Compassion Practice: Give Yourself Permission to Feel How You Feel
In times like these, it takes A LOT of strength to give oneself permission to feel safe and okay, especially when almost all of the information that you are taking in about the world around you can strongly contradict that very real need.
It takes A LOT of resilience to watch yourself and your loved ones, your community, have its routines and norms stripped away, without being given a lot of guidance to know what exactly to do to respond, or in which direction to turn that will support your health and well-being.
Sometimes having the resources to meet with the current moment might seem like an impossible task, especially when so many have lost so much in such a short period of time. Let me just say that I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.
I wrote this short letter because I know from my mindfulness practice how much the judgmental mind can arise, especially when it seems like nothing is going “right”. Stop for a moment. Are you experiencing judgmental thoughts about how you are handling this COVID experience, right now?
For mindful tips on how to give yourself permission to skillfully navigate whatever feelings might be arising in your body right now – which might open up the possibility of moving towards feeling safe and okay, even if just for a moment – please keep reading on!
Sometimes, it is helpful to have permission to do whatever it is that helps you feel like you are expressing yourself authentically and making your needs known. You might feel strong one minute and weak the next. You might be full of ideas and then be at a loss for words two seconds later. However your process is manifesting right now, there is no wrong or right to this – only doing your very best to accept and acknowledge whatever your process looks like with as much compassion as humanly possible.
Here are a few mindful tips on practicing compassionate acceptance:
1.) Try to notice when you are judging your own process and comparing it to the ways in which other people are handling this experience. Noticing how judgmental thoughts arise in relation to other peoples processes can be called “comparing mind” in the mindfulness tradition. Comparing mind looks like those thoughts that might arise around how much more or less another person has, in terms of resources or capacity to get through this current challenge. When comparing mind arises, you can simply take a deep breath and say to yourself “comparing…comparing…” so gradually you build awareness of when this is arising for you. That is a first very simple step towards acceptance.
Remember, it is okay that your mind is judging and comparing – that is a part of what is has been built to do to keep you safe! Just noticing when it is happening is a positive start.
2.) So you have begun to gently notice your own comparing mind in action. Now what? One great antidote to comparing mind is a self-compassion practice. Where ever you are, try closing the eyes or lowering the eyelids so you are taking in your surroundings with what is called a “soft gaze”. Try to take 3 deep, slow breaths, and bring your attention to your breath in whatever way feels comfortable.
For some people that will mean focusing on the nostrils. For others, the chest or belly rising and falling. Now bring into your imagination a person, place, animal, or object that you associate with love and calm. Imagine they are right next to you. This is a your safe space!! Notice how the way you are carrying your body might become different when you are in your safe place.
If it feels compassionate, you can try saying to yourself “This is my safe space…This is my safe place…” as many times as you need until you move from saying it – to feeling it! You will know you are feeling it because you will notice slight changes in how relaxed you can hold your body in the moment.
3.) Now that you are either in, or somewhere near your safe space internally…bring person, place, animal, or object you associate with love and calm even closer to you. Try to notice whether the “comparing mind” is still active. Taking three more deep, slow breaths, and try to notice in your imagination a little more about the colors, sounds, textures, or even smells that you associate with your safe space. Now try bringing in the compassion phrases we just learned, and bring a little more attention to your body if that feels okay. If it feel overwhelming to bring more attention to the body, then just rest in the mental part of the practices.
Where ever you are sitting or standing, do you notice any differences in your the way you are carrying your body – in your bones or muscles – while you are exploring the ‘contours’ of your safe space? Perhaps you might notice that your shoulders start to shift, or the muscles of your face soften. Any amount of relaxation or felt spaciousness you can bring to the body right now is good for your health and well-being.
Once you have finished with this compassion practice, it might be helpful to turn to your journal (or to start one if you haven’t already!) and write down what you noticed. See if you can make the time to practice this for even 1-2 minuets a day, whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by judgmental thoughts.
By writing about your experience with how your thoughts shift when you do this practice, you might be able to start to tell the story of your journey back towards feelings of safety and peace…which will be helpful for you to be able to return to as something of a roadmap of your experience during these challenging times that you can use to remind yourself of how important it is to remain connected to your internal safe place/place, no matter what is happening around you.