gives himself a headache. So he goes to visit the Buddha and asks for his advice.

The Buddha says, “Well, weren’t you a vinaya player before you started meditating? A vinaya is a stringed instrument, like a guitar.

“Yes,” said the musician.

“And how did you get the best sound out of your vinaya?” asked the Buddha, “When the strings were very tight or when they were very loose?”

“Neither,” said the vinaya player, “When they had just the right tension —neither too tight or too loose.”

“Well,” said the Buddha, “It’s the same with your mind.”

And the musician understood.

Sounds like good advice for most things in life, neither too tight or too loose, doesn’t it?

So how do we balance these two, practically?

1. Create the conditions to support us feeling both relaxed and awake.

In the morning, if we wake up feeling sleepy, we might need to stretch, take a shower and have a coffee before we practice. Personally, I enjoy qi gong (like tai chi) as a way to get my body, breath and energy flowing before I sit.

In the evening, some people find that after 9pm, they feel drowsy and don’t concentrate so well. So it might be better to reschedule practice to earlier in the day, maybe when we get home from home, for instance.

Going outside in the fresh air can also help. Some practitioners I know drive to the park for a practice, on the way home.

2. Exploring the feelings of sleepiness or alertness. Rather than resisting, we can bring a kind attention and a spirit of inquiry into our experience.

Where in the body do you feel sleepy or alert? Is it warm or cold? Heavy or light? Moving or still? Tense or relaxed? Pleasant or unpleasant? Do these sensations change or stay the same?

What thoughts do you notice about these feelings?

Noticing what is actually happening and its component parts can help us engage with the feelings, without fusing with them.

3. Adjusting the breath, posture and eye gaze in practice can also help.

As we practise mindfulness meditation, it can be good to check in with ourselves and ask if we feel too relaxed or too alert.

If we feel dull or sleepy, opening the eyes, or even lifting the gaze can help. As well as straightening the spine and increasing the sense of uprightness in the posture. It can also help to focus slightly more attention on the in-breath. The heart rate accelerates as we breathe in, so this is naturally energising. You might also like to breathe in through the nostrils, which can have the affect of alerting us.

If we feel anxious or agitated, closing the eyes or lowering the gaze can help. As well as checking that the posture is comfortable and relaxed. You might like to ‘ground’ yourself, spending a few minutes feeling into sensations of contact between yourself and your seat or the floor. Focusing slightly more attention on the out-breath can also help, as well as exhaling through the mouth, with a sense of letting go.

Like everything, to find what feels natural can involve a little trial-and-error.

Here’s a guided practice of Relaxed and Alert to help you, on my Aura channel.