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self-compassion

There is a common misconception by people that meditation means clearing the mind and stopping our thoughts. The reality couldn’t be further from this. It’s impossible to stop your thoughts if you are a living being, but what is possible is to become an observer of them.

 

Observing your thoughts but not becoming involved in them is a key part of mindfulness meditation practice. It’s called a practice for a reason because there is no end goal, no perfect meditator exists, as every time you sit the experience is different. Your practice reflects real life and just like real life, things are changing all the time. We change and grow every day but it’s how we show up in these moments that determine how we feel about life and also about ourselves.

 

Our inner world is complex and complicated. The world does not lend itself to self-reflection and silence. In fact, we are constantly being pulled away from ourselves which is why a lot of people experience anxiety when they begin to practice mindfulness meditation. One of my mentors from UCLA, Rebecca Peters once said to me

 

“Mindfulness not met with self-compassion causes anxiety”

 

This sentence changed everything for me and it makes so much sense. If we are not used to sitting alone with our thoughts and feelings and then one day we do, we can’t control what comes up for us. Difficult emotions and memories can rise to the surface and if we don’t meet these with kindness and self-compassion of course we will become anxious as we try to deny them and push them down again.

 

But what is self-compassion and how do we cultivate it? The Buddhist understanding of self-compassion means offering kindness, patience and non-judgmental understanding to others as well as oneself. In a world where we are so hard on ourselves, this can be quite difficult to do especially in the beginning.

 

I remember the tears flowed in a class where I was trying to cultivate a sense of kindness to myself. Quite frankly it felt quite alien to me as we are not taught these skills in the western world. It was also uncomfortable but with great guidance and practice I continued and what lay ahead by great inner peace and freedom.

 

As the Dalai Lama says “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” So the next time you hear that little voice within speak unkindly to you, talk back but from a place of kindness. Talk to yourself as you would a friend and know that in a world that is full of imperfect people a little kindness goes a long way.

Now we are well into January are your New Year Resolutions beginning to feel a bit like this discarded Christmas tree left in the garbage? Are you struggling with the strict regime you have set up and at the same time feeling guilty and dissatisfied with yourself?

SELF COMPASSION, MAUREEN COOPER, alison canavan be complete, life coach, minfulness coach, health coach, health and wellness, self help, new years resolutions, failed resolutions, self care

The trouble is when our resolutions start to slip we tend to start beating up on ourselves, and feeling bad.

SELF COMPASSION, MAUREEN COOPER, alison canavan be complete, life coach, minfulness coach, health coach, health and wellness, self help, new years resolutions, failed resolutions, self care

How we set about making New Year Resolutions

There is nothing wrong with wanting to get the best out of ourselves, nor with using the beginning of a new year as a time for reflection on how we are living our lives. The thing is we tend to go about it in such a self-critical way.

We look at everything we think is not working so well and then make a long to-do list of all the ways we want to change. Somehow we are surprised when it is overwhelming and we cannot keep it up. We feel as if we have failed in some way and are disappointed in ourselves.

SELF COMPASSION, MAUREEN COOPER, alison canavan be complete, life coach, minfulness coach, health coach, health and wellness, self help, new years resolutions, failed resolutions, self care

The thing is that we are much more likely to get the best from ourselves if we approach any changes we want to make with an attitude of self-appreciation and kindness. We can try and be a friend to ourselves, rather than behaving like our worst nightmare of an angry schoolteacher.

Some suggestions on using self-compassion in making our resolutions

  1. Look to your strengths

Think about the parts of your life that are on track and the things you do well and then think about a way you could take that a step further.

For example: you might be good at your job but have an irritating relationship with a work colleague—your resolution could be to make them a cup of coffee whenever you can. You’ll be surprised how quickly they warm up to you and you will enjoy the good feeling of doing something for them.

  1. Choose the changes you want to make carefully

When looking for where you want to change, choose something manageable. You can see from the picture above that ‘improving self’ is a big project, as is ‘save money’. Both are too big and too general.

Even ‘more family time’ is asking a lot. Instead try to be specific—decide to call your mother twice a week; or decide to turn off all your individual screens (phone, tablet etc.) by 9pm in the evening in order to have quality time with your partner.

  1. Think of all the people

who are trying to make positive changes in their lives and struggling with them just like you are. None of us is alone in trying to find the way to get the best out of ourselves and live a meaningful life.

  1. Allow yourself to get it wrong

When you break a resolution, or find yourself slipping back into old habits instead of beating yourself up, try forgiving yourself. Focus on the effort you’ve been making and don’t give up on what you are trying to do just because you had a bit of a blip. Imagine a friend sharing with you how they are struggling with their resolution—how would you talk to them? Would you call them a looser? I doubt it. Try talking to yourself as you would a good friend. After all—if we cannot be a friend to ourselves, how can we be a good friend at all?

SELF COMPASSION, MAUREEN COOPER, alison canavan be complete, life coach, minfulness coach, health coach, health and wellness, self help, new years resolutions, failed resolutions, self care

Maureen Cooper is the author of The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress. She combines more than thirty years of experience as a professional educator and senior manager in a non-profit organization with a hands-on education in Buddhism. In 2004 Maureen founded Awareness in Action, a consultancy dedicated to the secular application of mindfulness, meditation and compassion in the workplace.

www.awarenessinaction.org