‘The rainbow of compassion arises
when the sun-rays of kindness touch upon the tears of suffering.’
Thursday 17th February 2022 is the official Random Acts of Kindness Day and to celebrate we are sharing this beautiful article written by The Joy Club mindfulness teacher, Catherine Nasskau. The idea is simple but powerful: by showing kindness towards ourselves we amplify our ability to show compassion and care towards others. So what will your random act of kindness be today? We’ll be reading this article and starting there!
Starting with ourselves
Setting out to write this article, I knew the themes I wanted to explore: diversity, acceptance and kindness. I’d not written many notes before I recalled the aeroplane oxygen mask instruction – that in times of danger, adults are told to put their own oxygen mask on before helping their children; if adults pass out, the children are less likely to manage. This analogy is often used in mindfulness training – that we cannot be fully kind and caring to others until we give the same care to ourselves.
So I decided to focus this article on self-compassion, a skill that we can all learn and develop. The more self-compassionate we are, the kinder and more tolerant we can be to others. However, being kind to ourselves is often seen as indulgent and selfish in today’s world, and is not something we are always taught growing up. Self-compassion can be a difficult concept for people, who sometimes think it is self-centred if you ever put yourself first.
Increasing one’s ability to be kind to oneself is an integral part of mindfulness training, and often the most challenging. Research has shown that self-compassion builds resilience to stress and a strong sense of self-worth. If we can turn towards our own suffering, we’re more likely to be able to turn towards the suffering of others, and be motivated to alleviate and prevent their pain.
In today’s world, we have constant reminders of how others are doing, through images on TV or social media. When we criticise ourselves, we activate what’s known as the body’s ‘threat-defence system’ or ‘Reptilian brain’. When we perceive danger, our threat-defense system gets triggered to respond. And self-criticism is the quickest and most common initial reactions when things go wrong.
We feel stressed when we’re threatened in any way, which can lead to anxiety and depression. This is why frequent self-criticism is harmful for our emotional and physical well-being. So it is important to recognise when we are judging ourselves and try and let these judgements go, and do our best to be kind to ourselves instead.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is basically when you treat yourself as you might treat a friend who is having a hard time – even if your friend messed something up, is feeling inadequate or simply facing a challenge. It helps to remember that suffering is part of what it means to be human, everyone suffers at times.
Mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing – developing the ability to turn towards difficult thoughts and feelings (such as inadequacy, sadness, anger and confusion) with curiosity and openness. Self-compassion involves responding to these challenging thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy and understanding. We can soothe and comfort ourselves when we are hurting. The combination of mindfulness and self-compassion leads to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives.
Kristen Neff, one of the pioneers of mindful self-compassion, says:
“When we are mindful of our struggles,
and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support,
things start to change.”
There has been a great deal of research over the last ten years into self-compassion and this has shown how important it is for our well-being. People who are more self-compassionate, are more likely to be happier, satisfied, motivated, have better relationships and physical health, and less anxiety and depression.
How can we develop Compassion?
“We can learn to embrace ourselves and our lives,
despite inner and outer perfections,
and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive.”
Compassion can be deepened through an approach of courage, acceptance and open-heartedness. By reflecting on our common humanity, we increase our ability to embrace others’ differences. And we can develop the ability to care for ourselves and others by practising what are known as ‘Kindly Awareness’ meditations. You can listen to one of these for free here. https://www.mindfulsurrey.co.uk/meditations.
In these practices, we repeatedly evoke good will towards ourselves, cultivating the desire that all living beings have to live happily and free from suffering. It’s possible to learn how to stop being so hard on yourself, and how to motivate yourself with encouragement rather than criticism. And don’t forget not to be too hard on yourself when you do find yourself being self-critical!
I’ll end with some phrases that are often used in mindfulness compassion meditations:
May we all be safe and free from suffering
May we all be happy and healthy
May we all accept ourselves as we are
May we all treat ourselves and others with care and respect.
What do you think of the idea of self-compassion and will you be trying any of the practices Catherine mentioned in this article?
Catherine Nasskau has led a varied career based around helping people of all ages, which began with teaching self-development courses in London. She is now an experienced mindfulness teacher and Founder of the charity, Mindfulness Surrey.
Catherine leads a live class for members once a month. Click here to find out more and book your place now.