Tears stream down my face and blood streams down my knee.
Snot dribbles down from my nose and over my lips to my chin.
As I sat on the edge of the kitchen worktop I knew that this pain was too much to bear for my tiny body.
But then the warm loving embrace swallowed me up.
Her arms wrap around me and she whispers softly in my ear “it’s okay”
It didn’t matter to her that the blood leaked onto her clean clothes or that my slimy nose nestled into her hair.
She was there for me.
She didn’t see the mess.
She didn’t see that I could’ve been braver.
She just saw my tears and my sadness and offered me some comfort. The messy business of untangling what was causing all the upset could wait.
That’s what love looks like
A warm touch and a softly whispered “it’s ok”.
At least it was for my 5 year old self. But what of my (significantly!) older self who navigates the world as an adult?
If you’re like me, when you find yourself in a red hot mess because the world hurts too much or it all feels too heavy, it’s not so easy to get that same simple love. We
We judge our responses and tell ourselves we should cope better or we should try more. Then we convince ourselves that there’s something wrong with us for feeling the way we do. Other people seem so much better at coping than we do, and often with challenges we perceive as far worse.
But what if our feelings are valid after all? What if we deserve compassion for the difficult emotions that we experience, rather than shame that they exist?
Could you be enough exactly as you are?
When we think of love in it’s purest form, without the sugar-coated overlay of cliche, it’s really simple. Love is easy when our hearts aren’t heavy with the weight of our past experiences. Like that pure love we can experience as a child.
The problem is we suffer tiny heart breaks from as soon as we enter the world and eventually they can harden around our heart to create a tough defensive wall. It hurts so much to feel the cuts and scrapes of human existence that we shore ourselves against it.
It's a defensive and protective act.
The problem is, it isn’t just the pain we keep out. We also keep out the love that would heal those wounds and the scar tissue around those nicks and scrapes becomes ugly and feels shameful - so we hide out hearts even more.
How do we find Love again?
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
Another overused refrain on the theme of love is that to love other people you must first love yourself. There is so much truth within that and it’s easier and more practical than it seems.
A few years ago I was on a meditation retreat in California with the meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg (her work is life changing on this subject. You can find out more about her here).
It was a transformative experience in so many ways and in particular through a particular stye of meditation called Loving Kindness. This was an experience of genuine friendliness towards myself FROM myself through the practices we experienced.
Do you love yourself?
For many years I had a vicious inner critic who was very quick to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, and often. Loving myself was not an option.
That changed when I began to meditate regularly. Not because miraculously the voice disappeared but because my relationship to it changed. Suddenly it didn’t have the power to undermine my confidence anymore because I could see it was just another thought, not some empirical truth. It felt amazing to have finally quietened that voice of "not good enough".
That was just the beginning.
I had disarmed my critic, but I hadn’t replaced with a more nourishing voice and way of being with myself. That's why this practice was so powerful. It bought me back into connection with my self that transcended the hurts and wounds of being human.
The Power of Touch
Our words matter. And so does our touch. Just as that 5 year old me needed the comfort of a gentle hand and a whispered reassurance, it turns out that we all need that too. Without it, those wounds just get more calcified and we find it harder to truly connect with the people who matter to us and to ourselves.
What’s even more fascinating is that the science of self compassion research shows that not only do we feel better emotionally but even our body chemistry and physiology changes with touch.
When we consciously offer ourselves tenderness, It triggers the mammalian caregiving system and releases oxytocin, reduces cortisol and calms cardiovascular stress. Pretty cool, hey?
Be your own lover!
At the time of writing this, we’re approaching Valentine’s Day. It's been a tough few years so it’s empowering to know that we can offer ourselves love in really simple yet effective ways.
In self compassion meditation practices, we use words and touch to gently recreate our inbuilt responses to pain and heart break. It might feel a little bit strange at first to offer yourself words of kindness (especially if you are used to giving yourself a hard time) or physical gestures of touch, but what the research shows is that you don’t need to believe it or “feel” it for it to work.
You can even create micro moments of self compassion by gently placing your hand on your body where you feel upset and gently offering words of comfort.
FREE Workshop just for YOU
The topic of loving ourselves is a loaded one. So much cultural conditioning also determines how we feel about ourselves and by extension our bodies.
That's why this months guest expert is going to be such a breath of fresh air.
Harriet Waley-Cohen is going to be sharing how we can love ourselves without shame or conditions.
Find out more and book your FREE spot HERE
Loving Kindness for you
In the meantime, I'd love to share a self compassion practice with you from the Be.Membership subscription. It will help you to not only be kind to yourself but also experience how to dissolve difficult thoughts and feelings that inevitably show up in our lives.
I love to hear from you, so please do drop me an email and let me know how you get on with this practice and this blog topic.
P.S. - If you already know you’d like to gift yourself access to practices that will build YOUR ability to disarm that inner critic through greater awareness and training your mind then you can sign up for the Be. Membershop Subscription for instant access to hundreds of curated practices. Alternatively you can sign up for the "Loving Yourself" Meditation Toolkit here (its also included for FREE in the Membership.