Cultivate Mindful Self-compassion (it’s the Secret Sauce that supports us)
*Photo: Spirit Island in Jasper National Park
I had a rocky introduction to the concept of self-compassion. I first learned of it through metta (loving kindness) practice. Often on retreat teachers end with some loving kindness for self and others. Traditionally this is done by reciting some pat phrases of intention:
May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy.
May I live with ease.
Given my history, these phrases did not sit well with me. I found them triggering. May I be safe? Are you kidding me? I don’t feel safe. I was in a car accident. I have abandonment issues (that started with 6 weeks in an incubator). May I be healthy? Yeah right. I have a brain injury. I’ve had chronic health problems since I was a teen, what’s the chance of me being healthy now? May I be happy? May I live with ease? Those two worked, I could sense into both of those.
I have heard that it can take time for the power of these phrases to work their magic. I get that my reaction to the phrases is hugely insightful, and they show me that there is more healing to be done. Still, I am happy that I have found some modifications to these traditional phrases that do work wonders for me.
I first encountered these alternatives in Chris Germer’s book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. I have since delved deeper into this via Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s richly supportive Mindful Self-compassion course and workbook. I highly recommend both of these resources.
As I read Germer’s book, which outlines a wide variety of alternative ways to offer myself compassion, I thought: this is the secret sauce that has been missing in my mindfulness practice. Turns out I’m not the only one who has had that exact same thought. After I had written the title to this post some time ago, I heard Shauna Shapiro talk about mindful self-compassion as the secret sauce in her book Good Morning I love You.
We all know that it is often so much easier to go through a hard time with a friend at our side to hold our hand and to talk us off the figurative ledge, to coo and calm us down. “It’s OK Jessie, this is really hard, but I am here for you.” Having this kind person there beside us listening and loving, helps us work through what is really going on. It gives us the strength to dive deeper.
There are three problems with relying on other people for compassion. One, sometimes a friend is just not around. Two, sometimes a friend is around but it is just so very hard to explain in the clunkiness of words exactly how we feel; try as they might, our loved ones often don’t really get it. Three, sometimes a friend tries to help, but they end up hindering. They tell us not to be so upset, or they don’t really listen and instead they just give advice. I should know, I too often give advice in my desperate desire to support my friends, when all they really need is my ears to listen and my loving arms around them, literally and/or figuratively.
But when we offer ourselves mindful self-compassion, we can 1, rely on ourselves any time of day, especially in the middle of the night (!) and 2, we don’t need to use language to get the meaning across. We just need to be brave enough to stop and listen and feel what is there. No one gets what we are really going through better than ourselves. And 3, we know exactly what we need to hear right now. “It’s OK Jess. This is so hard, but it won’t be like this forever.”
We can place our hands on our own hearts (this releases oxytocin, the love hormone). We can even stroke our own hearts from the inside, we can imagine holding our own hearts in our hands, with great love and care. We can give ourselves a hug. We can coo and calm and stroke ourselves in just the right ways. Mindful self-compassion offers us a kind friend (ourselves!) so that we are not alone when things get tough.
There’s more to say about how this beautiful practice can support concussion care, but for now, can you offer yourself some self-compassion in this very moment? Put your hand on your heart and feel the love and comfort flowing from you, and to you. What would you offer a friend who was struggling with a brain injury like you do? Can you offer yourself the same care? Yeah, right here, right now, even if it feels awkward. What do you need right now?