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Marvelously messy

5 April 2019 | Mindfulness Practice ,

Happy 2019!

It feels far to soon to be writing those words, but here we are at the beginning of a new year, with all the fresh opportunities and challenges it will inevitably bring.

The turn of the year is a symbolic new beginning. But if you think about it, time just passes at the same pace from the end of one year to the beginning of the next, so in many ways, a ‘new’ year is simply a continuation. I suppose the trick is to understand what we want to continue, what we may need to change, and what we can begin to look at in a new and fresh way.

Recently, I heard a quote that I just loved

“Life is messy. You don’t have to be.”

Of course, this is true. We can all choose how we relate to a situation, whatever it might be. When circumstances are complex or difficult, we can choose to respond in a complex and difficult way, or we can choose a simpler, or more mindful way. I, of all people, should know this. But sometimes, I think I’m just a mess anyway.

Let me explain. The holidays always seem to bring a mix of blessings and challenges. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about the number of social engagements they feel obliged to attend, the financial pressures they’re under, the ‘too much alcohol’ factor, and the tricky issue of estranged friends or family members. For some people, the holiday season can bring loneliness, or memories that bring up the past in a really unpleasant way.

We often come to gatherings with the best of intentions. For me, I like to imagine widening the circle of compassion (thanks, Einstein*) and leaving no one out of it. And then…humans walk in! Try as I might to hold to my intention, it is occasionally thwarted, and I walk away from those interactions feeling like a mess. Mostly, I’m disappointed at what I perceive to be my lack of capacity to be openhearted in difficult circumstances.

This is where the work of mindfulness and in particular, self-compassion, really comes to the fore. When you’re under pressure, knowing the three steps to self-compassion is a very useful tool to have in your box. So as a reminder, here they are (From Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher):

When a situation is challenging for you (in this case, feeling less openhearted than you intend), say to yourself:

  1. This is a moment of suffering (knowing you’re suffering and acknowledging it).
  2. Suffering is a part of life (none of us gets out of here without some emotional or physical suffering – most likely, both. It is just part of what makes us human).
  3. May I be kind to myself? (bringing a sense of kindness to yourself by softening your jaw, shoulders, heart area, or wherever you feel tight. And then see what happens).

I can’t recommend this practice highly enough. And, it’s something we can do all year long, not just during the holidays. I’ve found that the more I can offer compassion to myself, the more I am able to offer it to others, and that makes me feel much less messy.