The calming practice of self-compassion

We so often have compassion for everyone else: our children, our aging parents, our spouse, our co-workers, our friends and neighbors. But what about us? We matter too.

Self-compassion enables us to be warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. It is not to our benefit to ignore our pain or beat ourselves down with self-criticism.

Self-compassion allows us to be understanding of who we are when things aren’t going so well. It gives us a chance to say, “It’s OK” and then move on.

I have been known to say to my husband, “I can’t believe I did that” or “What a mistake I made.” His response has been, “You have five minutes to feel sorry for yourself, feel as bad as you’d like to feel, do whatever you need, and then let it go.”

When he said it the first time, I was taken aback. How could he be so glib about my concerns? I now thank him for his wise words and realize how powerful that statement is, and how much better my day can be by following his advice. 

Self-compassion is not the same thing as self-indulgence. To have self-compassion, you realize that the long term goal is your health and happiness. Finding that box of chocolates and eating them all at once is indulgent. Slowing down, taking a deep breath, and having a chocolate while you contemplate the issue is self-compassion.

Self-compassion is not based on comparisons. You can feel good about yourself without feeling better (or worse) than others. It is about you, not anyone else. Self-compassion does not depend on others to build you up. You are in control of how you feel and what you do.

If we use mindfulness when we are stressed, we can take the time to observe our thoughts and feelings and then let them go. A meditation I found several years ago spoke of visualizing a river while standing on the bank watching the water flow by. Near the river bank is a tree full of autumn color. Find one leaf to represent each mind-invading thought while you meditate. Watch that leaf leave the tree and drift slowly down, eventually landing on the water. Continue watching the leaf meander down the stream as it carries your thoughts with it until it disappears from your sight.

Repeat with any new thoughts that arise. I have found the exercise to be calming and use it often.  

You matter. Today and always. Find a way in the coming months to be compassionate with yourself.

Diane McGregor

Resident of Westlake since 1984. Retired RN from SJMC.  Retreat leader for Stretching Forward LLC since 2018.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 9:27 AM, 03.05.2024