I have been co-teaching (with Kristy Arbon), intensive Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) courses, a transformative mindfulness-based intervention, developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. Building on the evidence-based research of mindfulness-based interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, (MBCT), MSC incorporates exciting new research and practice on the power of loving-kindness, compassion, and self-compassion to help people work with the inevitable suffering of daily life and how they react to it. Participants are taught to respond to difficulties not by berating themselves, but by giving themselves the same kindness and understanding that they would extend to a close friend. Suffering is part of the human condition; it is something that can unite rather than separate us. There is no need to hide or isolate when times are difficult.
One of my favorite practices from the course, which can be used either as a formal or informal meditation during difficult times, is Soften, Soothe, and Allow (free downloads available here). It incorporates physical compassion (softening), emotional compassion (soothing), and mental compassion (allowing), a powerful trifecta.
The following is an adaptation:
- Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, and take a few relaxing breaths.
- Notice any tension or tightness in your body. Soften into that location, inviting the muscles to soften rather than requiring that they do so, like applying heat to sore muscles. You may like to repeat softening…softening…softening.
- Then, soothe yourself because you are struggling, perhaps by putting a hand over your heart, feeling the warm and tender touch, and letting kindness stream through your hand into your body You may want to add some encouraging words, such as, “This is hard to feel. May I be kind to myself.”
- Finally, allow the discomfort to be there, making room for it rather than wishing it would go away. You may want to repeat, allowing…allowing…allowing.
- If you like, perhaps repeating the words, softening…soothing…allowing, softening…soothing…allowing.
- Try to stay with your experience, continuing to use the technique whenever you need to manage a difficult emotion or life circumstance.
This practice is taught as a way to work with difficult emotions, especially shame. I’ve been using this with patients struggling with cancer and other illnesses, and profound loss or heartache such as death or divorce, and have found it to be enormously helpful. Self-compassion is uniquely helpful in managing the shadow of shame that seems to follow catastrophic misfortune.
In the MSC course, working with shame is paired with songwriter Peter Mayer’s evocative video, Japanese Bowls. This song was inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which dates back to the 15th century, when a Japanese emperor sent a tea bowl to craftsmen for repairs. By filling the cracks with gold and lacquer, damaged vessels were not only repaired, but their value increased, and a new art form was created. As a philosophy and metaphor, this ancient art invites acceptance of change, and a compassionate embrace of the knocks, breaks, and shattering that we’re all subject to in the course of our lives.
If only our scars and lines could be something we celebrate, a mark of wisdom that increases our value rather than something that needs to be hidden or disguised. One of our participants quipped, “This fix is the polar opposite of botox!”
Reproduced with permission.
- Soothing Touch and Self-Compassion Break (24 minutes) - November 3, 2021
- Affectionate Breathing (18 minutes) - October 27, 2021
- Guilt, Shame, Soul Purpose and Spirituality - May 11, 2017
- Self-Compassion and Shame Resilience - April 11, 2017
- Climbing the Mindful Self-Compassion Mountain - February 25, 2017