Talking about Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness comes easily to me, truly practicing them with open-heartedness, now that is tough part. I am very proud of my hard-working midwestern roots. “Work hard, be positive, don’t complain, be grateful, don’t upset the apple cart.” These are the messages I remember from my youth. They are not bad, they are great, they have allowed me to accomplish the goals I have set out to accomplish in my life. The gratitude has given me peace and grown my empathy and compassion skills for others. Where these messages have become difficult is when “don’t upset the apple cart” leaves me stricken with anxiety when needing to confront a conflict, and when I find myself complaining or feeling the opposite of positive and then feel overwhelmed with guilt and “shoulds” and shame.
It has taken me a long time to embrace that it is okay to not always be happy, that that is not me being selfish or being ungrateful. Also, that speaking my truth and disappointing others is also “okay”. While the latter doesn’t always feel so good, I find myself remembering this quote “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” And that song lyric “You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
So, what do I mean when I say “surrendering to the genuine practice of self-compassion and loving-kindness”? I mean not being so rigid in the belief systems from my youth that can leave me resisting and fighting truly feeling my feelings of anger, irritation, sadness, disappointment, resentment, and….you get the point, all those “negative” or “bad” feelings I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel. I’ve learned that I can feel them and not be self-destructive or lash out at others. I can incline with tenderness towards the difficult, uncomfortable, and painful feelings. One of my favorite ways to practice this is a self-compassion mindfulness meditation from Chris Germer called “Soften-Soothe- Allow”. (https://chrisgermer.com/meditations/)
Chris Germer says that by intentionally practicing soften-soothe-allow as a mantra or full meditation “we reverse the instinctive tendency of the body to resist and react to emotional discomfort. We also anchor our emotions in the body and transform them there.” This is not only a self-compassion practice, but a courageous practice. Below is an abbreviated version of what the three words encourage. I recommend checking out the full meditation at the link above.
Soften – into any sensations physical or emotional. Open up, create space, relax.
Soothe – practice words of encouragement and kindness to provide comfort to the pain.
Allow – the discomfort or challenge to be there.
I say it is courageous practice because I think of the dharma equation(s) Pain x Resistance = Suffering or Pain x Resistance = Destructive Emotions. This practice is all about slowing down, relaxing, and opening to allow the pain to be felt and not resisted. We then authentically move through the event or situation that caused pain, release our emotions, and heal and transform or grow. The key to this is that it is a “practice” not necessarily a state of constant being. There are protective factors in the resisting of painful emotions. For example, when moving through grief. There is shock and denial, and these stages or phases can be necessary to holding it together after a shattering loss. It is important to have the skills to regulate, tolerate, and be with painful emotions before jumping head first into them. So, remember the key to this practice is the loving-kindness and self-compassion which means no “shoulds” in terms of how you are supposed to do it. Pace yourself, your pace, and if it is too triggering or dysregulating, trust your inner wisdom (your gut) and stop.
As you learn to incline with tenderness towards your pain to heal and grow may this quote support you in that practice; Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of lovingkindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.” – Gautama Buddha