For many of us, the idea that we can’t truly love others until we love ourselves is a long-standing piece of advice. Lately, I’ve been hearing more about self-compassion and the research being done on it and its companion, self-kindness. When I heard someone talk about self-kindness, I began to think about how readily we will, at times, treat ourselves in ways we would never imagine treating someone else and that got me to thinking even more deeply about the importance of self-kindness. I also got to thinking about how, when we are accustomed to treating ourselves with compassion and kindness, we are more likely to automatically express these qualities to others.
Without question, most of us walk around with a certain degree of negative self-talk going on, even when we don’t pay much attention to it. Developing a habit of orienting to self-compassion and self-kindness asks us to pay attention to our self-talk and intervene when we discover that we are treating ourselves in unkind ways, replacing critical or negative thoughts with those that reflect active expressions of self-compassion and self-kindness.
One of the things that helps support being kinder to ourselves is something I’ve written about before—the inevitability of our wholeness and the foreground/background dynamic that unfolds in our process from moment to moment. When we can accept that we have a wholeness that contains everything a human is capable of expressing or doing, we can recognize that our ongoing practice can be one of noticing how we move through the world and then learning ways to bring into the foreground of our experience those qualities and states of being that reflect and express compassion and kindness.
Even as you read this practice, take a moment to bring your awareness to your body and notice if you are settled or agitated. Take another moment to follow the next out-breath down to the bottom of the breath and give yourself some time to settle, to become present to yourself and your awareness in this moment.
A practice I’d like to suggest for this week is to do the following. In the morning when you awaken, take a moment to offer yourself compassion and kindness in whatever ways are natural for you. Focusing your awareness in your heart space can help to orient to the qualities of compassion and kindness. Then, do the same thing at Noon, at 5pm, and then again at bedtime. That means that four times a day, you stop what you’re doing, become aware of your heart space, and offer yourself compassion and kindness. (And, if you are someone who works at night, reverse the process and do this practice four times throughout your night/day.)
Notice how you feel when you do this practice. Do you have a part of you that objects, saying things like “you don’t deserve this”, or “how selfish this is to offer these things to yourself.” If you find that you have objections or mixed feelings, simply make room for them. They are aspects of your wholeness and usually reflect early interpersonal learning and experiences that may have taught you that in some way you aren’t worthy.
Be sure to include your body in your offering of self-compassion and self-kindness. Remember that your body is comprised of a collaborative community of trillions of organisms, most of whom aren’t human. These organisms work together to allow your consciousness to be here—no small thing—so offering compassion, kindness, and appreciation is a beautiful gift to your body. Again, if mixed feelings arise, allow them to be present in your awareness, as they are aspects of your wholeness. That said, they don’t have to capture the foreground of your experience. You can imagine patting them gently on the head, thanking them for expressing, and then allowing them to flow back into the background of your awareness.
Also, as you do this practice, notice how it affects the quality of your internal life, how it feels to receive compassion and kindness from yourself. We move through the world radiating the quality and tone of our presence in every moment, our unique energy signature, so notice how your quality and tone of being reflect your offering of self-compassion and self-kindness.
As with all these practices, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with or about them.
Here’s a recorded version of this week’s practice, if you would prefer to listen…