“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”—The Dalai Lama
The past few months have been an experience unlike any other in recent human history. Businesses are shut down, schools are closed, and the activity of entire cities has ground to a halt. On top of this, the global healthcare system is strained to its limits, and scenes of pain and loss flood our awareness. This situation is processed differently by each of us, but as members of one human family, it’s safe to say that we are all going through a significantly traumatic event.
By its very nature, this pandemic has forced us to confront two primary components of existential suffering: sickness and death. These inescapable elements of the human experience are often shuttered away in the back of the mind unless a life event forces them to the surface. Now, in the form of a contagious, life-threatening virus, sickness and death have been thrust to the forefront of the global consciousness and you may find it difficult not to feel overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, depression, and melancholy.
Know this: If you’re experiencing emotions like these right now, it is perfectly natural to do so. Do not feel guilty or ashamed for feeling this way. The conditions under which you are living right now—the quarantine, the disruption of daily rhythms, layoffs or furloughs, inability to visit loved ones—the net total of all these things is like a volcanic eruption within our collective and individual consciousness. It’s an event that most of us are totally unprepared for mentally and emotionally. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to cultivate and practice self-compassion.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion might not be something you practice regularly. You may find it easier to extend your compassion and loving concern to others, but how often do you give yourself the same attention, acceptance, appreciation, or love?
Well, now it’s your turn. Amidst the uncertainty and confusion of the current pandemic, self-compassion isn’t an abstract, fluffy, woo-woo ideal; it’s a bonafide wellness survival tool. What follows are six self-compassion strategies that will help you ride out the emotional highs and lows of quarantine life.
1. Practice Acceptance
Acceptance boils down to allowing things to be as they are, without having the immediate desire to change them. You may struggle against the world in the hopes of beating it into submission and forcing it to do your bidding. Not only is this a huge waste of energy, but it’s often a frustrating exercise in futility. Ultimately, the only thing you genuinely have the ability to change is yourself, so practicing acceptance becomes a powerful way to stop struggling and let the waters settle.
There are two types of acceptance: acceptance of external situations and events (such as the current COVID-19 pandemic), and self-acceptance. Both are liberating—one from the outside world that you have very limited control over, and one from struggling against yourself, what you’re feeling, and how you believe you should be dealing with the experience. Allow the world and yourself to be as they are, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and you’ll feel the lifting of an incredible burden that can be replaced with peace and grace.
2. Cultivate Patience
In times like these, impatience breeds frustration, anger, and hostility that gets directed at others as well as yourself. It’s triggered by things not happening in accordance with your timeline; a reflection of you trying to impose your will on elements and conditions that are frequently beyond your control.
Patience, on the other hand, like acceptance, is content to wait for the right time for things to happen. Woven into patience is the wisdom that you can only see a narrow sliver of reality and a much grander design may be at work beyond the boundaries of your perceptions. Patience gives you the ability to trust the universe (and your life) to unfold naturally and spontaneously without force or struggle.
“The reward of patience is patience.”—Saint Augustine
3. Know Detached Involvement
In your materially biased, instant-gratification-based society, detachment is a superpower. Detachment is the ability to surrender into the unknown, trusting that the universe will handle the details. It doesn’t mean giving up on an intention or desire, but rather relinquishing the need to be the general manager of the universe and knowing that things will somehow work out. Attachment breeds a locked-in “my way or the highway” approach that doesn’t allow for creative solutions to emerge. Letting go and flowing with the current follows the path of least resistance, conserves your energy, and permits timing and finesse to arrange the details of the how’s and when’s. Detach yourself from when or how things in this crisis will resolve themselves; just have the intention and let things unfold on their own.
4. Let Go of Expectations
Expectations are a form of attachment; they comprise the “should’s” and “ought’s” of what you believe a situation is meant to be. They are the result of mapping your beliefs onto the external world. However, as you have most likely experienced, reality is not obliged to meet your expectations. Therefore, the more expectations you have, and the more rigid they are, the more frustration you will experience when they are not met. Especially in a situation as fluid and dynamic as a global pandemic, having set expectations about when you can return to work, or visiting your favorite restaurant is only likely to set yourself up for disappointment. Let go of expectations, have no agenda, and allow this moment to be, just as it is.
5. Be Easy with Yourself
One of the key concepts of meditation practice is to “be easy with yourself.” In other words, don’t be so hard on yourself; treat yourself with care, love, openness, and compassion. If you have a tendency to struggle so much against yourself, it’s like, in a way, almost become a rite of passage to beat yourself up in hopes of accomplishing a goal or fulfilling a desire. This mentality can work against you and force you to feel the need to always perform at the highest level.
However, while in some situations this may work, in the current quarantine environment it’s not either realistic or healthy. You may have entered into the quarantine period thinking that it was an ideal time to begin a self-improvement project of some kind only to realize that the prolonged chronic stress makes daily life far too challenging without adding self-imposed challenges or projects.
Remember to go easy on yourself and do only what you feel able to at this time. You have nothing to prove; no one is keeping score. Treat yourself with the kindness, empathy, and understanding you would give a dear friend. Use this time as an opportunity to practice the Law of Least Effort; do less to accomplish more by giving yourself the nourishment you need to stay healthy and rested.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”—Buddha
6. Release Guilt and Self-Judgement
Guilt and self-judgment are two of the most negative mental states. Both create excessive mental turbulence, drain your energy, and degrade your self-worth. Whether you’re feeling guilt and remorse for past choices or judging yourself harshly for not living up to your expectations during these challenging times, cut yourself some slack and release these negative feelings. If, as Deepak Chopra points out, everyone is doing their best from their own level of consciousness, then that applies to you as well. You can’t expect more of yourself than you are capable of under these conditions. Given your karma, or past choices, you’ve done the best you could under the circumstances, so put down the burdens of self-judgment and guilt and let yourself be free.
So, take heart, you will get through this. Things will get better, and from the chaos of uncertainty, a new normal will emerge. Human beings are resilient and creative species, and we love solving problems. A powerful reminder of the impermanence of all things in challenging times like these is, this too shall pass.
We may not know what the future will look like, but cultivating self-compassion during these times will help give love and attention to the one who needs it most right now—you.
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