The effect of consistent practice of the self-compassion break exercise has been subtle but deep. In some ways, it feels like the effect snuck up on me. As I practiced it every morning, it took on the feel of being rote and I wondered if I had made a poor decision in choosing it as a daily practice, perhaps it wasn’t a juicy enough practice.
If I wasn’t experiencing some sort of strain or stress at the time of meditation, the directions of the practice asked me to recall a time of suffering, a situation requiring self-compassion. Quite a few mornings of these last two weeks I found myself needing to recall a time of distress to engage the practice as it is written. The first few times this occurred, it felt alright to recall a past experience of suffering, yet as it continued, it felt more like I was needing to stir something up and this felt counter-intuitive to a daily meditation practice of being with what is. So, I modified the exercise to the immediacy of my experience, rather than reaching for something which qualified as distress or suffering.
I brought the three steps of the practice - name the experience, acknowledge the common humanity of the experience and offer myself self-compassion – to my direct experience as I sat. For example, if as I sat for meditation I was feeling at ease, I named it that, ease. I noted to myself that many people feel at ease and I held myself, as I experienced ease, in self-compassion. I resided there and allowed the field of awareness and compassion to expand, similar to my usual practice of meditation. I did wonder, however, if I wasn’t being true to my intention to engage daily with a compassion-based practice and was, rather, reverting to the familiarity of my daily sitting practice.
Yet, somehow, the three specific steps had an effect.
Several days ago, in a proprioceptive write, I found myself exploring an unexpected motivation for learning to live from the full capacity of an infinite heart as I described in the first entry of this journey. As I wrote, I realized a part of me thought I could somehow use the capacity of an infinite heart to manipulate the outcome of a relationship which had become difficult for me. Some part of me felt having an infinite heart would make everything all right, and by all right I mean make the relationship what I wanted it to be, not what it was. A part of me was believing if I really lived from an infinite heart then I would get the love and attention I desired and in the way I desired it. (This is not what living from an infinite heart does, but more on that later).
As I continued writing, I realized I wasn’t judging myself or being critical of myself. Rather I was holding the revelation with equanimity. On reflection, I recognized that the daily practice of the self-compassion break was affecting how I was holding myself in a situation where I previously would have been critical of myself. I would have been hard on myself for this “non-spiritual” motivation of a spiritual practice. In other words, I would have been hard on myself for being human. Yet through the daily practice of acknowledging the common humanity of whatever my experience was allowed me in the moment of seeing my less-than-flattering motivation to be gentle with myself, and not in a way where I had to remind myself to be gentle with myself, I simply was gentle with myself. The practice became habit. It became rote, which I previously associated with being not fruitful, but now I experienced as a trait, a part of my being. In the words of neuroscience, a temporary state of mind becoming a common trait.
Rick Hanson was a guest teacher in my meditation teacher training. He spoke about turning the positive, temporary states one might experience in mediation and other times of our lives into more permanent traits. One keyway to do this, he taught, is through savoring the experience, deliberately sitting in the sensation of the positive experience for 20 seconds or more. Using the example I noted above, acknowledging the sense of ease when I first sat for meditation and residing with it in a field of self-compassion, I was savoring the experience of both ease and self-compassion. On the days when I worked with sensations which were uncomfortable or distressing, the end step of the practice - hold myself in self-compassion – was more savoring. The repeated practice, repeated savoring of the experience of self-compassion, gentleness, kindness, was seeding these experiences to become engrained habits.
Living from an infinite heart is an offering of freedom, to myself and to those around me. I recognized this as I worked through the false belief it would get me what I wanted. The freedom is to be exactly as we are and provides me the capacity to be with that, whatever it is, even when it means I don’t receive what I want from another person, or when I am angry, hurt, confused or happy. Self-compassion is helping me to keep the freedom open to myself and others.
These past two weeks have been another learning of accepting and receiving the experience of being human without judgement. This is a basic teaching of meditation, to allow our immediate experience as it is without reacting, grasping, resisting, etc. rather, with awareness and compassion, simply accept. I am delightfully surprised I can learn this lesson over and over and in the moment of each learning it feels like something new, a new learning. Then I recall, oh, I know this already and smile even more to myself. I feel repeated learning is one of the aspects of living in the infinite heart. The heart is infinite so the experience of learning is infinite, over and over, again and again, endless revelations, each learning new, yet somehow the same and more.
For the next practice I have chosen loving kindness or metta practice. I’ve been re-reading Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron. I’ll be following the practice as she details it in this book. I’m drawn to this practice for the way it begins with the intention of loving kindness to myself then expands outward to the world. I am finding this is a natural progression to move from compassion for myself to compassion for others as I strengthen my capacity for self-compassion.
I’m interested to hear about your experiences with the self-compassion break, loving-kindness or other compassion-based practices.
All Body Centered Mindfulness Compassion Compassion Based Mindfulness Compassion-based Mindfulness Connection Creativity Curiosity Embodiment Intention Introduction Journey Of Compassion Love Meditation Mindfulness Self-compassion Welcome Year Of Compassion