An Exercise in Self-Compassion
Find a comfortable position in which you are centered and alert. For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forward, straighten your back, drop your shoulders, and press your feet gently onto the floor.
Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with. Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of this gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise. 1. Be Present Pause. That’s all you need do: just pause. Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words and the speed and volume of its speech. Be curious: Is this story old and familiar, or something new? What time zones is your mind taking you into: the past, present, or future? What judgments is it making? What labels is it using? Don’t try to debate with your mind or silence it; you’ll only stir it up. Simply notice the story it’s telling you.
And notice, with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise. What do you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear, or embarrassment? Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety? Name these emotions as they arise: “Here’s fear” or “Here’s sadness.” Pay attention, like a curious child, to what is going on inside your body. Where are you feeling these emotions the most? What are the sizes, shapes, and temperatures of these feelings? How many layers do they have? How many different types of sensation can you find within them? 2. Open Up Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain. Do so with an attitude of kindness. Infuse this breath with caring and contribution; see it as an act of comfort and support.
Imagine your breath flowing into it and around your pain. Imagine that a vast space magically opens up inside you, making plenty of room for all those feelings. No matter how painful they are, do not fight with them. Offer peace to your feelings rather than hostility. Let them be as they are and give them plenty of space rather than push them away.
And if you notice any resistance in your body—tightening, contraction, or tension—breathe into that too. Make room for it. Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings, and your resistance. 3. Hold Kindly Now choose one of your hands. Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.
Place this hand, slowly and gently, on whichever part of your body hurts the most. Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck, or stomach? Wherever it is most intense, lay your hand there. (And if you’ve gone numb or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your hand on the center of your chest.) Let it rest there, lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes. Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body. Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up, and making space. Hold this pain gently. Hold it as if it is a crying baby, a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art. Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth, as if you are reaching out to someone you care about. Let the kindness flow from your fingers. Now, use both of your hands. Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there. Hold yourself kindly and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.
4. Speak Kindly
Now say something caring to yourself, to express concern or affection. You might silently say a word like “gentle” or “kindness” to remind yourself of your intention. You might say, “This really hurts” or “This is hard.” You might say, “I know this hurts, but I can do this.” You might even repeat a quote, proverb, or saying, as long as it does not make light of your pain. If you’ve failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself, “Yes, I’m human. Like everybody else on the planet, I fail and I make mistakes.” You might acknowledge that this is part of being human; remind yourself, kindly and gently, that this is what all humans feel when they face a reality gap. This pain tells you something very important: that you’re alive, that you have a heart, that you care, and that there’s a gap between what you want and what you’ve got. And this is what all humans feel under such circumstances. It’s unpleasant. It hurts. And you don’t want it. And this is something you have in common with every other human being on the planet.