I recently attended a daylong workshop on Mindful Self-Compassion by Chris Germer, a clinical psychologist and lecturer on psychiatry. It was part of a fundraising event for the True North Insight organization and I thought it was pretty neat.
The purpose of the workshop was resource building for medical, therapeutic and care-giving practitioners. It was based on the research by Kristin Neff and the teachings of the Mindful Self-Compassion program.
The workshop was punctuated by practical exercises to explore our understanding of self-compassion and our capacity to cultivate it.
During the lecture, Chris demonstrated a beautiful quality of presence and shared many insightful and witty phrases, some of which I wrote down and I’d like to quote here (freely, I must say, because I’m relying only on my personal notes and I didn’t catch the names of the authors).
According to Chris, we are capable of experiencing compassion towards others, especially our dear ones. However, we tend not to treat our own self with the same generosity. A definition of self-compassion in our lecturer’s words:
“Treat ourselves with the same kindness as we would treat a dear friend when things go wrong.”
When things go wrong, we apparently activate hormones and instincts that are no longer useful. They might have been helpful at an earlier stage of humanity or of our individual lives, but they no longer serve us. When we feel threaten, we can go into Fight / Flight / Freeze reactions, by reflex so to speak. Inside our minds, these become Self-criticism / Isolation / Rumination, respectively.
All of these reactions are forms of inner-violence that we exert on ourselves.
Chris suggests that we can step back in these moments and ask:
“What do I need? Often, what we need is to feel safe.”
The practice of mindfulness gives us tools that help us be in and pass through these moments. We learn to acknowledge our emotions, to point to them and say I see you / I feel you.
This soothes us and brings relief to our heart.
“Allow the heart to melt in the heat of suffering.”
Moment-to-moment awareness gives place to equanimity, spaciousness and wisdom.
“Space creates warmth and warmth creates space.”
The realization that all of us can feel like this at one time of another is the realization of common humanity.
“I’m not alone in this, you are not alone in this.
This sense of connection heals.”
Mindfulness practice equips us with powerful antidotes:
“Fight > Self-Criticism > Kindness
Flight > Isolation > Connectedness
Freeze > Rumination > Mindfulness”
Much more was discussed in the workshop and many hints and sparks were shared. To me, all this seems even more relevant when I witness around me, among my friends, acquaintances and random encounters, how incapable of self-compassion we can be. And how much we are in need.
“When we suffer, we give ourselves compassion, not to feel better but because we feel bad.”
As for the practical aspect of the day, these are some exercises that resonated with me.
1. Expressing compassion. Sound and soothing touch.
Awwwww! Release and let go, expire and sigh!
Hold one hand inside the other, cradle your face, embrace your heart. Our own posture and touch can soothe and bring comfort.
2. Breathing exercise
Breathe in for me; breathe out for them.
3. Difficult emotions
Label emotions, notice their tone. Find them in the body. Soften, soothe and allow.