THE 6 LIFE SKILLS MEDITATION TEACHES BEST PART 2 – SELF-COMPASSION
Beyond relaxation or stress relief, why do so many people make meditation a part of their day? It’s not to become good at meditation, sitting on a cushion 20 minutes a day! Meditation is a way to become more self-aware, caring and wise, and to bring those strengths into your relationships, your work and your way of being in the world. In this six-part series, Meditation Teacher Ann Vrlak looks at the core life skills you can develop or strengthen through a meditation practice.
Meditation is full of paradoxes. Depending on your personality, this may annoy or fascinate you!
A core paradox that it took me years to really understand is: meditation will show you how to become more objective about your experiences (like thoughts and emotions) and at the same time to be more present with them.
I talk about the skill of gaining perspective in another article in this series, The 6 Life Skills You’ll Learn From Meditation: Part 1 – Gaining Perspective. The necessary balance to perspective is self-compassion.
Why? Because for many of us who have long-established emotional or mental patterns, gaining perspective on them is a revelation. Finding a place where you are not absorbed by or, in meditation language, “identified” with them is a deep relief. And you want to stay in this untouched place.
It is a key revelation and stage of meditation practice to gain this perspective, and it’s one that some people never achieve. Their experiences, even the most painful ones, are just too personal to consider letting go of.
There can be a pitfall though with perspective. You may want to disown the parts of yourself that you find painful. Meditation becomes just another way to suppress or dissociate from difficult experiences.
This is a temporary reprieve at best and one that causes even more internal conflict at worst.
Not the idea.
And self-compassion is the answer.
TURNING TOWARD YOURSELF
Ken Wilbur describes true meditation as a practice of “transcending and including.” You learn to transcend your personal difficulties, to gain perspective, but the next step is to include those experiences. To turn around in your new position of freedom and embrace them as part of your experience, of yourself
You don’t use your newfound freedom to run off and party. You use it to practice self-compassion and self-awareness to become more whole.
After all, one of the most common descriptions of our troubling human patterns is “unintegrated.” Transcending alone won’t integrate long-standing triggers or harmful beliefs. Transcending plus including, with compassion, puts you on that path.
It is exactly like an aware, capable, caring parent holding a child’s distress and helping them process it. You can do this for yourself, with practice, and be with your learned patterns with awareness and compassion, and allow them to be understood, heard, seen and ultimately integrated into your sense of self.
I mentioned earlier in this article and more fully in another article on this site, Be a Kindness Warrior, that self-compassion helps to dissolve inner conflict. I’ve found in teaching meditation that inner conflict is pretty much a given for most of us. Parts of us frequently or even relentlessly argue with, judge or try to suppress others.
This inner conflict can go completely unnoticed or be seen as “normal.” However, as a way of life it will exhaust you mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You just can’t be present, creative and caring when your energy is spent fighting with yourself.
Practicing self-compassion, which means wanting to see and care about whatever you’re experiencing, is a tool of wholeness. The more you turn toward your experiences, especially the painful ones, the more caring your internal world becomes. Parts of you that have remained unseen and in pain will want to come out into the light of your non-judgmental, caring attention.
A MINI PRACTICE
- Sit comfortably for a few minutes, with your eyes softly closed. Take a few relaxing breaths to settle in.
- Pay attention to what’s happening for you: any thoughts, perceptions, emotions or sensations.
- If you notice something that is slightly or very unpleasant, do two things: notice it and be caring with it. If nothing unpleasant shows up, you can use anything you’re experiencing in the moment. Say one of these statements silently or out loud, or make up something similar that feels more powerful for you.
- “I see you. That sounds hard, I’m sorry.”
- “I’m here. Stay as long as you like.”
- “I see you. I love you.”
- If you have resistance to doing this, welcome to the human race! Just do your best to notice what happens when you turn toward yourself, with a caring attention, rather than turning away.
Self-compassion is a necessity–for self-knowledge, for being at peace with ourselves and for being able to connect with others with our whole being.
Use the practice I’ve outlined here as medicine for difficult emotions, especially if you notice you’re being critical with yourself. There is a gentleness and a sweetness that will be a balm for your heart and mind.