by Oori Silberstein
The fundamental question of Mindfulness is what is happening in this moment? Asking this question sincerely in any moment has the potential to create space and choice in moments of difficulty and stress. Mindfulness practice can turn stressful moments into moments of relaxation and relief. And over time, with regular practice and patience, mindfulness can be fundamentally transformative and healing. But sometimes challenging and difficult emotions are larger than our mindfulness in the moment and we need something more.
Finding our balance amidst strong emotions like sadness, self-judgment, grief, anger, shame, embarrassment, negative mood, depression or anxiety (to name a few) often takes more than simple mindfulness in the moment. This is true for everybody, from relative beginners to seasoned meditation teachers. At such times, therapeutic intervention with a professional can be an excellent and beneficial thing to do. I myself have benefitted greatly from therapy at various times throughout my 18 years as a meditator.
Bringing in kindness
In our personal practice, when encountering and trying to navigate our way through difficult experiences and feelings, it is extremely helpful to learn how to bring kindness and care to ourselves in a genuine and effective way. And this is what the practice of Mindful Self-Compassion, or MSC, offers. In the same way that Mindfulness helps us access and strengthen the mind’s natural capacity to be present and wise, MSC helps us access and strengthen the heart’s natural capacity to be kind and caring.
Meeting difficulty or stress with kindness is what we mean by compassion. Can you think of a time when someone was there for you in a moment of difficulty without trying to change you or fix you? Perhaps a teacher, a good friend or a grandparent-type figure who just let you be how you were in the moment of difficulty? When someone is genuinely kind and accepting towards us in the midst of our difficulty it can be very supportive and healing.
In addition to feeling compassion from others we can also feel it towards others. For example, when we see a small child fall and get hurt our heart may naturally respond with care and kindness. Compassion is a natural movement of our heart when we are relaxed and seeing clearly.
Giving and receiving
Mindful Self-Compassion teaches us how to combine these two natural instincts, of giving and receiving compassion, in a way that strengthens our ability to navigate difficult emotions. It uses mindfulness to notice when we are experiencing difficulty, and gives us tools to access our own capacity to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves in such moments.
If all of this sounds a bit awkward, or even a bit unbelievable, you are not alone. Most of us have been taught negative myths about self-kindness. I was personally quite skeptical of this practice initially. I did not believe I could really befriend myself in a satisfying and genuine way. “That only happens when the friend is another person” I thought. And I went to MSC class with lots of doubts and reasons why it was wrong or impossible to do this. But what I learned, with the support of a good teacher, was that I am capable of offering myself exactly the kind of support and compassion I need. And MSC has become a central part of my practice and daily life. When mindfulness asks What is happening in this moment and the answer is that we are experiencing difficulty, we can then ask the fundamental question of MSC: What do I need in this moment? And with the skills and practices of MSC, we learn to give ourselves exactly what we need in moments of difficulty, in a way that is genuinely satisfying and healing.