February is the month of red hearts, roses and chocolate. Valentine’s Day encourages us to express our love to others with cards and gifts. This custom is said to have started in the 1500swith commercial cards appearing in the 1700s.
Usually, in this column, I share meditation practices for the entire family to do together. This month I’d like to invite adults in the family to practice unconditional love for themselves. The practice of Karuna is one in which we generate compassion for ourselves. In the book “Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child by Caring for Yourself,” Susan M. Pollak writes, “…have you ever had the wish that a wise and compassionate person would show up at your doorstep just when you needed it the most – when your toddler has a meltdown, when your daughter gets bullied in high school, when you disagree with your partner about parenting, or when you’re just plain overwhelmed?” The following meditation practice encourages us to take on the role of this wise and compassionate guide. Self-compassion, or Karuna, gives us permission to offer the comfort we would share with a friend or loved one to ourselves.
Kindness and Self-Compassion practice for parents:
- Start by finding a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Your bedroom, the bathroom, a closet or even the car works. If the sun is shining through the window, that’s an added bonus.
- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or on a cushion or chair. Close your eyes if that feels ok. Otherwise, just stare at a neutral spot in front of you.
- Begin by noticing your breath going in and out of the body, either at the nostrils, the chest or the belly. Using curiosity, follow the flow of the breath from the very start of the inhale, all the way through to the exhale. You can experiment with pausing a couple of seconds at the end of the in-breath and at the end of the out-breath. (This is a form of box breathing). Slowing down the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system and welcomes calm and tranquility.
- Once you feel relaxed, notice any emotions or feelings. Is there tension in the neck? Do you have a headache? Is there residual anger or fear? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? See if you can identify and label the feeling or emotion. Usually, when we slow down and get curious, something comes to the surface that needs our attention.
- Now, allowing that emotion and sensation to be as it is, start rocking the body in any direction that feels right. Just as you rock your baby to sleep, you are rocking your emotions to stillness. You may like to put one or both hands on your heart, calling in warmth and compassion.
- Now, ask yourself these questions: “What do I need?” “What does my body need?” Pause and listen for a response.
- Take a few minutes to be open to whatever comes up, without judging or censoring your response. You may choose to write this down on paper or just sit with it for several more breaths.
- With this information in mind, create a mantra for yourself for the rest of this meditation using the following phrases. May I be … May my body be … (fill in the blank for yourself)
- (For example, May I feel loved. May my body relax. May I feel safe. May my body be at ease.)
- Repeat your mantra while breathing slowly for as long as you can before ending your meditation with a smile and a sense of gratitude for taking time for yourself.
A quick version of this can be used when you find yourself caught up by emotions or reactions during the day. Stop, take a few slow breaths, ask yourself what you need and create a mantra to repeat. Try it anytime you need some self-compassion.