Firstly, I want to share how mindfulness has played a massive part in my awareness of my need for self-compassion and my ability to be self-compassionate. In a nutshell, mindfulness is the art of paying attention without judging yourself when your attention wanders. It’s about focusing on the present moment, noticing when your mind has wandered, and then simply bringing your attention back to the present moment without telling yourself off for having let your mind wander. Daily mindfulness practice is helping me pay attention to the way I think, to the stories I tell myself and the negative thinking habits that I have a tendency to get into. I’m learning that that I can choose what I focus on and that I don’t even have to finish a thought if I know it’s not going to be productive to do so; I can just let it go. I’ve also stopped berating myself for having certain thoughts – I can stand back, observe them and even chuckle at them sometimes. My husband once said: you can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair. He was so right. Thoughts come and go, but – with practice – it’s possible to mainly focus on the positive ones. If you’re interested in finding out more about Mindfulness, I highly recommend the Headspace app. I use it every day and it’s made all the difference.
Secondly, I want to talk about the power of imagery. Most people find it quite easy to conjure up the image of something in their mind. If I were to ask you what your favourite meal was or where your favourite place is, you would probably imagine them straight away. I know I’m thinking about fish and chips on Swanage beach right now. I can almost taste the salt and vinegar! But as well as being able to imagine pleasant experiences and places, we can easily imagine unpleasant ones too, and this can trigger off our flight or fight response and even lead to a panic attack. Sometimes, our thoughts and feelings can be as vivid and strong as they would be if the events in mind were actually occurring. Flashbacks can be incredibly distressing. But … it is possible to train our brains to build compassionate images that we can call on when we need to activate our soothing system.
So, how do we go about building a compassionate image? Well, we can start when we are feeling calm, when our breathing is slow and steady, when we’re somewhere safe and surrounded by things that soothe us. We can then ask ourselves some questions:
- When I feel calm and safe, what images naturally come into my mind?
- What are my favourite colours?
- What are my favourite smells?
- What are my favourite tastes?
- What are my favourite textures?
- What are my favourite sounds?
- What do I want my compassionate image to look like? A person? A group of people? An animal? A place? All of the above?
- Do I want my compassionate image to be completely imaginary, or do I want it to reflect someone/somewhere/something real?
- Would my compassionate image have been through the same things I’ve been through?
- What qualities are associated with my image? Wisdom? Strength? Warmth? Non-Judgment?
- How would my ideal compassionate image relate to me?
- How would I relate to my ideal compassionate image?
Sometimes a compassionate image can spring fully-formed into our minds. Other times, it can take a while to build. This may sound a little bizarre, but over the years, I’ve created a corridor in my mind’s eye, along which are lots of doors. Behind each door is a different world populated by fictional people – some are my own creation, and some are from films, TV shows and books I love. When I want to imagine something soothing or exciting or distracting or adventurous, I walk through the appropriate door, sit back and watch the action. It’s like going to the cinema – but a lot cheaper!
Lastly, I want to remind you (and myself) that it’s okay to be self-compassionate. It’s not selfish or self-centred to care about YOU. Self-compassion is the first step toward self-care, and self-care is what enables us to not just survive life, but to thrive as we live it. It enables us to be the people we were created to be. It also helps us to care for others. You can’t pour from an empty cup! Yesterday, I was reminded of the words of Jesus: Love your neighbour as yourself. Loving our neighbours, first requires that we love ourselves!
Well, that’s it! I hope you’ve found this little series useful. Next Monday, I’ll be back with a post on unhelpful thinking habits. Until then … Thanks for reading! xxx
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