Befriending Your New Best Friend: Mindfulness Week #6

self compassionI was watching one of those fashion makeover programs on TV the other night.  There was a woman, I guess around her mid-thirties, who turned to host and said  “I just can’t stand looking at myself in the mirror.  I hate myself so much….”

She had tears in her eyes and looked utterly miserable.  Needless to say she looked attractive and healthy and certainly didn’t have anything to cry about.

So today I have a question for you.  How much do you like and appreciate yourself?  How much self-compassion do you have?  Do you have a similar reaction when you look in a mirror?

Why do we beat ourselves up so much?  How can we be so rude, unkind and downright nasty to the person we see reflected in the mirror?  I’ve heard of other people who look in the mirror and say ‘fat old cow’ to themselves.  Would you ever consider saying such a thing to a friend or a member of your family?  So why the heck do you allow yourself to say it to yourself?  Where’s the logic in that?

What if you could change your behaviour, right now, and look in the mirror each morning…… smiling and appreciating that fantastic, amazing, talented, successful person looking back at you?  How do you make that change?  Is it complicated, time-consuming, or difficult?  Heck no!  If you don’t love and appreciate yourself why should you expect other people to do it?  And if you don’t have compassion for you, then how can you have it for other people?

If you didn’t already know, over the next 8 weeks (or so) I’m practicing the mindfulness course laid out by Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology, in his book co-written with Danny Penman – Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world (quotes from the book are shown in italics). My aim is to learn how to absolutely thrive in this frantic world.

This sixth week focused on helping me ‘… bring kindness back in to your life – kindness not just for others but for yourself too.’

The practice this week started with the BODY & BREATH meditation (from week #1 or the version from last week) to prepare myself.  Or I could simply sit quietly without the help of the guided meditations on the CD.  Then I continued straight on to the 10 minute BEFRIENDING meditation.   I had to do the whole thing as usual at least 6 days out of 7.

The BEFRIENDING meditation focused on these key phrases as a gateway into a deep sense of friendliness towards yourself:

May I be safe and free from suffering.

May I be happy and healthy as it is possible for me to be.

May I have ease of being.

It was about repeating these slowly and silently in my mind.  Like dropping a pebble down a deep well and listening for the ‘plop’ as it hits the water.  Being aware of any thoughts, feelings, physical sensations of impulses to act that resulted.

Then I repeated these holding a person, or even a pet, in mind who in the past or present loved me unconditionally.  I couldn’t help but think of my little black rescue cat Mabel, who could not have resisted determinedly climbing into my lap when I was sitting on the floor (as I now do to meditate) and curling up with a big sigh and a contented purr.

Then I repeated the phrases while holding a loved one in mind and wishing these things for them.

Next a stranger or someone I saw regularly, but didn’t know their name.

And finally someone whom I found difficult.

And to close I had to extend loving kindness to all things, including myself.

As before I had to continue with the 3 MINUTE BREATHING SPACE – twice a day and when I needed it.  Though I have to say I’ve not really stuck to that this week and have just done it when I needed it.

Then finally I was back to the HABIT RELEASERS – this week it was revisiting something I used to love to do that seems to have slipped off my busy agenda lately or a random act of kindness.

For me this was reading a real book.  I love my Kindle, but there’s something special about a real book.  The weight of it in your hands.  The smell of the fresh paper.  And having a pencil in hand to scribble notes on it or highlight key passages.

So I got through all 450 pages of Full Catastrophe Living – a fascinating book by Jon Kabat-Zinn that charts some of the origins of the 8 week course I’m following and the people who’ve attended the classes at his stress clinic.  After feeling so alone last week, it gave me a real sense community.

So OVERALL how has week #6 been?

I’ve loved it.  Simply loved it.  I actually can’t imagine life without meditating every day.

The 20 minute meditation session was just perfect and the befriending meditation was incredibly relaxing and left me each time with a sense of happy warmth and a smile on my face.

I am more aware of being kinder to myself and of how ridiculously hard I can drive myself.  I’ve always said I was the hardest boss I could ever have and I don’t feel I need to wear that crown of thorns anymore.

Just to evidence that, I went to my boss this week and asked him for 4 weeks off next summer – the first break of that length I’ll have had from at least some form of work since I was around 14 years old!

There was one day when I missed my usual morning meditation session simply because we had a different start to the day than our usual routine.  It was amazing how quickly I was aware I’d missed it and was immediately dying to find a quite slot around lunch to lock myself away.

I feel calmer, more refreshed, far more relaxed and happier than I’ve felt… well, really than I can ever remember feeling as an adult.  I don’t get anxious, I don’t allow stressful thoughts to rule me and I sleep like a log.  And my concentration has definitely improved.

And when a thought with worry or sadness or some other negative emotion attached does float by, I am much more aware of my physical reaction.  I breath into it.  I let myself know it’s OK to feel like this.  And I extend my curiosity to investigate that reaction.  And as I do that, invariably it just disappears…

The other thing I’ve noticed is I’ve started to appreciate peace.  I focus much more on one thing at a time.  A few weeks ago, before I started this course, my husband came home to find me merrily thinking I was having a good time –  listening to an audiobook, TV on and laptop in hand.  Talk about overstimulated!  He said I was like a teenager when it came to the amount of stimulation I needed to avoid being bored.  Now I’m happy to just be.

There again I have had one major challenge this week.  As you may remember I have had some difficulty finding the right position to sit in for my practice.  I’ve really found a good sitting position over the past couple of weeks that was comfortable, dignified, yet allowed me to be fully awake.  However, I messed that up totally this week by falling down a couple of steps and badly spraining my ankle.  So cross-legged on the floor is not an option for a couple of weeks – back to the drawing board …

And yes it has crossed my mind that my body decided it needed to do something to slow me down for a couple of days so it took some rather drastic action!  If it could find a less painful route next time I’d much appreciate it.

Looking forward to see what week #7 brings – hopefully at least a less swollen and less purple ankle!!  I’ll close this week with this wonderful Einstein quote that is also in the book…

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.” Albert Einstein


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