More on Self-Compassion Practices
Suffering and happiness represent opposites in human emotional experience. In our culture we often equate happiness with what we HAVE and suffering with the GAP between what we have versus what we want. Material possessions tend not to lead to intrinsic happiness; joy based on materials gains is often short-lived – until the next thought about what we want but do not have. If we are careless we may become trapped in the hedonic treadmill – that personal experience of never being quite satisfied thus seeking the next, and the next, and the next great thing we want. Do you really need that new i-phone right now? What do you really need?
Of course, there is always true emotional suffering in our world, suffering that may have little bearing on material “wants” versus “haves.” That said prolonged, severe poverty can be an especially harsh and bitter form of suffering. Are you suffering right now? It is true, primary suffering? Or, is it secondary suffering? Think about suffering in the world; think about you. Serious anxiety, depression, self-medication with substances or food, trauma – these are all forms of true suffering. Suffering is a serious matter.
One way to examine self-compassion is to consider your attitude – the attitudinal relationship between your desires versus what you actually have. If you spend a great deal of time being unhappy about the gap between what you have versus what you want, you may produced greater worry, worry leading to greater stress reactivity – more suffering. Do you need it?
This reality does NOT imply you should stop trying to improve your life or improve yourself. It does imply that until you master mindful acceptance and practice self-compassion, you may continue to become trapped in the many ways our unhelpful thinking and unhelpful emoting lead to more and more suffering. Let’s begin our mindful skill-building with the steps involved in acceptance. Radical acceptance of your own true suffering opens the door to self-compassion about your own true suffering.
Here are the steps.
1) Hold onto present moment awareness regarding your emotions. Stay out of the past and future; in the present you have power to act.
2) Work hard not to cling/attach to positive emotional experiences and not to flee from/avoid negative emotional experiences – in life it is what it is!
3) Rather than avoiding, consider gently turning toward your own suffering. Being in its presence provides you an opportunity to change.
4) Over time see if you can be more tolerant of your present moment experiences – both happy and unhappy experiences. In some ways your attitude shapes how the experience will be internalized (pleasant, neutral, unpleasant). Have an attitude of gratitude and acceptance.
5) Safely allow the experience – notice and observe your thoughts and emotions about it. Is the outcome being internalized as pleasant or unpleasant? Is your thinking helping to make it so? If yes, how?
6) See if you can embrace it – embrace whatever it is (pleasant or unpleasant). Be a bit curious about this part of your emotional relating.
7) If you experience primary suffering in the present moment experience, apply radical acceptance AND self-compassion for how you are suffering. Simply note that you could not prevent this suffering. Simply observe yourself suffering. Perhaps placing both hands over your heart and breathing gently, slowly, deeply may help you to handle this.
Remember your own suffering is a prerequisite for self-compassion. Suffering, joy and neutrality are all parts of life – they will happen. Compassionate mind training is almost always good for us. The steps above may be followed as part of a loving kindness meditation practice. Regular metta practice softens our hearts and allow more compassion. We need to learn to nurture self-compassion; from self-compassion, we have more skillful means to apply compassion for the suffering of others. It is all about applying kindness towards ourselves and others who suffer now.
For more information refer to Germer, C. K. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. New York: Guilford Publications.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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