Pain is here - Bringing mindfulness to the experience.
We have to notice the pain to respond to it.
This pain is part of something bigger than me - Connecting with greater humanity.
It helps to know others are experiencing pain also - not because we feel better when others are in pain, but because we feel better when we're not isolated in our pain.
I'm making a decision to care for myself - Taking action.
Self-Compassion involves the effort to alleviate pain, so our actions matter.
This is the basic formula for cultivating self-compassion.
And yet, for most of us, this is not the default reaction when pain is present. Initially we might feel some judgement or some assessment if the pain is bad enough to deserve care. Maybe we flat out avoid facing the pain and get lost in the distractions of daily life. Often questions like "why me?" or "why is this happening?" surface and knots and tension take hold in our bodies.
I encourage people I work with to practice dropping the why in their inquiry. When we ask why there is often an underlying tone of resistance, an energy of I don't want this, or go away. I have experienced this for years when my MS symptoms show themselves. The default reaction for a long time was always - why is this here? why me? why now? - the timing couldn't be worse. Even though I had a firm diagnosis and I knew intellectually that the body functions according to its own laws and timing, I would still get lost in the spinning thoughts of figuring it out and pushing it away. Asking why only blocked me from the reality of the experience and closed me off to making a conscious decision for how to be with whatever was present.
So instead of asking why? when pain is present or trying to assess if it's bad enough to warrant care - following the self-compassion formula is a good start.
When my body does something weird or uncomfortable now, I practice noticing with some tenderness. Ouch, that hurts (mindfulness) - wow there are so many of us coping with chronic illness (shared humanity) - a cool compress, a nap or perhaps a conversation with a friend would feel caring in this moment (action).
It doesn't matter how odd, small or insignificant the discomfort is. Pain is pain. When we practice bringing in self-compassion when the stakes are low, it's much easier to feel it when the stakes are high.
It is in these small moments that we rewire our brains - that we create new habits that eventually over-ride our harsh ways of being with ourselves. When I can offer my own pain a soft landing, I am so much more inclined to interpret others' pain with more understanding, perspective and compassion.
And this self-compassion doesn't make me soft, passive, weak or self-indulgent. It actually helps me respond with discernment, intentionality and equanimity in the tough moments of life.
To try this out, incorporate self-compassion breaks into your daily life. Perhaps the five minutes you have at the end of lunch, at a red light in the car, or during your shower or other transitions that happen repeatedly would be a good beginning.
Self-compassion breaks can be simple and take only a few seconds.
Asking, what is here?
Reminding yourself that others too experience what you are experiencing.
Taking action to care for yourself.
This is all it takes.
Please share your go-to self-compassion actions in the comments below.