The Self-Compassion Session

You’re sitting down for your 2 minutes of self-compassion practice … what do you do?

I talked a little about what to do in the Self-Compassion Habit Plan, but let’s explore that a little more.

First, you’re committing to just 2 minutes a day. If you feel like going longer, by all means, feel free to do so … as long as it seems easy and you’re not making it hard on yourself. The length of the practice means absolutely nothing at this point, other than 2 minutes is a great way to keep you doing the habit.

Next, you’re going to sit still for 2 minutes: find a quiet place where you won’t be bothered, and just sit comfortably. This could be your living room couch if there’s no one bothering you in the morning, or maybe you just sit in bed. If that doesn’t work, find any place in your home that can give you a couple minutes’ privacy — perhaps the bathroom. Or go outside the house for a couple minutes if necessary. Eyes open or closed, doesn’t matter. Posture doesn’t matter — just sit however you like.

Now turn inward: bring up the image of a time when you suffered recently, and try to see the suffering, feel how it felt.

Let’s talk about the term “suffering” for a minute. Many people think of “suffering” as being tortured, attacked, some kind of horrible pain. That’s definitely suffering, but the kind I’m talking about encompasses any kind of negative emotion or experience — it’s suffering at a minor level. Though sometimes the minor suffering can build up to something major. For example, if you’re stressed or frustrated, this is pretty minor, but if it happens frequently or nearly all the time, then it can actually be a huge problem, and cause serious health effects.

Even if your problems aren’t that big — maybe you’re happy most of the time — you might think of a time when you got angry at your spouse or kid or co-worker, when you were irritated by someone on the street, when you were stuck in traffic and frustrated, when you were stressed by a lot of things to do.

“Suffering” in this context includes small things. If you don’t like that word, just think of the term “negative emotion”. We all have them from time to time, even if we’re relatively happy. And many people are struggling through life, with their finances, health habits, procrastination, and more … they might be happy, but struggling with negative emotions over these issues.

So … turn to one of those times, and feel it. Really experience what it feels like physically. For me, it’s often a tightening of the chest, or a feeling of rising panic, also in the chest area. What does it feel like for you? Instead of wishing it weren’t there, just observe the physical sensation, with curiosity. Be an impartial observer, examining a phenomenon in the name of science.

Accept that this feeling is in you, a part of your experience. We can wish we didn’t have negative feelings, but the reality is that we do. We all get angry, frustrated, irritated, disappointed, sad, and feel doubt. These are just experiences that come up, just like a hot day happens and we can’t avoid that reality. We can’t stop a breeze from happening, or leaves from changing color. We can’t stop our emotions from happening either. We can just accept that they’re there, and decide how to act given that reality.

Next, wish yourself happiness. Wish for an end to your suffering. Genuinely hope that you become happy, and genuinely hope that your suffering (in whatever form) will end. Wish yourself well. Comfort yourself — you’ve gone through pain, and a little comforting is nice.

Now try to see what’s causing the suffering. Yes, there are external events, like someone being rude to you, saying something in an angry way. But the fact of them talking angrily isn’t what causes your suffering — that’s just something that happens, like leaves falling outside. You don’t get mad when leaves fall. Only when someone talks to you angrily. What’s the difference?

The difference is you expect leaves to fall, and that occurrence has no effect on how you feel about yourself. But you expect people to talk to you nicely (your ideal), and when they don’t, you feel attacked. This causes you to defend how you see yourself (as a good person), often with anger. The cause, then, is your expectation/ideal that people will always be nice to you (they won’t), and your ideal of being a good person (we all do good and bad things). The ideal is causing your anger, not the person talking in a certain way.

The ideal is causing your pain. It doesn’t match with reality, and you want it to. You can rage against the world for not meeting your ideals … or you can let go of the ideals and not have the pain.

This is a difficult concept for many people to accept, so sit with it this month, and see if you can find the truth in it. I’ve found it to be a very useful idea, but I definitely struggled with it at first. Let it ruminate in you as you sit.

Finally, try to let go of your ideal for a bit, and instead appreciate things as they are, without ideals. Be grateful for what actually is.

This is the self-compassion session. It takes practice — luckily, that’s what we’re doing this month.