Self-compassion: A Guide on the What, Why, and How

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Self Compassion a Guide on the What Why and How
Estimated time to read: 10 minutes

Who here has experienced pain? You know…the emotional sort? I know that I have, and sometimes to an incredible degree – even to the point of wanting to kill myself. I think that’s one of the many threads that ties human beings together. We know what pain feels like (albeit experienced in our own way) and we’ve seen others experience pain, too.

Of course, that’s not the only experience that’s shared. There are plenty of them. An infinitude.

Recognizing that shared experience between yourself and other human beings is one of the keystones of developing compassion.

Just that simple recognition, an active recognition of that in the present moment, can cause so much compassion and love to well up inside of you. Wow – this other person experiences pain, too. They are experiencing it right now. I know how painful that is, I know how painful it must be…

That process is the gateway into an incredible space of mind & heart where we can stop taking things too seriously. A drastic shift in perspective where we can take hurtful things less personally.

In mystical traditions, I’ve heard it said many times that compassion & love are like a shield against negative forces. And yeah – in a sense, they are. When you are merged with that infinite ocean of love, there isn’t much that can phase you.

But maybe we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.

What kind of shared experiences have you noticed lately? Comment below.

What is self-compassion? Or…what even is compassion?

A city full of compassion shines brightly
A city full of compassion shines brightly

I’d love to start with some quotes from some of my favorite guides in compassion. Take a look.

And..what’s the purpose of meditation, anyway?

“The traditional definition from Pali, the language of the original Buddhist text, is the trembling or quivering of the heart in response to pain or suffering. Some Buddhist schools say the teaching has two wings, like the wings of a bird, and they are wisdom and compassion. Compassion is something we develop concurrently with the development of wisdom. Compassion is the natural response of clear seeing or understanding.”

Sharon Salzberg, in this interview

My heart trembles just reading the quote. Here’s some more.

Compassion is the ultimate flowering of consciousness. It is passion released of all darkness, it is passion freed from all bondage, it is passion purified of all poison. Passion becomes compassion. Passion is the seed; compassion is the flowering of it.

Osho, in What is Compassion

He goes on to explain the difference between kindness and compassion. A fantastic read – I recommend it. One more…

Compassion arises out of our willingness to come close to suffering. The problem is that even though we may want to be compassionate, and perhaps often are, it is not always easy to open to the suffering that is present. And just as there are many times when we don’t want to acknowledge and open to our own pain, we don’t necessarily want to be with the pain of others. There are strong tendencies in the mind that keep us defended, withdrawn, indifferent, or apathetic in the face of suffering. This indifference is often unacknowledged and is a great barrier to a compassionate response…

Ram Dass, on Facebook

Compassion comes in opening. And opening can be really tough…it can be very scary. It’s in those moments of opening that we feel so deeply. A lot of the common techniques used these days to work with challenging feelings actually pushes away or ignores those feelings. Cultivating compassion brings us in touch with those emotions instead.

When empathy meets love – this unique mixture births compassion. You are feeling your feels, and holding it in a space of love. You are connecting with the experience of another, and holding it in the space of love – whatever that experience may be! It doesn’t have to be only when you or another is in pain. It’s about that shared thread that we human beings have.

I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of compassionate people in my life right now. And when I’m at my lowest points, I’m usually met with a lot of compassion. That experience helps soften the edges of my hurt, or my anger, or my sadness – and lets me relax into the experience rather than fight against it. Not only that, but it reminds me to be compassionate to myself. Compassion can provide a safety net and sense of grounding.

I’m a strong believe in experience. You have to really experience compassion to know what it is, and I would bet that a lot of us have experienced it without naming it.

Now that the foundation has been laid, what’s the point of it? Why should I be compassionate? Why should I cultivate compassion?

A gorgeous landscape with a tree setting its roots down (the foundation of compassion!)
A gorgeous landscape with a tree setting its roots down (the foundation of compassion!)

Well, here at Project Mindfulness, we put a strong emphasis on the pragmatic and practical benefits of various practices – to help make it more accessible.

What are the actual benefits of cultivating compassion?

What kind of benefits do you feel come from compassion? Comment below.

1. Increased sense of peace, calm, happiness & joy

No joke here. As I continued to cultivate my practice of compassion, I found myself to be at ease and happy continuously for hours every day (as opposed to the diametric opposite!) Even now, when I’m not actively practicing it – the work I put in awoke something within my heart. That sense of peace & happiness generally permeates my every day life.

