on air travel and self-compassion -- UPDATE!!

As I'm typing this, I'm on a plane winging my way to Pittsburgh, for a whirlwind overnight trip.  It's been a pretty crazy few days -- this is my third out-of-town adventure in a week -- but after this trip, I should be staying put for a while.  I'm not gonna lie:  it'll be good to be on the ground and with my family for the next couple of months to come.

While I'm trapped here at 30,000 feet in a metal tube going a speed that realistically should never be experienced by a mere mortal, I thought I'd talk about about self-care and self-compassion.  I've always considered myself pretty good at self-care (a relevant example:  I'm a nervous flyer -- as if that wasn't glaringly apparent from my previous sentence -- but a few years ago I wrote about what I take with me on planes to help settle my nerves, and I take this mindset into other aspects of my life as well).  That said, during a workshop last week at Courage Camp, I learned a few additional lessons on self-compassion that I suspect that I'll be using a lot in my life going forward.  So I thought I'd share them with you.

The entire last morning of Courage Camp was led by Dr. Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas, and a self-compassion expert -- in fact, she has been credited with conducting the very first academic studies in the world on the subject of self-compassion.  A Buddhist, she described self-compassion exactly the way you and I probably would describe it, even without academic research:  it's all about treating yourself as you would treat a good friend or anyone else you love.  But she did so much more:  by the end of the workshop, she had us convinced self-compassion might be the secret to everything.  It turns out that people who practice self-compassion are far more productive, make better partners, parent better, live longer, and heal faster -- all this amazing stuff.  And she gave us a few tools to help us be more self-compassionate when we're suffering (and she described "suffering" as  anything from stress to facing critical health issues to even stubbing your toe.)

So she began by positing that true self-compassion is comprised of 3 elements:

1) mindfulness
2) common humanity
3) kindness

And then she said that one of the things that is characteristic to all mammals is that they heal and show compassion by caring touch.  So she had us do an exercise to help each of us figure out what type of caring touch could work for us in showing ourselves self-compassion:

Sitting in silence, and being conscious of your breathing, do the following gestures slowly, to determine which ones feel most healing for you (some will feel healing, some may not):

  • breathe slowly and deeply while placing both hands on your heart.
  • breathe while placing a closed fist on your heart, and covering it with your other hand
  • breathe while placing both hands on your belly
  • breathe while placing hands on your face, cupping your cheeks as you would caress a child
  • breathe while hugging yourself by holding opposite arms
  • breathe while holding your own hands

Try each of those gestures slowly, experimenting with the quality of the touch. Hold your hands firmer on your body, and then softer, rock your body as you hold the gesture, just experiment with what feels comforting for yourself.  And then pick your favourite.

After going through this exercise, she then introduced us to the secret sauce:  the Self-Compassion Break.  This is when you combine the three elements of self-compassion with the healing touch, like this:

1)  First, sit with your eyes closed. Become aware of your breathing.  Then think about what it is that's causing you discomfort. It could be something you're worrying about, or physical pain you're experiencing, or even a specific sadness.  Then, as you're focusing on this, you think to yourself:  "This is hard."  

This is the mindfulness part. It's actually spending the moment feeling your pain, and instead of immediately going in "I must fix it mode," you acknowledge the pain -- in the same way you might do if I came to you and told you I was going through a hard time, and you said to me, "That must be SO hard, Karen." This is you showing empathy to yourself.

2)  Second, after you've sat with this for a moment, you say to yourself, "But you know what? This feeling difficult is part of what it means to be human."  

This is the common humanity part. This is the part that is intended to make you realize, in the moment, that you are not alone. This is where you acknowledge that feeling this pain is part of life, and it's totally okay to feel it. That you're not being punished, but rather, this is part of living.

3)  Then finally, after you acknowledge that what you're feeling is totally normal and human to feel, you say to yourself, "May I be kind to myself."  

This is the kindness part. This is you telling yourself -- or God, Allah, the Universe, whoever -- that you want to be gentle with yourself as you go through your pain.  At this point, add the self-comforting gesture you've discovered for yourself -- your hands on heart, or hugging yourself, whatever works for you.

It's just all about taking a beat and getting centered.  And what Dr. Neff's research has found is that when you've grounded yourself by doing the three steps above, with practice you can get a bit detached from the pain, and maybe even get some clarity about what your next move is, all in kindness to yourself, since you won't be moving in panic anymore.  You'll be moving as a guide to yourself, almost.

Great, right?

Anyway, for more, you can click here to read more about Dr. Neff's Self-Compassion Break (and more) in her own words (which, obviously, are far better than mine).  Hopefully, it'll help you cope with whatever you're facing this upcoming week.

As for me, it feels like the plane has begun its descent.  So I'm going log off and go into a little Self-Compassion Break of my own.

Have a wonderful week, friends.



Check this out -- I just discovered this online course on self-compassion cofacilitated by both Kristen Neff and Brené Brown, available now.  Cool, right?  Only $60, and all self-paced and private, right from the comfort of your own computer.

If you want to start a formal practice of self-compassion, go get you some.  (I'm about to, myself!)