This blog post is an excerpt from my Month of Mindful Healing e-course. If you find these words helpful, consider joining the class.
Connection is a basic human need. We require love, belonging, acceptance, and support, if only from a few people. But to fully heal, we must cultivate love within ourselves. Self-compassion is true medicine. It works from the inside out. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher on self-compassion (and its positive effects), describes three essential steps: 1) Practice mindfulness and become more aware of your pain; 2) Recognize that pain isn’t personal—there’s nothing wrong—it’s simply part of being human; and 3) Open your heart to yourself—give yourself the kindness and compassion you need.
Awareness is the first step. In our busy lives, we ignore our pain, distract ourselves, or make judgments, often unconsciously. Mindfulness allows us to open in all directions, including the difficult places.
Once we realize we’re in pain (emotional or physical), we often personalize it—make it a story of “me”—and this separates us from love and connection. Our thoughts and limiting beliefs keep us stuck. When we release our pain into a larger circle—everyone feels pain, this isn’t personal—there’s relief and opening.
It sounds radical, but we can provide ourselves kindness and compassion. We can send inward messages of love and acceptance. Self-compassion is different from self-care. Self-care involves externals, while self-compassion is internal intimacy—staying with ourselves when we’re in pain, and offering love to the tender places.
We often minimize our own pain. It’s helpful to keep perspective—to take a wider view—but it’s equally important to honor our pain. Pain is pain. Guy Newland writes, “Grief is the process of adjusting to unwanted change, and since change is unrelenting, we bear every day unrecognized microgriefs.” When we start to notice our microgriefs, we can attend to them with care. This doesn’t require huge swaths of time: Stay for 3 breaths and offer kindness inward.
My tell-tale sign: frustration or anger that’s out of proportion to the situation, often because I put others first. When I feel beleaguered, it’s a message that I need to listen inward. I ask myself, “Why am I so crabby?” And when I listen deeply, I know the answer: I’m in pain—I need to attend to myself like I do to others. So, I place my hand on my heart. (This small gesture brings me ease.) And with whatever time I have—perhaps only 2 minutes—I feel my breath, feel my pain, and send a well-wish inward. Sometimes my act of compassion is to let tears flow. Other times, it’s to take a break, finish a project, get outside, express gratitude, or apologize. Self-compassion isn’t a ticket to do anything we want without remorse. It’s an honest, gentle, and kind way to be with our pain and move forward. Meet ourselves right where we are and then choose the next skillful step toward healing.
You can begin with this short meditation: