These days it seems as if every website, book, and podcast is encouraging self-compassion as a path to inner freedom and peace. And rightly so. Showering yourself with loving kindness will surely make you feel better, no matter what’s ailing your body, mind, or spirit. The problem is, how exactly do you do it?
While self-compassion may include physical self-care, like eating healthily and exercising, it goes far beyond that. Those wonderfully supportive habits build resilience and stamina to navigate life’s vicissitudes; but, when emotional distress is flooding every cell of your body-mind you want reliable calming techniques that work quickly.
Some of the deepest self-compassionate behaviors require a fair amount of practice before they naturally show up during stressful events. It’s almost like learning a new language, a vocabulary of self-care. Since so much of that inner work benefits from repetition, the sooner you start, the sooner you reap the rewards of being able to self-center in challenging times.
Alleviating emotional storms often comes down to using techniques that will reliably derail your sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response. Nothing is as easily available as the breath. Learning to breathe deeply allows you to switch from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). You can find an array of breath practices on this site under Breath Work. By consciously befriending your breath, you instinctively breathe more slowly and deeply in stressful situations. But, self-compassion is far more than learning new ways of breathing. It runs the gamut from the most basic life skills to the deepest spiritual practices. The following is a partial list of compassionate behaviors which I will add to as I think of new ways to steep yourself in loving kindness.
Allow whatever is true for you in this moment, no matter how odious and how strong your urge to flee from it like from a rabid dog.
Actually staying with what is is far harder than it sounds. When every cell in your body is crying out for relief it takes a boatload of courage to abide with what may be extreme emotional, spiritual, or physical pain. Yet, that is exactly what will move you through it faster.
Talk to yourself. Figure out what you would most like to hear in this moment. It might even help to write it down and read your thoughts out loud. Read them again, and again, until you feel them taking root.
Notice your breath. Don’t try to control it, just notice it, and allow it to be exactly as it is. The length, shallowness, depth, pace, temperature, where you can feel it in your body as you inhale and exhale, how it disperses through you, and anything else that captures your attention. Not only does this center your mind by giving it something tangible on which to focus, it actually alters you physically.
Remind yourself that life can change in an instant, and often does. Everything from ecstasy to misery will pass.
There are no bad thoughts or feelings, just whatever comes up.
Access that deep place in you, your essence, where everything is OK in spite of the turmoil disturbing your peace at the moment.
Repeat Louise Hay’s favorite affirmation: “Everything is happening for my highest good,” and give yourself the gift of believing it.
Work with a therapist to heal past trauma that might be blocking your path to self-compassion.
Develop a yoga and meditation practice to help calm you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Practice Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds. Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient Japanese healing art that can be learned in seconds. The finger holds offer incredibly simple and amazingly effective ways to calm you, whether your stress is from anxiety, grief, anger, or other unpleasant emotions. An excellent site to explore is: http://jsj-holds.blogspot.com/
Envision how you would like to handle this feeling, situation, or physical condition. Ask yourself: “What could I change right now to bring me closer to that ideal?”
You may want to cultivate what I have come to call my Inner Dharma Teacher (IDT). This is your inner repository of love, kindness, patience, curiosity, intuition, nurturing, innate wisdom, and experience you can access by consciously calling on it for support when life is being especially challenging. It really doesn’t matter what the difficulty is because anything you find threatening wants to be soothed and reassured that you can cope. The more you access your IDT, the more it will be there for you when the need arises.
Partners, friends, family, teachers, clergy, and therapists can only do so much. At some point, it is a question of what have you digested and incorporated into who you are so you can call up self-compassion in all its forms when needed.
(Here is a great new YouTube meditation from Kristen Neff on the yang of self-compassion, yin’s fierce sibling: https://youtu.be/4GQl4FiISiQ)
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang