This is my life’s work: to again and again make a U-turn towards self-compassion. To clear with my machete the brush and the bramble of delusion, self-hatred, fear and suffering that blocks my path to self-love.
When I discovered this capacity within myself, my life changed. When I remember its power, I am truly free.
I call myself a self-care coach – people often find it a bit more tangible to focus on actions they can take: sticking to a morning routine, learning to meditate, making yoga a habit – you get the picture. Our mind loves action because it so easily distracts from the difficult work of being.
But if underneath all that self-caring, your capacity for self-compassion is nowhere to be found, tell me – what was the point? If you found all the external success in the world, but hate yourself on your death bed, would it all be worth it?
When you discover your ability to deeply care for and nurture yourself through your suffering, this is the only success that will matter. You realize no matter what happens to you, you will be okay because you have the inner resources to make sure of it.
Here are 5 of the practices I take to return to self-compassion again and again. If cultivating compassion for your self sounds like something you’d be interested in giving a try, I encourage you to keep reading and perhaps practice for yourself. Remember, this is a lifelong journey. That doesn’t mean you won’t potentially experience love for yourself immediately, but it will probably ebb and flow. The practice is to return to your intention again and again, without judgment. So intention is where we will begin…
1. Intend to Care for Yourself
The first step is often the hardest: getting clear on your intention to care for yourself. Why do you care? Or, if it’s easier, why do you want to care? Can you connect to that part of yourself that wants to care?
If loving yourself or even caring for yourself seems too far away right now, that’s okay. Is there at least a friendly curiosity to understand yourself more? Does part of you desire to treat yourself with ease and friendliness?
Perhaps you envision a Future Self – one who looks in the mirror and smiles. One who lives from a place of self-worth and embodied confidence, because she knows and loves who she is. One who authentically extends compassion to others, because she has already found it within.
Close your eyes and connect with your intention to experience ease towards yourself. If it helps, write it down to return to as you continue on your journey.
2. Witness Your Thoughts
Watch out, because this is where a lot of shame and unworthiness are liable to rear their ugly heads. As we set our intention to care, the Inner Critic can pop up with accusations of, “Who do you think you are to show yourself care and compassion?”
Working with the Inner Critic can be deeply healing. You can invite it to tea in your mind, and ask it what it’s so afraid of. And, if you haven’t yet, listen as I guide you through this visualization to meet your Future Self – this is your higher self, the one who will help you stand up to the Inner Critic. The more you attune to these different parts of yourself, the more you will be able to discern who is who as you notice your thoughts.
The next step is to observe your thoughts without identifying with them. One of the most earth-shattering lessons I ever learned was simply, “You are not your thoughts.” Whoa! My whole life I had thought that every single thing drifting through my mind came from me, was me, and was building toward the creation of my Self. Now I realize thoughts are a phenomenon of the mind – it’s the mind’s natural by-product. No one knows where they come from or where they go to – they blow about on the wind and pass away with no remains to speak of. And yet, left to our own devices with them, we will cling to them, obsess over them, use them as a means to see ourselves reflected and in control. We will build our houses on their shifting sands.
In my experience, meditation is the only way I see my thoughts, choose not to attach to them, and recognize they are separate from my Self. It takes all of our focus and attention to do this, so sitting in still silence is the most efficient way. Some of my students and clients have said to me, “I just can’t meditate. I can’t stop thinking!” Getting your mind to stop thinking is quite impossible while your brain is functioning. If that is how you define meditation, not one of us can “succeed”. Rather, commit to releasing your thoughts as they come – observing them with no judgment or attachment. Even if a particularly painful or negatively charged thought arises, recognize your separateness from it and your ability to watch it drift away.
3. Allow Your Experience
This brings us to the third step: allowing our experience to simply be what it is. Consider how much suffering arises when you operate from the belief that things are not the way they should be. For me, this has often taken the form of, “People in my life are not acting as they should be. They are falling short of my expectations. I am alone and separate.” A lot of people believe that to love someone is to control them – to constantly offer “advice” for how they should be. Believe me – I understand this comes from a place of caring. And yet, we can all feel when someone is trying to change us rather than simply accepting us for who we are. Can’t we?
It’s the same with our experiences. The more we reject and push away one part of our experience, the more it will pop up again and again. This is often very subtle! Try and notice it today – when you pause and feel a crinkle at your brow, an underlying sense of Things should be different, feel into what you may be pushing away or refusing to accept. Don’t beat yourself up about it – this is 100% normal and part of our human programming. But you can realize this and still choose to do hard things. You can go against your programming to evolve even further, you can simply choose not to suffer!
