This week’s theme is Self-Compassion as Self-Care. I had the honor of talking about this topic with a group of high school seniors. To those of us who are way past that age, how might your life have been different if this topic was shared with you at that time in your life? I know my talk won’t be a life changer, but that’s not the point. Encouraging these young people and you to engage in this topic is about planting a seed, a seed I planted only a handful of years ago. Once the seed is planted, then it can germinate. This week is about helping you to plant this seed. I will share bits of my workshop in the style of social media posts. May it inspire you to care for your entire being – heart, body and mind – with compassion.
I love this quote from Kristin Neff because it reflects the essence of self-compassion. We live in a society where many of us have the “not enough” syndrome. Whether that is the sense of not being good enough, the impulse to be more, do more or have more in order to feel good enough. We live in a society that monetizes this syndrome. So cultivating self-compassion is a radical act. It is a means to free ourselves from our inner captor by calling on our inner ally.
For many of us, myself included, our inner ally is in need of nurturing. This is where prioritizing the practice of self-compassion becomes radical. We decide to stand up for our well-being within ourselves. And when we begin to genuinely shift from criticism to compassion for ourselves, from captor to liberator, we begin to shift how we engage with others, too. We begin to see how our lives, their lives, have been co-opted by institutions that thrive off of the inner captor. Self-compassion as self-care is a radical act of prioritizing the well-being of ourselves AND of others. Let’s be radical!
In order to flourish in our lives, we need to nourish our inner lives. Self-care is a deliberate act of purposefully paying attention to our well-being in the present moment. This is Mindfulness! This quote by Nedra Glover Tawwab encourages us to set boundaries with that inner captor, with the world that teaches us to do more, be more and never feel enough.
Here’s a radical idea – Taking Care of Yourself Is Productive! Part of the work of self-compassion as self-care is about perspective shifting. Shifting from “busy = success and enoughness” to “self-care = success and enoughness.” One way we can practice this perspective shift is by finding time each day to ask these 3 questions.
Self-Care Check-In Practice
- How am I at this moment (mentally, physically, emotionally)
- What do I need to take care of myself?
- What action can I take to fulfill this need?
As we engage genuinely with these questions, we practice listening to ourselves, trusting ourselves, and acting on behalf of ourselves. For many of us, this is a radical shift. So get radical!
Kristen Neff’s recent book Fierce Self-Compassion is a must read!! Her work in the field of self-compassion blew up the myths that weakness and self-indulgence once (and sometimes still) associated with this essential human quality. Self-compassion is NOT passive; it is an active practice. When we begin to care for ourselves like we would our friends and loved ones, we begin to nurture our inner lives. This self-care also nourishes us so that we can flourish. This is the tender side of self-compassion.
Simultaneously, we tap into the fierce side of self-compassion when we stand up for ourselves rather than pushing ourselves down. We stay with ourselves during the struggle, strife, and stress. We DO NOT abandon ourselves. Self-compassion empowers and energizes our inner ally to advocate for our self-care AND the care of others.
As we begin to be kinder and more supportive of ourselves, we become better at setting boundaries, at speaking up for ourselves, at trusting in ourselves to know what is best for us. I think self-compassion is a superpower! It takes the power away from the inner bully.
Self-Compassion Meditation (5 minutes)
Mindfulness is at the heart of both self-compassion and self-care. Remember the first self-care check-in question: How am I at this moment? Mindfulness is bringing attention to your present experience without judgment or overreaction. When we are mindful, we are with the experience just as it is. And when it comes to self-compassion practice, we are aware of our present struggle, stress or pain with tenderness and kindness. We stay with ourselves. This inspires us to move onto the next self-care question – What do I need to take care of myself? Or, what is most helpful to me at this moment?
In order to bring mindfulness into the movement of our daily lives, it’s helpful to take time to practice. One common way is to focus on an anchor like the breath to cultivate both concentration and present moment awareness. As we tend to our breath, we begin to befriend ourselves in the moment. This is especially helpful when we are struggling or stressed.
Here’s a brief description to get you started or you can listen to the 5 minute meditation below.
- Notice where you feel the breath most easily.
- Rest your attention there.
