To find success in self compassion work, you need an objective voice to acknowledge suffering as it presents itself or an accumulation of suffering. So often we notice the suffering and begin to spin three or four stories about it. This process often begins with acknowledging one thing, “Geez my back hurts today,” and often quickly becomes a very involved story that takes us out of the present moment, “My back was hurting the same way yesterday. It always hurts when I sleep on the couch. That couch is terrible. Why did we ever buy the couch? Of course, because sales people are crooks. Crooks are the worst. Remember the time that guy tried to sell us used socks” and so on.
The problem with spinning large stories about one difficult emotion, thought, or bodily sensation is that they do not get processed, so they will likely come back stronger. We also dimensionalize the feeling, so there is more life to it. Think of it like a book or a movie. When we do not know much about a particular character, our concern or regard for the character is less. The same is true with feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. If we simply acknowledge them and bring kindness to our experience, we are able to move on from these events. If we create stories, as described above, they become more substantial and may be perceived as causes for concern.
So why do we create these stories? There are several reasons, but let’s look at a few. First, we struggle to bring compassion to our experience. Developing a narrative is one way of justifying to ourselves that we are truly suffering. Second, we are used to having a dialogue with people, so we tend to dialogue with ourselves. Dialogue often starts with one event and leads to others to provide more interesting conversation. Third, we do not want to deal with the current event so we extend it to point to past events where we can extend the focus and the blame to something or someone outside of ourselves.
Now that you understand the process and what is helpful, a technique for acknowledging suffering as it manifests and having an objective voice to label it and to guide you towards self compassion might be useful. For this, I use the pilot.
If you have never been on a plane, once on the plane the pilot will alert you to your present condition and his current plan. For example, “Hello folks. We are cruising at an altitude of 10,000 feet. We will be experiencing some turbulence, so I will be leaving the fasten seatbelt sign on, but flight attendants will be by to offer a drink and some snacks.” Without creating a story, the pilot describes our current reality (10,000 feet with some incoming turbulence), a wish for our safety (fasten seat belt sign) and some kindness (flight attendants will be by to offer a drink and some snacks). The direct and expedient way he addresses the issue helps to calm concern and gives you a helping action to ground your anxiety.
So why not hear your own pilot as experience takes grip of you? “Hello folks we are currently in traffic. The time is 9:30 in the morning. The red car to your right is honking its horn, which is resulting in stress. Time to let out a deep breath and turn to your favorite radio station for a little tender loving care.”
Or even “Hello folks, it is approximately 11:30 am and Susan has just insulted us for wearing black socks with a brown suit. The overall feeling is embarrassment. We did remember to wear a matching tie and belt, which is pretty awesome and may or may not wear socks that go with the suit tomorrow. I say wear matching socks if it makes you happy or unmatch those socks just to drive Susan crazy! You are free to move about the cabin at this time.”
Acknowledge don’t apologize for your feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations. Let the pilot give an objective narration. Rather than create a story, direct kindness to your experience. Make it fun if you can. The pilot looks out for you. We all have an inner pilot.
365 Days of Kindness. Self Compassion. Day 11. In the Books.