In Part 1 of this piece, I talked a lot about pain: the futility of trying to avoid emotional pain related to caring for my mom, as well as how mindfulness and self-compassion can help in relating differently to pain. Let’s switch to positive experiences through Savoring and Metta (loving kindness):
Savoring is the ability to notice and accept the good things in our lives. For example: accepting and appreciating a compliment or feeling proud of an accomplishment. Just as we don’t want to get caught up in our negative feelings, we don’t want to hold on too tightly to positive feelings. The idea is to acknowledge and appreciate the good things in our lives, and at the same time acknowledge the negative things and not get dragged down by them. Even in the midst of my difficult caregiving for my mom, there were times of connection, times I did provide some comfort. Savoring would have allowed me to embrace those connections and savor them as islands of goodness in the sea of challenges.
Awareness of pain or anxiety is necessary to cultivate self-compassion and to begin to show loving kindness to ourselves.
Metta or Loving Kindness
Metta is a Pali (language of the Buddha) word that means loving kindness, friendliness, love, and good will. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and metta are closely connected. When we’re mindful, we can be aware of pain we may be feeling. Awareness of pain or anxiety is necessary to cultivate self-compassion and to begin to show loving kindness to ourselves. Without awareness, we don’t know we need compassion.
Loving-kindness can be incorporated into meditation by utilizing phrases that are repeated over and over. When I notice emotional pain or difficult feelings I say to myself:
May I be safe
May I be peaceful
May I be kind to myself
May I accept myself just as I am
Just like the self-compassion words I used above, you don’t have to believe these words. You don’t have to believe that you deserve to accept yourself just as you are. Simply saying these phrases reflects positive intention and ALWAYS changes how I see a situation. My intention is not to make the pain go away, my intention is to be kind to myself in my suffering. Metta or loving kindness changes ME not my situation. But when I am changed, I experience things differently – less negatively.
The Problem with Intelligence
Because I know that the people who read this blog have above average intelligence, I want to say a few things about the “touchy-feely” aspect of Mindful Self-Compassion.
Remember though, your intention is NOT to solve the problem, only to be kind to yourself.
Typically, intelligent folks use rational thought to solve problems. After all, rational thought solves all kinds of problems: engineering problems, accounting problems, chemistry problems etc. However, thinking is less successful at stopping emotional pain.
It’s ok if you’re reading this article thinking, “this is nuts”, “may I be safe – what does that even mean?” If you’re not familiar with self-compassion, the process can seem silly. I invite you to give it a try. Think of it as an experiment – the next time you’re upset about something – traffic, bills, argument with a loved one , medication wearing off too early – say my Metta phrases: May I be safe; May I be peaceful; May I be kind to myself; May I accept myself just as I am. Repeat them 2 or 3 times. See how you feel. Remember though, your intention is NOT to solve the problem, only to be kind to yourself. But like I said earlier, acknowledging your pain and being kind to yourself, changes how you look at your situation, which in turn changes your situation. My mother needed someone with her and I was angry that it had to be me. I now know I had a choice about how to respond. At the time I chose to be angry because I didn’t want to be her caregiver forever. Another choice I had was to notice that I was angry, show kindness to myself, and then maybe, just maybe, perceive the situation less negatively.
Germer, C. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. New York: The Guilford Press.
Acknowledgment: I want to thank Kristy Arbon my teacher in an 8 week Mindful Self-Compassion class. The class changed my life.
- The Subtle Power of Mindful Self Compassion, Part 2 - October 5, 2015
- The Subtle Power of Mindful Self Compassion, Part 1 - October 1, 2015
- Catherine Klostermeier - March 22, 2015