Contributed by Julie Hanson, MS, LMFT
It would be nice if life presented itself as a clear-cut path with well-defined signs to clearly state what we should do (or not) at each fork in the road. The weather would always be beautiful. We’d always be enjoying our favorite foods while talking to our perfect families and friends. Great music would be playing as we spent the day doing work we loved and looked forward to evenings filled with activities we were passionate about. There wouldn’t be relationship problems, layoffs, health scares, or frustration with parenting. There would be no place for fear or sadness.
Unfortunately, life isn’t one giant sing-along, and ups and downs are a part of the human condition. Volumes have been written on how life works the way it does, but my understanding is that problems are really opportunities to access the inner resources we all have. Once someone claims his or her inner resources, the sky becomes the limit. The problem may not go away, and even if it does, new ones will be on the horizon, but what we do in the meantime will make all the difference.
We all have an inner “anchor,” that small voice that is ready and willing to guide us if only we allow ourselves to listen. It is wise, strong, and kind, and represents the inner wisdom that resides in every human. It will guide us in precisely the right direction. Unfortunately, it can be hard to hear in the midst of our stress. It’s often drowned out by the negative things we believe about ourselves and our circumstances. The good news is we all have the capacity to clear the space and allow it to make itself heard.
Two steps that can help you access your inner anchor: cultivating more self-compassion and establishing a daily time for mindfulness.
- Believe that you are worth it. Lack of self-compassion lies at the heart of so much pain. Cultivating self-compassion starts with noticing how you react to yourself. When you make a mistake, do you blame or criticize yourself? What judgments do you place on yourself (how you look, how successful you are, the friends you have, etc.)? How does what you say or think about yourself make you feel? When you have a problem, do you stop to check in with your feelings or immediately go into panic mode to solve the issue. Once you have taken a look at your relationship with yourself, the next step is to imagine you have a friend who is experiencing the same struggles. What kinds of things would you say to comfort or support this friend? Would you criticize or blame him or her? Most likely, you would offer kind words and the recognition that everyone struggles. It’s also possible that you would cheer the person up, suggest giving himself or herself a break, or do something to take care of the person. At the very least, you would let the person know you care about him or her and are here to offer support. Giving yourself compassion means offering this same type of caring, reassuring support. Remind yourself that everyone deserves kindness. You are only human. Begin to notice when you fall into criticizing yourself, and practice replacing negativity with kindness. Start the day by telling yourself something positive about yourself instead of falling into old routines.
- Create a space to devote to yourself. Yes, this means adding it to your schedule. Five minutes a day (or even three) will do. Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. Here’s a basic breathing practice to start with: Close your eyes and let your shoulders relax. Count to five as you inhale, letting your belly fill with breath. Count down from five as you exhale through your nose. Let your face relax with each exhalation. Repeat the inhale/exhale cycle 10 times. Keep it simple, but take the time each day to give yourself a breather. Mindfulness means being fully present right here, right now. There are countless ways to achieve this state, but simple and consistent is a surefire way to start on the path. Congratulate yourself for taking the time. Good job.
Remember, this is a practice, and it will take time and effort to establish—so be patient with the process. Over time, talking more kindly to yourself and creating a space for self-care will bring you into contact with your wise, inner voice.
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