That experience is something that can be felt by anyone who takes up the practice of compassion and unconditional love.

2. Willingness to be present in your day to day life

Life is really intense. Like…really intense.

Life is intensity. Do you see the life within you does not slacken even for a moment? What slackens is your mind and your emotion – sometimes on, sometimes off. Watch the breath, does it ever slacken? If it slackens, it means death, isn’t it?

Sadhguru, in How to Be Intense

The intensity of life can push us away from being present. I get it. It really is harder said than done. And I really believe that a major component preventing us from being present with ourselves is fear.

Compassion creates a sense of safety and ease that counteracts that fear. It tells you, “it’s okay to be afraid, and everything is going to be ok.”

3. The ability to face whatever challenges arise internally and externally

Similar to the point above – if you know that you are safe, wouldn’t facing challenges be a lot easier?

Consider: how much of the difficulty in facing life’s obstacles comes from the fear of what might or may happen?

If you have a deep knowing, in your heart, that it’s all going to be ok…that you are safe, no matter what happens. How would that change the way you experience obstacles?

For me, it was a tremendous shift. Even when I’m overcome with fear (and when it rains, it pours) I still have this spark inside of okay-ness.

4. Relationships improve

Many different people's faces of all shapes & sizes. We all share a common thread. A thread that I feel is ultimately more important than any other difference we may find.
Many different people’s faces of all shapes & sizes. We all share a common thread. A thread that I feel is ultimately more important than any other difference we may find.

Coming from a place of compassion in action, speech, and thought radically changes the way you approach & communicate with others. Whether they will identify it or not, that sense of ease can be experienced by anyone speaking with you.

I first started practicing compassion on a daily basis when I went to India. I was there for half a year cultivating the practice.

When I came back, my interaction with my family & friends was dramatically changed. Things that would’ve transformed into fights, didn’t. Things that would’ve bothered me and set my anger on fire, didn’t. Situations that I would’ve scoffed at, laughed at, scorned – instead I saw them more clearly – I saw that shared human thread and met it with compassion.

I get that some of what I’m sharing here sounds so drastic. What a change! What a shift!

But even a tiny bit makes a difference. No effort is wasted. Even a drop of compassion can change a life.

5. It supports your other meditation practices tremendously

I was speaking to someone very close to me recently. They were taking our “Learn to Achieve Access Concentration” course.

They mentioned how after taking the course for some days in a row, they were finding it difficult to settle. There was some fear coming up. It felt ungrounding.

I get that – those are common experiences when developing in your progress towards Access Concentration.

But she decided to take a break and take a class that was all about grounding, connecting with the earth, and cultivating a sense of compassion & connection.

She was then able to return to the practice of Access Concentration with ease, safety, and an uplifted mind.

Everyone practices differently. What works really well for one person may not work for the other.

But the bottom line is the same – balance is important. Take time in your practice to find a balance that makes sense.

6. Sense of safety

Like a warm embrace :).

7. Ease in sleeping

Suffused in compassion, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up.

Nightmares will change in their nature, and be less, too.

8. It shows in/on your body & face

This one is sort of funny, but it’s true. The face and body relaxes, and radiance shines through. It’s literally visible.

9. Less stress

There are many traditional mentions about the power of compassion & loving kindness (Buddhism, for example, differentiates between the two – keep that in mind!) Here’s an article describing the 11 benefits of loving kindness from a Buddhist perspective.

These are all benefits I have experienced personally. When I was first introduced to the idea of these practices, I scoffed. I thought it was ridiculous – how could this possibly benefit me? I thought it was silly, and stupid.

Over several years, as my mental health continued to deteriorate, I recognized that a change was needed. Clearly my approach for myself was not working out.

Turning to the practice of meditation, I found myself drawn intensely to the practice of compassion (and devotion.) And, well, it changed my life.

Compassion sounds pretty cool. So…how can I practice compassion? How can I cultivate, learn, grow compassion?

Here’s another post on 9 simple steps to meditate (on the breath!)

Plant the seed of love. A beautiful comic by the artist DODOLOG.
A beautiful comic by the artist DODOLOG

There are so many ways. Thousands, millions – as many ways as there are humans.

But I’ve got this simple practice that you can do right now while reading. Give it a shot and comment below what your experiences are like.

What’s your experience like with sharing, growing, practicing compassion? Comment below.

