Pathways to self-compassion

‘Although our personal experience may tell us otherwise, self-compassion is the most natural thing in the world. Deep within all beings is the wish to be happy and free from suffering.’

Christopher Germer

Are we kind to ourselves? Could we describe ourselves as our own best friend? Are we patient, understanding and supportive when we’ve made a mistake? As we practice mindfulness, we sometimes come to understand these questions in new and surprising ways. Over the coming weeks, we will look at what psychologist and mindfulness teacher Christopher Germer calls the five pathways to self compassion, from his book ‘The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion – freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions’. It’s a holistic model which we can return to whenever our life feels out of balance. The pathways he describes are:

Softening into the body

Allowing your thoughts

Befriending your feelings

Relating to others

Nourishing your spirit.

As we explore these five pathways, we may find that some areas of our life feel quite balanced, whereas other aspects have been neglected. Depending on our culture and upbringing, we may feel quite comfortable with the idea of self-compassion, or we may be a little suspicious of it. Is there a difference between being kind to ourselves, and becoming self-centered and narcissistic? Doesn’t our culture already promote the individual too much, and shouldn’t we focus our attention more on being available to others? Is it true, as Christopher Germer claims in the quote at the beginning, that self-compassion is the most natural thing in the word? And if it is, then why do we need to ‘practice’ it?

These are all very interesting questions to investigate, and we will all find our own answers. One of the most famous sayings on this topic is by Jesus – ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. It’s not ‘Love your neighbour much more than yourself’ or ‘Love your neighbour, but not yourself.’ As children, we thought the world evolved around our needs, and we needed to learn that this is not the case. Yet sometimes we may have taken this lesson too far in the opposite direction by not honouring the legitimate needs of our bodies, mind, emotions, relationships and spirit. Somewhere there is a happy middle ground, where we can be kind to ourselves without becoming self-indulgent. We can discover where this middle ground lies for us, and reflect on any changes we may want to make in our lives so that we feel more balanced and supported, both by our way of life, and also by the attitudes we express towards ourselves.

Weekly practice idea:

Take a blank piece of paper and a pen, and set aside 10 – 15 minutes where you won’t be disturbed. At the top of the page, write ‘For me, self-compassion means…’ and keep writing. Try not to censor yourself (you can always tear up what you’ve written straight after!), and see what emerges.

Anja Tanhane

Peace and goodwill

The time of Christmas, regardless of whether we celebrate it as a religious festival or a cultural one, is meant to be the season of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. Yet few of us are probably feeling particularly peaceful at this time of year, and the goodwill can also start to wear thin if you’ve been circling for forty minutes trying to find a car park at your local shopping centre, and someone cuts into a spot you had clearly indicated for yourself. Between end of year parties and Christmas shopping and getting organised for the big day, life tends to be more hectic than ever. Both our finances and our nerves may be wearing thin, and our tolerance for Christmas carols in the shops might be at an all-time low.

We can also feel we are being manipulated to buy more stuff than is needed, eat and drink more than is good for us, and generally add massive quantities of packaging, left-over food and unwanted presents to our landfills. Where then, in all of this, is the peace and goodwill?

The Christmas story is about the birth of new hope, of a new way of being in the world with kindness, love, and meaning. Regardless of whether we are practising Christians or not, most of us can appreciate the teachings of Jesus, his call on us to empty ourselves and live authentically, to follow the golden rule which runs through religions across the world – ‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.’ We may not like the commercialisation of Christmas, yet all cultures have festivals where normal life stops for a period of time, and people get together with their families and communities to celebrate a story which is evocative to them. We may already have rituals which make this time of year meaningful for us, but if we don’t, or if we would like to deepen our experience, we can create our own.

When do we feel most at peace, and what helps us to feel this way? What can we do, to intentionally cultivate a sense of peace? Some like to sit alone in a beautiful spot to watch the sun rise, while others feel most at peace in the midst of a large and noisy family gathering. It’s easy to get carried away with the busy demands of this season, but we have a choice to grow peace within ourselves, in whichever way is most meaningful for us. In this way, the festive season can indeed become the season of peace and goodwill for us.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, take ten minutes with a pen and notebook, and write down all different ways in which you can cultivate peace in your life. Place a tick next to one or two which you will practise over the next few days.

Anja Tanhane