Compassionate awareness can soften the harsh edges of judgement and allow us to move closer to ourselves. By Lauren Bloxham
Living compassionately requires us to be gentle, to feel spacious and to be brave enough to sift through the inner ingredients of our thoughts and feelings and the stories they tell us. This is why a meditative practice can be so powerful in shifting our mindsets. When we carve out space and time, stillness and quiet, a place to contemplate and to be present for those thoughts and feelings that bubble away within us, then we are doing powerful inner work.
Meditation can be like taking the ingredients of our inner world, laying them out in front of us and deciding which are truly nourishing and which are junk. In the process, we separate ourselves from them, we look at them for what they are, we take a curious approach and lovingly discern that which is serving us, and that which is depleting us.
Like a spring clean, it can look messy at first though, daunting even. Think about that drawer at home, where all the papers get stuffed to be dealt with later, or the piles that accumulate on surfaces around the house. The things we don’t want to throw away or just don’t know what to do with that sit there, until one day we decide to tackle them. We spend time sifting through the junk and the treasures. We see things that trigger memories; we find things we thought we’d lost; we wonder how things got there; we might find sticky corners covered in dust that needs a good clean; and we may find things that trigger joy, disgust or just about any other feeling imaginable.
Maybe we look at the drawer and think twice though. After all, life is functioning just fine without sorting things out, whether we put it off or say we can’t find time. But one thing we do know is that the stuff in the drawer (and the drawer itself) is not us. It’s a useful distinction to make when it comes to our inner worlds too, and this is where compassion comes in.
Deciding how to tackle the inner work is as unique as each of us. Whether we start by taking a yoga retreat once a year or decide to make a regular practice of being present for our inner worlds through therapy, meditation, walking, writing, or time spent alone, incorporating the inner work is just as essential as wiping down the kitchen surfaces regularly and clearing out those stuffed drawers from time to time.
However we decide to arrive at our inner worlds, bringing compassion with us is necessary to effectively process what we find. When we accept that messiness and grime is part of living, then we have nothing to be ashamed of, or to judge harshly. It is what it is. Ruminative thoughts are just like stubborn stuck grease; our presence and acceptance is like the power cleaner it takes to dislodge them.
To be able to say to ourselves, “Of course it feels uncomfortable”, or “I understand how painful it is”, or “I know it’s hard” is the compassion that keeps us from abandoning the job. It keeps us present. Through the practice of staying compassionately close, regardless of what dirt comes up, or how difficult it becomes, we can make light of what is dark.
“Cultivating a compassionate approach to ourselves is an approach that firstly recognises the experience for what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.”
If we can approach our thoughts and feelings with the same detachment that we approach the house cleaning…we accept it might be tough and we don’t always want to do it, but that it’s rewarding and sometimes we may enjoy it. Regardless though, it needs doing regularly.
Cultivating compassion towards our bodies and minds
Let your awareness gently scan the body. Notice the places where you feel physical sensation such as temperature and the physical effects of the movement you’ve taken or not taken today. Just notice the feedback that comes, that’s all.
How we respond to that feedback is key. Compassion allows us to bring balance and ease, to stretch out what is stiff, and to mobilise what is stagnant. To rest what is tired and to exercise what is sluggish.
Now bring that same curious awareness to the breath. Notice where you feel the breath moving. It might be a more subtle sensation of temperature at the nostrils, or gentle movement of the muscles of the ribs. Just notice how and where you feel the breath moving.
You might find that you instinctively took a deeper breath, or that the shoulders dropped to allow the breath to move more freely. You might notice how awareness invites a softening, an allowing and a sense of balance or relief to emerge.
Finally, bring your curiosity, that inquisitive awareness, to the mind. The thoughts that come, go, and cycle on repeat. Notice their quality, the feelings they trigger and how you feel watching them. You might hear your compassionate voice rise up to meet them. You might notice the harsh edges of judgement.
Being curious about the mind is like emptying the messy drawer, looking at what we’ve taken out and putting back only that which is necessary, useful, and valuable. In just the same way as we respond to physical mess or injury, we can respond to mental and emotional mess and injury. It’s more subtle and sometimes harder to become aware of but requires just the same care and nurture.
Cultivating a compassionate approach to ourselves is an approach that firstly recognises the experience for what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. In recognising what’s there we can name it, understand it, and then apply the balm of compassionate nurture towards ourselves, enabling us to stay close without shame or judgement.
Practice yoga with Lauren Bloxham online at blackdogliving.com or in person in West Cornwall. You can also join her on her retreat, ‘Embodying the Elements’ at Bala Brook retreat centre in Dartmoor National Park (April 20-23, 2023). Follow her on Instagram @blackdogliving