Take a couple of minutes now and then, perhaps with your eyes closed, to do this exercise based on an old Buddhist practice:
Observe your breathing calmly for short while.
Now imagine that somebody has sat down in front of you, facing you. This is someone you like or love or admire.
Imagining that person sitting in front of you, try to generate a feeling of goodwill and well-wishing towards them. Now say silently, ‘May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be well.” Repeat this slowly as many times as you like.
Now imagine that this person is replaced by a second person. That second person is yourself, with all your present faults and virtues. Observe yourself sitting there and try to generate the same feeling of good will and well-wishing towards yourself that you did towards the person you like or love or admire. And repeat the phrase “May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be well.” Again, repeat this as many times as you like.
Then bring the practice to an end and open your eyes if they’re closed.
A Body Scan with Compassion
Bring awareness to the top of your head. Now move your awareness down along your head to your shoulders, down your chest and tummy and back, arms and hands, your hips, your thighs, knees, calves and feet.
As you do this, try to generate a sense of compassion towards your body. If you encounter tension or pain in your body or if you encounter parts of your body that you are not happy with, do so with compassion. Approach them, at least during the body scan, with a sense of kindness towards yourself and towards each part of your body.
If you find it difficult to generate a feeling of kindness, do the body scan with the intention of being kind to your body.
Softening the internal tone of voice
When we are critical of ourselves we often speak to ourselves harshly. We would be highly embarrassed if we were to speak to anybody else in the same way. And if somebody else spoke to us like that we wouldn’t speak to them again.
One way to begin to work with this, is to soften the tone of voice with which you speak to yourself. If you criticise yourself with an internal tone of voice that is hard and harsh try to pause and to restate the point in a softer tone of voice.
Making that pause and softening the tone necessarily changes how you address yourself. So instead of calling yourself a damn fool and a waste of space (which is the mild version) because you forgot to buy fresh bread on the way home, you can soften that down into something like, “I’m sorry I forgot the bread and I need to find a way to remember to buy these things in the future.”
So pause, soften the tone of voice and that changes the experience.
Imagine that you are looking at three images. One depicts yourself in the past, the other you as you are now and the third is an image of you in the future. For the first two, you could use actual images but it may be more convenient simply to imagine them.
Looking at the image of yourself in the present, wish yourself well in the ways we’ve already done on this course: “May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be well.”
Now look at the image of yourself in the past, and again wish yourself well: “May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be well.”
Finally look at the image of yourself in the future: “May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be well.”
If you like, you can now imagine all three images together and again: “May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be well.”
You’ll find many more self-compassion exercises in my forthcoming book, Kindfulness, to be published in June 2018