We all have the tendency to struggle in those difficult moments. When the demands of our lives stretch us to our limits, when we feel the searing grief of a loss or we are overcome with anxiety, depression or hopelessness – and we struggle or fight against our difficult emotions, it’s like drowning in quicksand. We only add more suffering to an already difficult moment.
There is another, more gentle, courageous and skilful way to meet our moments of pain, and it’s powerful.
In the past two years I’ve had to learn this lesson again and again. I’ve experienced a lot of difficulty and loss including three deaths and the ending of my 18 year relationship. There have been moments that I have been literally brought to my knees with the pain.
Fortunately, I had the power of mindfulness and self-compassion on my side. Each time I was hit with another wave of pain, fear or confusion I did one simple practice (often many times a day!). It’s called the self-compassion break. (I’ve recorded a version of it for you here)
This practice will help soothe you in your hardest moments and nourish you like warm sunshine on a cold day. Rather than shutting down, struggling or numbing out when we are hurting, self-compassion offers us a way to develop courage, kindness and awareness in the middle of it all.
Here is the guide for how to do the practice below as well as a recorded version of the meditation for you to download and have with you whenever you need it most. This practice was created by Dr Kristen Neff, an expert on self-compassion. I highly recommend her book for those who would like to delve into this further.
4 Step Self-Compassion Break
When you have a situation in your life that is challenging, painful or causing you distress, take a pause for a moment. Tune into your body and see if you can locate, and feel into, where you feel the physical sensations of the emotion in your body.
STEP 1) Is to bring mindful acceptance to what is happening. By doing this we can begin to let go of hardening against, and struggling with, what is happening.
So step one is to say to yourself either out loud or mentally:
“This is a moment of suffering”
STEP 2) Is about realizing our common humanity and normalizing the experience of having difficult feelings (we all do sometimes). There is no need for us to feel so alone in our experience or feel guilty or ashamed of what is a normal part of being human.
In this step say to yourself either out loud or mentally:
“Suffering is a part of life. I am not alone in this”
STEP 3) Offering yourself compassion and soothing. This is a difficult moment so here we bring kindness into the midst of our pain.
First, place your hands over your heart as a gesture of self-compassion, or if there is another gesture that feels right for you, do that instead.
Then saying to yourself the third phrase:
“May I be kind to myself”
STEP 4) This is an optional extra step. Here you can also ask yourself, “What do I need right now to express kindness to myself?” Are there words that you could speak to yourself like “May I accept myself just as I am” or “may I be patient” or “may I slow down a little and breathe”
Or is there anything you could do in your particular situation that could nourish you and comfort you? An action step such as such as:
Taking a warm bath, going for a walk in nature, meditating, calling a friend for support etc
Through cultivating this kind of mindful self-compassion we can find connection and soothing when we’re hurting instead of walling ourselves off or shutting down. We can be open to learning what our hardship may have to teach us (as many a wise man has said, suffering is often our greatest teacher) and we can allow the grief to humble us, deepen us and crack our hearts wide open.
My favourite Sufi poet Rumi one said:
In my experience this practice of self-compassion in the hardest days of my adult life has brought peace to my pain, meaning to my challenges and made me a better person. I hope it supports you whenever you need it the most.
Wishing you well,