13 Sep 2018

Self-compassion – a home coming


“I used to think that to become free you had to practice like a samurai warrior, but now I understand that you have to practice like a devoted mother of a new born child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It’s compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle.” – Jack Kornfield


Self-compassion or love for self is just kindness or love that includes you and yet, it is foreign to many of us. It can be so challenging for us to really accept and love ourselves, warts and all, and to forgive ourselves for what we may or may not have done.

  • How much time do you spend rushing, feeling overwhelmed, not enough and not good enough?
  • How much time do you spend being critical of your body or just yourself in general?

Does your answers mean self-compassion is in short supply? We often have very abusive reltionships within, always telling ourselves ‘you are not good enough, your body is too fat, you have no will power, you are not clever enough, you are not kind enough’ – the list goes on. When that is the case, we are in need of healing and of a perspective change. Self-compassion redirects our attention, soothes our stress, and helps heal our inner wounds and inner harshness.

Like a baby or a flower, our bodies are an expression of life. How do you want to treat this precious expression of life? We know that love (or its absence) fundamentally alters the bio-chemicals in which the body is steeped. A bit of love bringing oxytocin which surely is better than relentless adrenalin and cortisol.

Jack Kornfield tells the story of a client whose self-compassion behaviour protected her, to some extent, from the abusive behaviour of her mother. After particularly awful nights of her mother’s abuse she would sneak out of bed once all was quiet in the house. She would go to the kitchen, get some cheese and bread, and take it back to her room. There she would pretend her hands were not her hands but the hands of someone else who would feed her and then gently pat her on the cheek wishing her a good night and reassure her of love. This is self-compassion.

Some of us did not get enough love and tenderness as little ones and so we have to provide ourselves with an extra dose in adulthood. Research done at Utah University showed that some mother rats spend a lot of time licking, grooming, and nursing their pups. Others seem to ignore their pups. Highly nurtured rat pups tend to grow up to be calm adults, while rat pups who receive little nurturing tend to grow up to be anxious creatures.

The difference between a calm and an anxious rat is not genetic, rather it is epigenetic. The nurturing behaviour of a mother rat during the first week of life shapes her pups’ epigenomes. And the epigenetic pattern that mum establishes tends to stay put, even after the pups become adults.

Were you ‘licked’ enough? Or do you just feel anxious much of the time? If so, the practice of self-compassion is a powerful way to soothe our system. When we are anxious, our system is telling us that we are not safe and that easily leads to us believing ‘I am not right’ or ‘I am not good enough’.

Practicing self-compassion is a direct route to feeling “I am enough” and settling our anxieties. There is no need for slim hips or bowls of kale, nor business class tickets and important friends to prove that you are enough, that you are fine. How good is that? Self-compassion is about creating a friendly collaborative relationship internally. It is a home coming. When we see a child in pain, our inclination is to hold, soothe and comfort the child. We don’t blame the child for having tripped or having used scissors, even though we told them not to.

“You can search the tenfold universe and not find a single being worthier of loving-kindness than yourself.” – Buddha

I wonder what comes up for you when you read that quote? Be kindly curious of how conditional your self-love might be.

Self-compassion is not a thinking process – it is a sensing and feeling process. It starts with feeling connected to your own body, to your own experience in kindness.

Simply place your hand on your heart, close the eyes and just say “Dear Body.’ See how that feels? You can also try our guided Self-Compassion mediation at www.themindfulnessclinic.com.au/courses/mindfulness-practice

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