A talk on self-compassion by Rick Hanson:
So, as the Buddha writes here or says here, if we really, you know, the brain is continually changing its structure and function based on our experiences, for better or worse. And it has this vulnerability toward changing for the worse based on, in a sense, good intentions of Mother Nature to help us survive and pass on our genes, to pass on genes. Alright? If we have the power to a larger extent, to gradually change our brain for the better from the inside out. And when I say better, I don’t mean realistically, what I mean is more pragmatically.
In other words, through the power to help ourselves develop our brain that’s more inclined toward happiness, and more inclined to our welfare, and happiness and welfare of other people as well. To use that power, we’ve got to be motivated to use it. You may have heard this kind of lame, but profound joke: “How many therapist does it take to change a lifeboat? Only one, but the lifeboat has still want to change.” Alright? Wanting to change is absolutely fundamental. So, as Buddha says here, you know, we have to want to help ourselves.
Because if we’re going down a river, you know, swiftly flowing and so forth, how can we help others cross if we’re swept away ourselves?
Now, one of the fundamental ways to ground ourselves in the inclination of kindness and care and support for ourselves is to cultivate self-compassion. This is the essence of Buddhism— compassion. The essence of compassion is self-compassion. So, I want to do a practice with you momentarily in the cultivation of self-compassion, but first, I want to warm you up.
In this picture are four monkeys. Can you find the fourth one?
(Audience responded with “awwww”)
So, that response in us, “awwww”— is very, very human. Isn’t it? And very natural, okay? So we’re going to draw upon that, if you will. For caring, and support, and joy, about others.
We’re going to apply that to our own welfare. Okay?
So, in terms of self-compassion, a lot of researchers have shown that it is a wonderful thing to develop. Including to develop resilience. It makes us stronger. To have a caring and kind and sweet attitude towards ourselves. But self-compassion is actually difficult for many people to manifest.
You know, it’s easier for many people to be caring and kind toward others than it is for them to be caring and kind toward themselves. So, we’re going to do a little practice here in three parts. That is somewhat neurologically informed about encouraging, about activating, and then installing factors of self-compassion.
So, let’s try this like any practice. It’s an experience. Experiment. See what comes up for you. And then we’ll talk a bit about it.
And then probably segue in the lunch pretty soon. Okay? Alright?
So, let’s try it. So, to begin with, if you could, just kind of come on to yourself. And be quiet for a minute or so as we just sort of come home.
Finding a sense of the body. If that’s okay with you.
Finding a sense of the breath. If that’s okay with you.
For some people, by the way, tuning into the breath or even body can be alarming. Particularly if they’ve had a painful or even traumatic life history. So, if there’s anything that’s alarming or difficult for you about tuning into the breath or the body, it’s really okay to shift your focus of attention to something else. Such as a word like “peace”, or simply a feeling of gratitude or caring. Perhaps to an image such as the figures in this room.
Or even just a simple happy memory as an object of attention. Although, I will talk about using the breath as an anchor for attention.
Okay, so, for starters, bring to mind someone that you know who cares about you. It may not be a perfect relationship, but in some slice of the relationship pie, you know you matter to this person. Could be a person in your life today or in your past, could be a group of people, could be an animal, a pet, could be a spiritual being. And as you call to mind this person or persons, see if you can help the idea of this person become an experience of feeling cared about. You’re trying to activate some sense of feeling cared about.
It’s natural if other thoughts or feelings come up. Like, not feeling so cared about. That arises, just be aware of that. And then, deliberately bring the spotlight of attention back to a deepening, increasingly rich and felt sense of being cared about.
Being cared about is, on a spectrum, any aspect of this is fine, so being cared about, encompasses feeling included, a part of a group, feeling cared about also includes being seen, understood, as well as feeling appreciated or respected. And also feeling liked, or even cherished or loved. Anything along that spectrum is an opportunity to feel cared about.
And as you feel cared about, see if you can take in this good, and the words… can you let the experience sink into you, can you give yourself over to it, can you let it grow inside you? In some sense, bit by bit, this feeling is becoming a part of you. So that you’ve increasingly internalized it.
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Find more mindfulness exercises related to loving kindness, compassion, and heart practices here.