- To support your concentration:
- Label the breath “in/out”
- Count the breath cycles up to 5
- Place your hand on your chest and follow the rise and fall
- Your mind will wander, that’s normal! When you notice this, gently guide it back.
- As you tend to your breath, you begin to see what is happening within you. This is how you begin to befriend.
Mindfulness of Breath (5 minutes)
Listen! Your body is trying to tell you something. Too often, we ignore the signals for rest, rejuvenation, connection and care. We put off getting to bed or taking that walk or reaching out to a friend. And then we find ourselves on empty – frazzled, overwhelmed, exhausted. The stressors that were once manageable push us over the edge.
Self-care is a practice. It is not something we do when we no longer have gas in the tank. It is finding ways to care for ourselves everyday to keep the tank close to full. What are some ways you do this, or try to do this? What prevents you from consistently caring for yourself? What can you say “no” to in order to say “yes” to your well-being today?
Reminder: Taking care of yourself is productive; it is compassionate action.
I love Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. The friendship between these four beings fills the heart with tenderness.
I am several days late on the last two days of this Week of Awakening. This is because I needed to be radical with my self-care. I think it’s important to be reminded that we all have struggles regardless of how we present ourselves. We all are in need of care, compassion and connection. This is the human experience; we share this common humanity.
Common humanity or connectedness is a significant part of self-compassion. When we are suffering we can easily isolate and personalize. We believe the thought that something is wrong with us or that we are alone in this suffering. Common humanity reminds us this thought is not factual. Everyone experiences difficult times. It is NOT a personal flaw. While this recognition doesn’t take away the suffering, it can lessen it by helping us get some perspective. In other words, when we acknowledge that our suffering is a human experience not just my experience, then we can let go a bit of the flaw perspective.
“A Person Just Like Me” Practice:
- Bring to mind someone you engage with online but really do not know well or at all.
- Notice any thoughts, emotions or physical sensations that arise when you think of this person. Notice without judgment, just let them be there.
- Now with this person in mind, contemplate a few things.
- This person is a human being, just like me.
- This person has a body and mind, just like me.
- This person has thoughts, feelings, and emotions, just like me.
- This person has experienced sadness, disappointment, anger, hurt or confusion, just like me.
- This person wishes to be free from pain and unhappiness, just like me.
- This person wishes to be safe, healthy. happy and loved, just like me.
- Notice how your body feels. Notice if how you feel or perceive this person has shifted. Notice if how you feel or perceive about yourself in relation to this person has shifted.
How would you treat a friend? Exercise:
- Think about a time when a close friend of yours was struggling in some way. Replay the situation in your mind recalling how both you and your friend felt. Now, recall how you responded to your friend – the words, the tone, the body language.
- Now recall a time recently when you felt bad about yourself or you were struggling (perhaps you are right now). How did you or do you respond to yourself – noting the words, tone and body language.
- Notice if there is a difference between how you responded to your friend and how you responded to yourself. What was different? Why is it different?
- What would change if you responded to yourself when suffering just like you would to your friend?
When we take a little time to explore how we respond to ourselves in times of struggle or suffering, we can gain great insight into our relationship to our lived experiences. Too often we have internalized the belief that bullying or berating ourselves motivates us to change. This sadistic response to our pain is the antithesis of compassion and increases the suffering. We abandon, abuse, alienate, bully, beat up ourselves for being human. Why? Because we have not learned how to hold our pain with friendliness, love, care and support.
The great news is that we can begin to change this now! As we bring compassion to our suffering, we begin to change our relationship. With lots and lots of practice, we begin to call upon our inner ally to help us move through our suffering. The words and tone we use to encourage and support ourselves just like we would a friend is essential. This is self-kindness.
Take a moment and contemplate the words or phrase that would make you feel supported, encouraged, loved, appreciated, worthy, or lovable. Let this be your your inner ally’s kindness mantra in times of struggle or suffering.
Bringing all of this together, you can take a self-compassion break whenever you need to call upon your inner ally. This can be done quickly or stretched out into a longer sitting. I have done this practice many times and in all types of places from my bedroom to a public bathroom stall. Below you will find some phrases you can use to bring you through the self-compassion practice. You can also follow the guided meditation.