Practicing self-compassion might feel inaccessible if you think you don’t understand what it means. But in reality you do! You wouldn’t have gotten this far in your life if you didn’t have some understanding of how to take care of yourself, especially when you’re having some difficult emotions or feeling some difficult life circumstances. In fact all of us wouldn’t have gotten to this point if we couldn’t take care of ourselves. It’s important to validate that and to notice that we have actually done some really neat things for ourselves. We have actually devised some really clever, skilful ways to take care of ourselves, especially when things are a bit difficult, and our practice can include bringing mindfulness in to validate these already skillful actions.
Mindful acknowledgement of our self-care skills gives us confidence that we do understand what self-compassion is because we are already offering ourselves self-compassion. It’s a really lovely and valuable exercise to bring our awareness to those things that we’re already doing to take care of ourselves to remind ourselves – maybe to convince ourselves – that we are capable of self-compassion. We are capable of being kind to ourselves, especially when we feel challenged.
Mindfulness is a really useful skill to develop so that we can insert that wedge of awareness in to our experience to notice that we’re having difficulty. When we slow down our awareness we have the space we need to register what the difficulty is and to work out what to do for ourselves. And when we automatically start offering ourself care – like resting, drinking a warm beverage or calling a friend – in the face of challenge, mindfulness helps us to mark that response as a practice, to see that we are already practicing self-compassion.
I brought my brain into gear, my intellect, to create a list and then asked my body what felt right in the scenario.
Here’s an example from my life: I’ve recently done a lot of plane travel, missed some connections and had a hard time of it. When I finally got home and I knew I’d had a difficult time I went through a checklist of what I needed to do to take care of myself. I brought my brain into gear, my intellect, to create a list and then asked my body what felt right in the scenario. It went like this:
- I’ve just gotten home. I’m tired. My nerves are a bit jangly from being shunted around in the airport system. Do I need:
- a drink of ginger beer?
- chocolate cake?
- a hot shower?
- a foot massage?
- to lay on the couch?
- to watch some television show that is soothing, that is familiar, that makes me feel good?
I discovered that in that moment that watching a television show was what my system needed, my active self-care. And so that’s how I took care of myself. As I watched the television show I have something nice to drink and something nice to eat, and so all of these things were my self-compassion practice in response to my difficult situation.
I invite you to go through the same process. When you notice that you’re having a difficult situation, when you need to do something to take care of yourself, slow it down. Go through the list. Work out what you need. Intentionally ask yourself: What do I need? Which things in this list do I need right now? Can I give them to myself? And then do that. This is practicing self-compassion.