The Morning Self-Compassion Diet: The Face Hug

Healthy Self-Compassion Diet

To begin your morning with a healthy self-compassion diet, you need a good face hug.  Whether you know this or not, the well being extended to you during your day has a great deal to do with the well-being you extend to yourself upon waking up.  Many of us know what it feels like to wake up rushed, stressed, panicked, or just plain exhausted. 

We could deny it, but we would probably admit that this initial mindset affects the way we encounter our day.  If there is not a break from this mindset when we get to our initial destination, it is likely that it will burden us throughout the day.  We will be a little more stressed in completing our tasks, a little more abrupt in our interactions with coworkers, a little more rushed through lunch, and we will probably leave work feeling stressed and tired.  Thus, a steady diet of early morning (or whenever you wake up) kindness can work wonders!

The Face Hug

The face hug is something that I developed from an inspiring story told by Ajahn Brahm in his Book, Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung, in which he explains that one of the core teachings of his monastic life was to smile at himself in the mirror each morning.  This process was meant to help him begin his day with warmth and acceptance towards himself.  Brahm is a clever, kind, and sincere fellow, who talks about the difficulty of facing a tired, worn face with very little sleep, and actually pulling his lips up on both sides into a smile for a long time until he was able to do it naturally.

Brahm’s vigor and tenacity are inspiring, but I could not imagine pulling on my lips in the morning.  I tried for about a month to smile every day in the morning, and I have to admit it was painful.  Like many things in life, I needed some scaffolding or a bridge to find success with this exercise.  One such morning, as I looked upon a pale face, and rings under my eyes that wouldn’t even flatter Venus, I tried to smile to no avail. 

Most days, I would leave the bathroom feeling frustrated and beaten, but on this day I stayed, and simply allowed myself to feel disappointed.  This compassion softened me, and opened my mind to the process of smiling.  My very first thought was of the best smiler I know: My Aunt Susan.  And Kazaa!  I smiled.  Laugh if you will, but I did a victory dance to end all victory dances in my pajama pants and penguin slippers.

The next day, I returned to the mirror, and when it was time to smile I thought of my Aunt Susan again, and boom, another smile.  This lasted several weeks until one day I looked into the mirror, and smiled on my own.  It seems like a very mean thing to have a secret super power that I cannot share with you, but wait, I will.  I will tell you about my Aunt Susan, so you can get the gist of how the smile bridge works, and then we can come up with shortcuts for you to find your own.   

My Aunt Susan

My Aunt Susan has chestnut brown hair about shoulder length, fashionable librarian glasses, and she is slight, not in character, but in size.  As long as I can remember, she has treated me like one of her own children, and I have delighted in our conversations.  I call her mom number two.  She is feisty and talkative.  She manages to be funny without swearing, and is the kind of person who speaks more with her facial expressions than she does with her mouth.  She is smart, and honest with her observations like a benevolent scientist or perhaps a kindergarten teacher.  She is the only person that I know, who is worse than I am at hiding her feelings, which, of course, I love.

When she sees me, she literally scrunches up her entire face and her body in preparation for the kind of hug that leaves a lasting impression on your life.  Thirty some odd years later, and I am still changed by each one of these hugs.  It is perhaps not very mindful of me, but I always hold on as long as I can, sometimes we even rock back and forth for good measure.  Aunt Susan is my smile bridge.

Creating Your Own Smile Bridge

You may not need a life-changing hugger like my Aunt Susan, but I want you to think of someone who responds to you with great love and affection, and does so in a way that naturally makes you smile.  Experiment.  Do not settle for lukewarm feelings.  Think of someone who really loves you.  If there is no one you can think of, I invite you to go to my website.  That smile will be there for you every day.  I will always wish you a good life.

Now that you have that person or are using the website, I want you to go to your bathroom or nearest mirror and try it out.  Keep experimenting with people and memories until you find just the right one.  Remember, it is not about holding on to certain memories, it is only about finding a bridge to your natural smile, which in this case is someone who loves you. 

Feel free to change this person as days pass, especially if this person or the memory no longer works for you.  Sometimes people argue with the person they have in mind, and that negatively impacts their practice.  That is perfectly ok.  Simply think of someone else, and begin this practice again.

Face Hug

Someone once asked me why I call this practice the face hug.  I said that it offers the same benefits that the ninja hug does in so far as it is an expression of kindness and well-being towards yourself.  Plus, it sounds way better than the morning bathroom smile.  Call it whatever you want, as long as it works. 

Another thing that helps is to look up when you smile.  There is something about looking up that inspires optimism, which makes sense in terms of how people describe opposing feelings when they look down. 

Resist The Impulse to Underestimate the Simple

Much like other self-compassion practices, there are always a group of well-meaning worriers, who ask me if the practice will be compromised by its simplicity.  I tell them that exactly the opposite is true.  Most truths that can be known fully can be expressed simply, and exercises that are simple are highly adaptive in what they require in terms of energy and memory. 

There is no way you are going to wake up every morning, and perform some deep analysis on yourself while juggling balls of fire.  Sure, it seems more exciting, but not really feasible.  If you cannot do it consistently, the results will always be limited.  We do not want limited results.  We want consistent results.  They yield the best and the longest lasting outcomes!

Practice the face hug in the morning, and any time you want during the day.  Experiment with it, and make it your own.  Commit to doing it every day.  It is much easier to do something that you do all of the time than something you do some of the time.  Do not overcomplicate this, and do not look for crazy results.  Let your experience be enough.  I promise you that over time you will see lasting benefits.  For one, you will have a much better and more adaptable smile.  Think about what this will do for your smiling career! 

Honestly, in a busy world, sometimes we have few opportunities to give ourselves the kind of self-compassion that fuels us in a meaningful way, and also promotes ease.  Grab a hold of this one with both hands and do not let go.  You are worth it!

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 83.  In the Books.