When we’re going through a rough time, many of us tend to berate ourselves and focus on what we “should” be doing. I should be grieving better. I should be more productive. I should know better by now. I shouldn’t let this bother me so much.
We judge our pain or how we’re handling it. We ruminate about our past mistakes in hopes that doing so will somehow undo them. We feel guilty. We feel humiliated. We feel angry, maybe even like failures. We feel alone. We get stuck.
The next time you’re struggling — in any kind of situation — consider practicing kindness instead.
According to meditation teacher and bestselling author Sharon Salzberg in her book The Kindness Handbook, “Kindness can manifest as compassion, as generosity, as paying attention.”
For instance, you might ask yourself: What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?
This might be as simple as getting up and getting yourself a glass of water, or calling a close friend to vent. This might mean practicing yoga or savoring a hot shower. This might mean asking a loved one for a hug. It might mean acknowledging that you’re feeling unwell and sitting with those feelings.
According to Salzberg, “Self-compassion also is relevant when suffering stems from our own actions, disappointments, or personal inadequacies.”
To develop greater self-compassion, she suggests this practice:
- Picture a past difficult situation or circumstance.
- Notice the various reactions you have about yourself and this time.
- Consider: “How does anger feel in your body? How does humiliation feel? Do you notice other strands of emotion? How do they feel?”
- Remind yourself that you did the best you could. Remind yourself that you’re worthy of love. Notice how being kind to yourself feels.
- Notice how your various reactions influence your attention.
- Consider: “Do you get obsessed, or does your perspective open? Do you have a sense of finality, or do you remember that all things change?”
- Also, ask yourself: Can you “be moved by your own distress, instead of falling into either being dismissive of it or being overwhelmed?” Can you find the desire to heal and alleviate your suffering?
- Instead of attacking yourself for your inadequacies or mistakes, do the opposite. “…[R]elax your tone, soften your body, and offer yourself warmth and unconditional acceptance. Notice what happens when you do this even if you genuinely identified something as problematic and in need of change.”
Salzberg also features a list of self-compassionate phrases we can recite when we’re experiencing emotional or physical pain. These are some of them:
- “May I accept my pain, without thinking it makes me bad or wrong.”
- “May my love for myself and others flow boundlessly.”
- “May I open to the unknown, like a bird flying free.”
- “May I accept my anger, fear, and sadness, knowing that my vast heart is not limited by them.”
- “May I be peaceful and happy, at ease in body and mind.”
When reciting these phrases, she suggests getting into a comfortable position; taking several deep, soft breaths; bringing attention to your breath; and silently saying your phrases with the pace of your breath.
Kindness may feel very far away in particularly painful times. Responding to your needs, getting curious about your feelings, tempering your tone, relaxing your body and reciting self-compassionate statements are all good spots to start.