So why is this important?
Because for most of us, the doing is what takes up 99.99% of our lives. We’re all about the doing. We are constantly trying to keep things under control, or keeping ourselves busy to distract ourselves from thoughts or feelings that we are trying to avoid.
The problem here is that most of what happens to us is outside of our control. And despite my best efforts of distraction, the harder I try to avoid thoughts and feelings I don’t want, the more intrusive they tend to be.
The doing is actually what causes most of my stress, worry and anxiety.
How about you?
So how about the being?
The being of life is that feeling we have when we are totally immersed in something, perhaps it’s playing with our kids, or playing a sport or doing something else we love. That state of ‘being in the zone’, where all we are aware of is exactly the task we have at hand. In that being state, our minds tend to let go of all those worries we carry. The worries of the things we need to do, or mistakes we’ve made in the past or even things that haven’t happened yet, they all seem to fall to the wayside in favour of the awareness of being present. Right in that moment, present for what is happening to us right then. No more, no less.
The skills we learn through practicing mindfulness are about grounding ourselves in the present. Allowing the natural human preoccupation with doing to simply wash over us, each moment a chance to “begin again”. Our meditations simply a practicing ground for this ability to find our way back to the present again and again, no matter how many times our mind wanders.
We use anchors like our breath, or the sounds we can hear around us, or our bodily sensations to help to guide us back. And as we leave our cushion each time we finish our meditation, we take this awareness with us through out our day. This knowledge that no matter what happens to us, no matter how much our mind wanders, or how far ‘off course’ we feel, we can always find our way back to those anchors we place and strengthen each time we meditate.
Our sense of awareness grows.
We become less a human doing and more a human being.
For in this state of being, we know that we can always come back to the present moment. With grace and humility, again and again.
That is equanimity.
That is self compassion.
Self compassion isn’t about words, it’s about thoughts and actions.
In mindfulness we learn that we can’t control thoughts, but that we can learn how to be with them.
All of them, even the uncomfortable ones. Like our tendency to be harsh with ourselves.
So what is the link between mindfulness and self compassion?
Well it is through the practice of mindfulness that we can start to notice these thoughts that have been leading us to not be kind to ourselves in the first place. Not to change them or to inflict further hurt and harm by berating ourselves for having them in the first place.
Just to sit with them.
To notice that these self flagellating thoughts tend often to appear in response to similar triggers.
That when these thoughts come, our mind and body often follows them to familiar places- of self loathing or criticism. Or we attempt to dull or suppress them with our chosen vice- whether it be food, social media scrolling or other such distractions.
We can notice what feelings and sensations sitting with these thoughts brings up within us.
Is there a visceral reaction? Does our body physically rebel against the discomfort of these uncomfortable observations?
Or does it trigger a cascade of emotional memories, held within the vault of our sub conscious?
What tends to happen, is that we realise that those thoughts that have been leading us to be self critical or unkind to ourselves, are only a very small part of our inability to practice self compassion.
That simply changing how we speak to ourselves is just one part. Albeit a very important part.
That in fact, a much larger part is noticing these ‘flow on’ effects of those original self critical words and learning how to stop that process from eventuating.
So how do we go about changing this?
How can we show ourselves more self compassion?
Self compassion is not self indulgent or weak. Self compassion is simply the training ground for how you then treat the world. We perfect these skills on ourselves so we unlock the very best of ourselves for the world.
Like anything worthwhile, it takes times, commitment and practice.
But you’re worth it.
This morning as I drove my kids to school, I noticed that there weren’t all the usual students walking to school along our route there would normally be.
I noticed this small fact then my mind set to work creating a story around it.
Perhaps the first day back after school holidays was a curriculum day and I’d missed it? A very easy thing to do as I am absolutely terrible at reading the school newsletter.
Then my mind went down that path of chastising me for never reading the newsletter.
Then I started thinking how I was going to rearrange my day because I was sure now I would have to find someone to look after my kids at late notice.
A veritable cascade of thoughts and worries all stemming from that split second observation- “gee, there don’t seem to be any kids walking to school this morning”.
Now I’m not sure about you, but my mind is actually VERY good at doing this. Creating stories out of tidbits of information and observations about the world around me.
No doubt this skill would have stood me in good stead had I been born tens of thousands of years earlier and I was reliant on this ability to stay safe in a world full of predators and dangers.
My nervous system has evolved to be perfectly wired to perceive small bits of information so that I can kick my early warning system into gear and respond appropriately.
The problem with this however is that this early warning system is often subject to distortion.
Well, as it turned out, it was the first day of school camp today so many of the students had been driven to school laden down with suitcases, sleeping bags and pillows (hence the paucity of late primary aged children walking themselves to school this morning).
Never in a million years would that have been the conclusion that my brain took me to today.
Yes, I probably should start reading the school newsletter. But notwithstanding that minor point, my brain would simply not have connected that innocuous observation I made with school camp as my children are much younger and school camp is just not in my perceptual sphere at this point in time.
So how can I believe anything that my brain tells me, if I am so obviously capable of creating a ‘truth’ based simply on a combination of what I observe and the many experiences that my mind has encountered before?
Well the great thing is that we don’t HAVE to believe everything our brain tells us.
The input of our brain is simply another input source to the input of our senses (except our senses are much less likely to skew the truth than our brain does). We can choose whether or not we follow our brain down that perception pathway.
The alternate option being that we mindfully step back from the workings of our brain and see this delicate interplay between what happens to us, how we interpret that and then ultimately how we act on that interpretation.
And yes, perhaps I also start reading the school newsletter…
These are blog posts submitted by those in the healing and healthcare professions who are reflecting on their lives, their roles and themselves.