I consciously remember to be kind to myself when I am suffering. Even a toothache or a tummy ache – ‘awww I am feeling sore, compassion for me’, and I may even find myself giving myself a we reassuring rub on the arm or even a hug. It is not self indulgent feeling sorry for myself as I might have once thought. It is just stopping to allow compassion to arise the same way I would when witnessing suffering in any living being. Its a beautiful experience that is unfolding and it allows me to go through painful experiencing with less clenched up resistance to the pain. I know I can handle it with self compassion accompanying me.
This morning in the early hours as I lay in bed, a wave of feeling arrived on a thought – it was that something really bad is about to happen that I cant see. It was accompanied by a feeling of dread and fear. The thought had stimulated the primitive part of my brain that is attuned to threat and there was an accompanying fright or flight response.
My immediate response was a habitual clenching up of ‘oh no no THAT scared feeling again, I haven’t had that for ages, maybe this happy time is ended, ouch’. Then I quickly remembered that I don’t have to be afraid of feelings that arise, they are so fleeting, and I don’t believe many of my thoughts anyway, including this one.
So I changed tack from resisting to welcoming the thought and its feeling, “Oh hello there, come on in and have a cup of tea Mrs Worry and Mr Dread that Something Bad Might Happen, nice to see you again. Compassion for your suffering”. And that felt really very okay, so I just lay there with it a while, allowing and soothing by being gentle. The feeling didn’t last long and dissipated as I relaxed with it.
Later again in the car driving along the thought and feeling came again, and I did the same thing. An ‘oh no not that horrible dread feeling’ to ‘hello Mr Dread, welcome’. This is a new approach I am experimenting with. I know that when I am happy or things are stable and going well I am prone to worrying and feeling unsafe.
So I apply patience and self compassion whenever pain arises for any reason. I have found this can create a space for the pain, and I do not need to fear it. I know that it can take time for old habits to change, so no rush and much patience for myself. Especially since the primitive part of our brains are programmed by evolution to perceive threat, and it has very powerful responses which can easily flood our nervous systems.
We have inherited a brain that contains several evolutionary stages. We have the so called reptilian brain with its primitive responses, and the more recent and advanced areas of our brains. What I have learned through practicing self compassion is that the more advanced part of our brains can sooth the responses of the primitive area with its reactivity. Greater emotional regulation and stability is the result. Three cheers for self therapy!
For more information on this subject I highly recommend the work of Dr.Paul Gilbert.