Mindfulness & Self-Compassion

Mindfulness is being aware of the moment and what is happening in the body, through the senses and in the mind. Mindfulness is paying attention without judgment or wishing things were different. It is bringing curiosity and acceptance to our experience in this moment and the next. ~ Elizabeth Gosselin

The resources of mindfulness and compassion lie at the very core of our being even though at times they may be difficult to access. The times when we feel out of touch with the direction of our life, or find ourselves lacking confidence when facing difficult situations can be met with an internal strength that can lead to greater joy and happiness.

When we learn and strengthen the skills of mindfulness we feel more confident and aware and we find our inner wisdom that enables us to trust in life as it unfolds. Through self-compassion we are kinder and more loving to ourselves and also to the people around us.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness very simply means paying attention, sometimes we call it being mindfully aware. Mindfulness is a skill we can develop over time. It is the honed ability to be aware of what is happening without adding on some sort of good or bad narrative. When we are mindful we become more aware of what is happening in our minds, in a way we ‘see’ our thoughts, feelings and reactions.

There are many types of meditation that can support us developing mindfulness skills and can contribute positively to our lives and to our relationships. Mindful awareness develops over time through practice. We truly have to experience mindful awareness and develop it to genuinely understand it.

Within the last several decades there have been numerous evidence-based research studies showing that mindfulness decreases anxiety and depression, can literally re-wire the brain, regulate emotional responses, and provide greater immune responses to illness.

Through the practice of mindfulness we can access a greater sense of compassion for others and ourselves. For example, when we encounter a difficult situation and we recognize the pain or anxiety of the moment, instead of shying away we stay present and patient and we take a moment to investigate and honor what is happening. Through mindfulness we can soften and be kind with ourselves and others, rather than responding defensively or feeling shame.

How does Mindfulness lead to Self-Compassion?

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her life may be. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly.

Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “Just like me…”

Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now… How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to be. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.
(Excerpted from Kristin Neff)

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