A lot of times people ask me, “Am I just supposed to allow bad things to happen, then? Are we just supposed to accept misogynistic presidents? White supremacy? Environmental collapse?” HELL TO THE NO.
It is my experience that spiritual activism arises from a righteous place of connection to the earth, to our bodies, and to each other. When that connection is severed, it’s not genuine. It’s not from a place of embodied change-making. Self-compassion goes hand-in-hand with a practice of protesting, consciousness raising, and assessing our own footprint of harm. Anger is a wonderful entry point into this work, but it is not the end-game. Until we can have compassion for our place in the web of oppression and dominance, how can we begin to heal? What I found, was the more compassion I had for myself, the more my compassion extended outward to include people of all beliefs and politics.
You can commit to destroying the systems that harm and oppress, while having compassion for the humans that benefit from and perpetuate them. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I only suffer when I separate people into groups of “those like me” and “those unlike me”. So, in this way, extending my compassion outward to contain everyone is for my own benefit.
4. Drop Into Your Body
Feeling into my body isn’t difficult to allow. It’s a subtle tuning in I have to remember how to do again and again. If you’ve never experienced your mind-body connection, it can be really difficult to access. It wasn’t something I was taught from a young age, so it was quite challenging when I discovered and began practicing somatic meditation.
Soon, though, I felt the benefits. The sparks and currents of electricity I could create with my focused attention and awareness, as my teacher guided me from my toes (even my toenails!) all the way up to my eyelashes. The buzzing I can feel in my hands as I type this, and in my feet on the floor. What a gift this ability is! Both as an anchor to ground us in the present moment, and as a portal to open new realms of connection to all beings everywhere.
To practice, sit with your feet firmly on the floor, in a way that is comfortable for you. Sit with your spine upright, yet relaxed. Simply breathe in and out and focus on your belly rising and falling with each inhale and exhale. Thoughts and emotions may arise, but ask them to step aside as you focus your attention instead on the experience of your body. Where are there sensations that are painful? Where are there sensations that are neutral? Are there sensations that are even pleasurable as you sit and notice?
This work of noticing the body – for me – takes the most practice. Much like the awareness and nonattachment to my thoughts, I must return again and again to my intention to drop into my body’s experience. Our bodies are ancient and wise – they often know things our minds are unwilling to uncover. They contain pieces of our ancestors in their DNA. When rooted in your body, the truth of our connection to the earth is undeniable.
If you want to be guided, search for body scan meditations or myofascial release techniques. Massage yourself with some essential oil and repeat a mantra about how worthy you are over and over. It’s extremely awkward to do this work – it takes serious courage. Do it anyway, with curiosity for how this experiment will turn out.
5. Deeply Nurture Yourself
My meditation guide and teacher, Tara Brach, teaches a practice called RAIN. It’s where you Recognize when you’re suffering, Allow the experience, Investigate how and where it’s showing up in your body, and Nurture yourself with what you really need.
I used to think the nurture piece was self-care – the acts or the maintenance work to make myself feel better, perhaps a bath, journaling, a cup of tea. They do fall under the umbrella of nurturing, but now I understand to nurture is to find within myself the capacity to meet my own needs. Meaning, once I’ve gone through the first 3 letters of the acronym and realized my deep desire is for connection, I can ask myself, “How would it feel to be connected?” Upon realizing it would feel warm, like belonging, like the sun shining on my face, like being understood – I realize I can muster up those feelings within myself and be reminded of my ceaseless connection to all beings everywhere.
Make it a habit to sit in stillness and ask yourself what it is you are truly longing for. Underneath the shame, the guilt, the fear, what is it you’re believing that – if you had this one thing – everything would be better? Take your time with it. Be curious and compassionate with it. And once you have it – maybe one word like love, acceptance, forgiveness – ask yourself how it would feel if you got it. If you have no idea what it would feel like, challenge yourself to pretend like you know or creatively imagine it. Place your hands on your body, where those feelings arise, to anchor your focus. Breathe in and out with that sensation for a while, and see how you feel. Then do it again, and again.
Practice Makes Practice
A lot of worthiness stuff will likely pop up again and again. Your Inner Critic will come back for more tea. It’s important to stay vigilant in observing the thoughts, emotions, sensations as you sit in compassion for yourself. And when these old stories arise, have compassion for them as you allow them back to teach you what they have to teach you.
Just keep practicing. It’s not easy work, but I promise it will be worth it as you awaken to who you really are. And who you really are is a being of boundless capacity for compassion – if that’s not someone who is worthy of self-compassion, I don’t know who is!
I’m here for you, Dear Ones. Drop me a comment when you try one of the 5 practices above and let me know how it goes!
Take gentle self-care and cultivate boundless self-compassion during these ridiculous times,