This short practice is incredibly relevant to those of us experiencing the new COVID-19 lock-down in the UK. It is also a supportive resource for anyone facing the pain associated with the impact of the pandemic on those we love and in our lives.
This is one of my favourite practices from Paul Gilbert in his wonderful book the Compassionate Mind. It starts with stepping back observing and labelling difficult emotions to give some space and lessen their impact on our behaviour and to soften the pain ‘I am noticing anxiety, racing thoughts, anger, sadness etc’.
It then connects with a slow and smooth, soothing breathing rhythm (5-count in 5-count out breath). For many this slow breathing is useful to ground and support in difficulty, using the breath as an anchor.
It is not uncommon for a focus on breathing to exacerbate anxiety and stress. Therefore the practice also gives the option of using a focus point of our grounded stable posture or other sensory awareness (sights, sounds, smells, touch) with a slow breathing rhythm set in motion in background awareness if the breath is uncomfortable.
We can then connect with our compassionate self (the part of us that is caring with wisdom, courage and strength) or visualise a ‘compassionate other’ alongside us offering support. This compassionate other is an imagined symbolic being or actual person that demonstrates compassion and kindness. It could also be an animal or aspect of nature. It is a tool to connect deeply with the compassion within us and is a tool found in many cultures from Buddhism to shamanic indigenous traditions. You visualise they are next to you, offering kindness.
Then we give ourselves kind supportive self-talk, or a compassionate inner coach to empathise, validate, support and motivate us through difficulties. This self-talk can acknowledge pain, offer words of support and acceptance to help us get through the difficulties and motivate supportive actions. An example might be ‘this is tough, anyone would find this difficult, I am doing great, one step at a time, I can get through this, what action do I need to take now? I will call my supportive friend and then go for a walk, I can do this’.
In my last article I gave some suggestions to start making these short practices a habit. As the habit gets stronger we can use these tools to help us cope with the current crisis that we may be facing. I talk about having a ‘continuous connection’ to a practice like this on a bad day. To keep the kind self-talk, and focus on kind behaviours, going 24-7 on a tough day. Connect with your compassionate self or bring your compassionate other with you all day long. It’s much easier to do this if we have practiced getting our 5 a day of short practices during easier times…