In my previous article, Self-compassion In Mental Health Recovery, I talked about becoming compassionate to self is a life long process. It stands to reason that the process has to start somewhere. The trick, if there is one, comes in finding the methods and tools that are exclusive to your needs. For self-compassion to rise in you, a very personal approach must be adopted. This is true not only for developing the skills of compassion but all work that you do in personal development. The fortunate part of this process is that once you do get methods and tools that work for you personal growth starts to build its own momentum.
I recommend in my work with others to start very simply. I suggest that you start by simply watching your intentions at least twice a day for 5 minutes. The reason that I suggest that you start with 5 minutes is because it can be hard in our busy lives to grant ourselves any time for personal work. It is easier to build a regular habit of reflection if we are not defeated at the beginning by not having sufficient time to do the work. It also contributes to fostering the first skill that we need to successfully realize growth. This skill is learning to quiet your mind.
The Buddhist call the unquieted mind the, "Monkey Mind". It is full of chatty frenetic conversation about everything. Will she like me? Should I check my email? What should I do for dinner? What if my boss does not like that report? It is involved in almost endless consideration of everything accept peace and quiet. It gets lost in every moment but now. It ruminates about the past and speculates about the future. It does this in a less than conscience manner. To be compassionate with yourself you have to be rooted in the the present moment. Life is a series of many moments. The only time that you can do anything is right now. If you can not focus on right now you are defeated in the process.
So how do we begin to quiet the mind? To quiet the mind it is helpful to quiet the body. Find a place where you can be relaxed and are not likely to be disturbed. Turn off the phone. You must give yourself the permission to take the time that you need. We afford ourselves other needs that we have. Even really busy people must eat. Does being quiet rate as a need like eating? My simple answer is that to be happier and more self-compassionate it does. This permissive state is an example of self-kindness. We need to start allowing ourselves the things thats are required for our mental and spiritual health.
Once you have found a place where you can be physically relaxed the process of quieting the body can be as simple as sitting still. This again can be a challenge. Be gentle with yourself at this time. If you need to scratch yourself, shift your weight it is ok to do so. Just do so in a relaxed state and return your body to rest. Don't worry if you have a hard time. This is a skill and any skill takes some time to develop. If you find that you have more physical angst you may find it necessary to add some breathing techniques. We want to encourage ourselves to breathe in a relaxed manner. Perhaps you may want to start off with slowly inhaling deeply. Fill your lungs completely. Breathe from your stomach. Try not to let your shoulders rise with your inhalation. If you let your shoulders rise you are adding stress to your body not relaxing it. This tends to stress the shoulders, neck, back, and head. After you have inhaled, pause for a two count, then slowly and completely exhale. Do this several times. As you begin to take full breaths in and out, in a slow and steady manner you can begin to let your breath settle down to let it do its own thing. Our breathing is interesting in that it can be both voluntary and involuntary. When you are relaxed your breathing will be also.
Okay so what if you find it hard to sit for 5 minutes in this way, are you prevented from quieting the body and the mind? Certainly not. Perhaps going for a nice stroll will help you to relax. What we are trying to foster is something that Herbert Benson, M.D. and others refer to as the, "Relaxation Response". Simply this is the response that our body and minds have when stilled. This response is key to progress in building the skill of a quieted mind.
So now that you have begun to quiet your mind you are on the road to finding compassion for yourself. In my next article I will explore more steps along the path to your personal self-compassion.