We all need more self-compassion.
Understanding what being compassionate towards myself meant, and actively being kind to myself has changed my life. I was once one of those people who ‘beat themselves up’ constantly and who’s inner critics (there was a committee and cacophony of them) were so loud at times that my own self struggled to be heard.
I had, in the past, associated self-care and self-love with being self-centered and selfish and when I first read about self-acceptance and compassion it jarred a little, it bumped up against a lifetime of believing I was not worthy and worse. Through repeatedly, and sometimes doggedly staying with the practice of self-compassion I eventually shifted from being uncomfortable with myself most of the time to being comfortable with myself most of the time.
I discovered a book by Tara Brach some years ago called “Radical Acceptance” and I listened to an audio book “Radical Self-acceptance” – these helped me turn things around. It is only when we accept ourselves just the way we are and stop trying to bend ourselves out of shape for crazy reasons that we can change.
I have since become a massive fan of Tara Brach who is an American psychotherapist and an advocate of meditation. She gives talks, writes, teaches and posts many resources for free on her website. . Listen to her teachings – she has a wicked sense of humour, telling many good and bad jokes in her talks! I have included talk at the end of this blog.
The RAIN of self-compassion – Tara Brach
Over many years of working with people Tara Brach has created a tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion. She says:
“I’ve come to see the sense of personal deficiency as epidemic. When we feel unworthy, we are in a trance that causes tremendous suffering. Yet, I have found in my own life and with countless others that we can awaken from this trance through mindful self-compassion. We can come to trust the goodness and purity of our hearts.
In order to unfold, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. This compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. Yet when we’ve gotten stuck in the trance of unworthiness, it often feels impossible to arouse self-compassion. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I like to share a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion.”
White Tulips – Sir William Nicholson
RAIN = Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture
The acronym RAIN is easy to remember – the steps are:
Recognize what is happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion.
Visit the RAIN of Self-Compassion for a full description of the steps, including some translations to other languages.
The following is taken from Tara Brach with thanks. I have changed slightly and added some material of my own.
R Recognize What’s Going On
Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are affecting us – what is going on in an around us – recognise it all.
When we wake up from the state where we constantly feel unworthy it is as if we emerge from a trance, from a dream. The first step is to simply recognize that we are stuck and experiencing painful emotions and physical sensations.
Common signs that you are in this trance include a critical inner voice, and oh boy haven’t I had plenty of this voice. My friend used to say to me: “Alyson… you would not be that unkind to me or another friend so give yourself a break!”
Feelings of shame or fear are common, and for those of us who have lingering shame from childhood it is not always easy to recognise the emotions and physical feelings; they have been around so long they can feel like who we are. Stay with it – you will recognise those painful feelings and the fear – usually attached to that feeling of unworthiness. The squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body are also signs that you are in this cycle. Recognizing what is going on can be a simple mental whisper, stay still and notice – just notice what’s come up.
Flower Seller Diego Rivera
A Allow the Experience to be There, Just as It Is
Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there, without trying to fix or avoid anything.
When we’re caught in self-judgment, letting it be there doesn’t mean we agree with our belief that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the arising of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath.
Many people I speak to think allowing is too passive, however, it is one of the most powerful things we can do, and it sometimes takes courage to truly accept what is going on and be with it.
Encourage and support yourself when the going is tough
Resolve to pause and let be through silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to yourself. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper It’s ok, in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.
Nick Fewings – Unsplash
I Investigate with Interest and Care
Once you recognize what is arising and allow it to just be, then you can deepen your attention through investigation. This means simply calling on your natural curiosity, asking “What’s going on here?”. This help you become more focused and direct your attention to your present experience.
Examples of questions you might ask yourself are: What most wants attention? How and where am I experiencing this in my body? What am I believing right now? What does this vulnerable place want from me? What does it/I need most?
Whatever your questions, the transformation comes when you bring your attention to the felt-sense in the body and not attempt to intellectualise or conceptualise.
Approach your experience in a non-judgmental, kind way – with an attitude of care. This helps create sense of safety, making it possible to honestly connect with your hurts, fears and shame.
Morning Spring – Maxfield Parrish
N Nurture with Self-Compassion
Self-compassion begins to naturally arise in the moments that we recognise we are suffering. This final step brings it into fullness as we intentionally nurture and commit to self-care.
To do this, sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting part of you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need.
Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship? Of love? Experiment and see what gesture of kindness most helps to comfort, soften or open your heart. It might be the mental whisper, I’m here with you. I’m sorry, and I love you. I love you, and I’m listening. It’s not your fault. Trust in your goodness.It might be affirmations that you can repeat to yourself.
In addition to messages of care, many people find healing by gently placing a hand on their heart or cheek or try hugging yourself. You can envision being bathed in or embraced by warm, radiant light and then take a bath, light a fire, whatever fills you with warmth – metaphorical and physical. Offer yourself love.
If it feels difficult to offer yourself love, bring to mind a loving being – family member, friend or pet – and imagine their love and wisdom flowing into you.
When you have the intention to awaken self-compassion, the smallest gesture of turning towards love, of offering love – even if initially it feels awkward – will nourish your heart.
After the RAIN
When you’ve completed the active steps of RAIN, it’s important to just notice your own presence and rest in that tender space of awareness.
Through practicing RAIN you will come to realise that you are no longer imprisoned in the trance of unworthiness.
The RAIN of Self-Compassion is not a one-shot meditation. Keep doing it. When uncomfortable feelings arise or when difficult situations provoke unwelcomed emotions think RAIN and practice these steps. As you do this you may experience a small shift, perhaps a subtle sense of warmth and openness, a widening in perspective, a quieting of mental stories and criticism, a softening of your heart. Trust this and trust yourself!
RAIN is a practice for life—it can help you transform doubts and fears with your own healing presence. Each time you are willing to slow down and recognize, “Oh, here it is that feeling of unworthiness… fear… hurt… judgment…,” you accept, investigate and nurture and re-condition old habits and limiting beliefs that confine your heart. Gradually you’ll experience natural loving awareness as the truth of who you are.
Jude Beck – Unsplash