If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
We all suffer. It's a universal human experience. And yet,so often, when we experience painful times our initial response is to try to change it, solve the problem, change someone else's behaviour, fix it, or deny it. Paradoxically, these responses tend to increase the pain we're already experiencing.
There is a different way. And that way lies in a compassionate response to our own suffering. Compassion is the heartfelt wish to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. Self compassion is this wish applied to yourself.
Many people find it easier to respond compassionately to someone else's suffering, than they do to respond compassionately to their own. When a good friend tells us about a difficulty they're experiencing, most of us will respond with care and concern, will try to comfort our friend, and perhaps share a time we were feeling a similar way, so she doesn't feel quite so alone.
With practice, this approach can be applied to your own struggles and it is profoundly comforting in times of difficulty.
Self compassion involves three aspects:
- Firstly you need to notice that you are suffering. This involves unhooking from the story behind it, and our efforts to make it different, and going below this to recognise the very simple fact that, right now, we are in pain.
- Secondly, you need to respond with care and compassion to your own pain, and for many people this is a very new way of responding to their own difficulties. This can be a very internalised response - for example, choosing to come back to your breath and body, again and again, instead of allowing our minds to run off on problem solving expeditions, or engage in self criticism for feeling the way that we're feeling, or it can be a very practical response - ringing a dear friend who we know will comfort us, turning towards our partner for soothing, booking a massage, prioritsing that yoga class, or walking in nature.
- And thirdly, it's helpful to recognise the universality of our pain. To be human is to experience a life that is messy, complex, sometimes confusing, and occasionally painful. You're not doing anything wrong, you don't need to fix anything, you're simply experience a very universal human emotion. We all experience painful times, even those shiny people who tend to look like they're living a perfect life.
Sometimes there are things in our lives that need changing, and that becomes apparent over time, and we can then choose to act wisely to bring about positive change in our lives. But so often we increase our own suffering with our unhelpful responses to painful experiences. And this is where self compassion becomes extremely valuable. It allows us to hold the inevitable difficulties of life with a degree of kindness, and to care for ourselves until these difficulties pass in their own time, which they inevitably do, or until we are better able to manage them when we're unable to change them.
A self compassion practice is a valuable part of living mindfully, and there are specific meditations that you can do to cultivate your capacity to respond with care and kindness to your own difficulties. I'll be sharing some of these practices in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer have both written books which provide some guidance on how to incorporate these sorts of practices into your life.
Have you heard of self-compassion, and have you tried any practices to help you adopt a compassionate approach to difficulties in your daily life?