1. Get comfy

This is key, yo! A lot of meditation practices will suggest certain postures. You’ve probably heard of some of them, or seen someone with a nice straight back and legs folded into lotus.

While that’s a conversation for another time, when it comes to love based practices I usually suggest just getting comfortable.

Whether that’s sitting, standing, hanging upside down, laying down, walking, dancing – doesn’t matter. Just get comfy, however that is for you in this moment.

2. Begin with gentle breathing

That’s all. Nothing to see here. Just breathe gently through the nose (if possible) for a little while.

Breathe in to your face, let your face relax.

Breathe into your shoulders – let them rise, and then relax completely. Let them fall.

Let your hands open and relax to wherever they want to be.

Even move your body gently if you would like to. Facilitate your own relaxation as you continue to breathe gently.

Nowhere to be. Nothing to do. Let that sense of ease spread throughout your body.

3. Bring your awareness to your heart “center”

Maybe you’ve heard the term before.

The reason I’m using it here – our goal is not to focus on the physical heart, but the center of your chest. Slightly above the indentation of your sternum meeting your abdomen. In many traditions, this is considered the spiritual heart. But that doesn’t matter.

Gently bring your awareness to this heart center while breathing. As you breathe, let your awareness of your heart center grow until it’s as if you can feel the breath filling your heart center with each inhalation.

It can be helpful, even, to visualize a soft glow expanding and contracting with each breath at the heart.

4. A trickle of gratitude

A stream gently flowing. Let the gratitude trickle through.
A stream gently flowing. Let the gratitude trickle through.

Gratitude is an amazing doorway into compassion (and vice versa.)

Think of something – anything – that you feel grateful for. It truly does not matter what, or who, it is. Let that sense of gratitude intermingle with the breath coming into the heart.

With each inhalation, let your heart center fill gently with gratitude. Even just a trickle will suffice. A drop filling in your heart.

Continue to breath softly allowing the sensation of breath become a sensation of gratitude.

What does the gratitude feel like? Stay in touch with the feeling.

5. The birth of compassion

As you breathe gratitude into the heart, get in touch with the warmth of gratitude. It’s a gentle warmth. Like a soft embrace.

Let the warmth fill with a phrase.

“It’s okay.”

Gently let go of the gratitude.

Let the warmth fill your heart as you breathe. The warmth of “it’s okay.”

6. Now breathe throughout the body, from the heart

As you continue to breathe into the heart, let that okayness spread from your heart throughout your body.

Let it gently grow into your arms.

Into your legs.

Your abdomen.

Your back.

Your hands, your feet.

And into your head.

Keep breathing the okayness until it fills your entire body.

You can continue to use some phrases internally or out loud if it’s helpful.

It’s okay.”

“I am safe.”

“I am supported.”

“I am loved.”

6. It’s time to share.

Now as you breathe the soft okayness throughout your entire body, begin to feel the edges of your body.

Breathe okayness into your body, and as you exhale let it expand outside of your body.

Share the okayness with others.

You can choose someone or a group of people.

Or you can simply exhale it outside of your body to fill the room, your house, your state, your country, your world, your universe.

7. Release the practice. How do you feel?

How did the practice feel? What does your body feel like? Your mind? What kind of thoughts are coming through?

Take this time to observe yourself post practice. It’s a really valuable time.

I’d love to hear your experiences – comment below!

Stoked on this practice and want to do another one? Learn about meditation on the breath.

What’s next?

Keep accepting forward. A door open is an opportunity. An arch is a gate into a new world. There are always new opportunities, there are always new worlds.
Keep accepting forward. A door open is an opportunity. An arch is a gate into a new world. There are always new opportunities, there are always new worlds.

I’m currently writing and recording a free 7-day course on self-compassion, compassion, and unconditional love. If you’re interested, put your email here and you’ll get notified when it’s released.

If you’re at ALL inspired, I really encourage you to seek out more lessons on compassion. Take the time to work on cultivating it during your daily life. It’s truly something you can carry into your every day experiences.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Email me, comment below, message us on Facebook…whatever works for you.

I’ll see you soon!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful article on compassion. 💖
    I enjoyed reading and felt compassion shining through every part! 🥰

    In addition to movement based practices like walking and yoga asana, I find practicing compassion has helped me go deeper in the more concentration and insight-based meditations.

    Thank you so much for sharing the benefits of your practice! 🙏💓🌎

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