daily practice, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, wellbeing

Why are Mindfulness & Self-Compassion so key to well-being?

The two wings of mindfulness and kindness will begin to open our heart to more connection with the world.”

Tara Brach

There is a well known story in mindfulness circles that when the Dalai Lama met with meditation practitioners and neuroscientists to research mindfulness he could not understand the Westerner experience of self hatred. Once he understood he was shocked, saying ‘this is very bad’ and prescribed to Western students of mindfulness to start with the practice of self-compassion (read more here).

…remember to put your trust in compassion and self-love. From this comes a shift of identity, a release from the covering of clay, a return to our original goodness.”

Jack Kornfield

It has certainly been my personal experience, and experience with clients, that if we learn mindfulness, without the self-compassion, we can be very harsh with ourselves, sometimes perfectionistic, as if there is a right way and a wrong way to do mindfulness (our reward focus for being ‘good’ in parenting and in schools has a lot to answer for!).

We can be so busy trying to be RIGHT, judging our experience, that we can make ourselves feel terrible in the meantime! I know this was my first experience of meditation at 15 when I joined my parents’ yoga class….I was so caught up in judging my breathing and fearing the teacher was judging my breathing that I felt as though I could barely breathe! Have you ever felt something similar?

When we first learn mindfulness we can use use all of our willpower to be in the present moment, and actively AVOID emotion and the whole light and shadow of our human experience….this often means that we wake up in the middle of the night with our brain wanting to process all that we avoided in the day. Sound familiar? I certainly experienced this after doing a MBSR course in 2011…I loved being in the present moment so much that I was blocking what needed to be processed…luckily I had a wise mindfulness teacher who could steer me in the direction of self-compassion…

Self-compassion involves the capacity to comfort and soothe ourselves, and to motivate ourselves with encouragement, when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion is learned in part by connecting with our innate compassion for others, and self-compassion also helps to grow and sustain our compassion for others.” Chris Germer (Read more here: https://chrisgermer.com/mindful-self-compassion-msctm/)

Mindfulness is the first step—turning with loving awareness toward difficult experience (thoughts, emotions, and sensations). Self-compassion comes next—bringing loving awareness to ourselves. Together, mindfulness and self-compassion comprise a state of warm, connected, presence during difficult moments in our lives.” Chris Germer

“Most of us feel compassion when a close friend is struggling. What would it be like to receive the same caring attention from yourself when you needed it most? All that’s required is a shift in attention—recognizing that as a human being, you, too, are a worthy recipient of compassion.” Chris Germer (read more here: https://chrisgermer.com/mindful-self-compassion-msctm/)

Self Compassion is the practice of noticing any inner self-judgement and instead holding yourself with warmth and friendliness, allowing and accepting all that is arising, not avoiding emotions/thoughts, or drowning in them, but instead welcoming them as useful information and taking action to provide some care for yourself. It can take years of daily practice (speaking from experience!) to be mindful in the present moment, often, yet it takes a lot more practice to hold ourselves with warmth and friendly support in those moments, especially those moments when we are particularly human, imperfect, messy and emotionally triggered.

“Whenever I notice something about myself I don’t like, or whenever something goes wrong in my life, I silently repeat the following phrases: This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”
― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

Kristin Neff https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

Learning and deepening my self-compassion practice has created a profound shift in how I nurture myself and allow for my messy imperfect experience (with still a lot of practice to go!!) and it can be a key focus in therapy to facilitate and support clients to meet ALL of their experience with compassion.

“Happiness is not dependent on circumstances being exactly as we want them to be, or on ourselves being exactly as we’d like to be. Rather, happiness stems from loving ourselves and our lives exactly as they are, knowing that joy and pain, strength and weakness, glory and failure are all essential to the full human experience.”
― Kristin Neff

So how compassionate are you towards yourself? I found this scale illuminating as I could see my progress so far and yet how far I still have to go! https://self-compassion.org/self-compassion-test/

Painful feelings are, by their very nature, temporary. They will weaken over time as long as we don’t prolong or amplify them through resistance or avoidance. The only way to eventually free ourselves from debilitating pain, therefore, is to be with it as it is. The only way out is through.”
― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

There is so much more to write and share about these two topics but I’ll end here – here are some resources to start with if you would like to explore more…

Some Self Compassion & Mindfulness Resources: