In MSC, we learn a beautiful informal practice called, “Soften, Soothe, Allow.” It’s designed, as many MSC practices are, as a tool we can use when we’re in the middle of a difficult situation. We aim to soothe ourselves, in the way a mother might soothe her child when he is in pain. We tap into the affiliative system that we are born with, giving ourselves what we need to acknowledge and address our pain, then continue to function as healthy adults.
Initially we practice Soften, Soothe, Allow intentionally, as a formal practice, which means we sit and deliberately follow the steps of locating difficult emotions in our body and then labelling them – using the power of a word and the focus on a specific sensation to anchor us. Then we soften our body, soothe the place where we feel difficult emotion, and give it permission to be there without resisting it or wanting it to go away (allowing).
But this practice really comes into its own “off the cushion,” when we really need it. We need it in the middle of that difficult situation at work where we feel angry and defended. We need it when we’re running late and the traffic just won’t budge. And we need it, as Christy Linder describes, when all the effort in the world can’t make our family’s pain go away. Here is something she wrote me, that she gave me permission to share with you:
“I was appreciative and putting to practice at least one of the [MSC] exercises this past week. My son started his third round of chemo this past Monday, which meant that we were going to the treatment center every day this week including New Years Day for six to seven hours of treatment. [This] has him feeling pretty awful: nausea, wretching, vomiting, and overall unwellness. In addition my one-year-old grand daughter has been sick with a croupy respiratory infection.
On Tuesday night at about 2am my daughter-in-law was up with the little one. By 2:30 my son was up, wretching. I came upstairs to help, taking the little one so my daughter-in-law could be with my son. By 4:15 my granddaughter had finally fallen back into a restless sleep on my chest. I could hear my son still wretching upstairs, and I felt the helplessness of not being able to do anything more to help; the fatigue of accumulated lack of sleep over several nights; and the physical discomfort of fatigue, tension, and strain in my back, hip and neck, while sitting in the dark, aware that my son and I would have to get up in a couple more hours to go back to the chemo treatment center.
Two tears coursed down my face followed by a deep breath and a shuddering sob, holding myself with tender compassion for what the moment was.
It is within this context that the phrase “Soften, Soothe, Allow” arose unbidden; followed by a quick thought of, this is exactly a time that this phrase is useful for, and how grateful I am to have such a practice. So with a gentle inner voice I invited myself to just soften anywhere in my body that could/would be willing to soften, even just a little bit. And then I heard myself acknowledging how hard this was and the need for my own comforting, and felt a rising swell of emotion course through my body, of sadness, grief, fatigue, but also tearful gratitude for my own acknowledgment. Two tears coursed down my face followed by a deep breath and a shuddering sob, holding myself with tender compassion for what the moment was.”
Christy’s recount of her night was so tender, so poignant, so present. She embodies self-compassion – turning toward her pain with openness, noticing what she needs and offering kindness in response, and allowing her body to respond naturally to a very emotional chapter in her life. This is self-compassion and mindfulness in action, off the cushion.
Christy told me recently that her family is all well now.
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- Practice as a Life Raft in a Sea of Emotions - April 16, 2017
- Coming Home to Mindfulness and Self-Compassion - April 16, 2017
- The Neurochemistry Behind Our Meditation Practice - April 15, 2017