Personal Growth

How to Use Compassion to Cultivate Resilience

How to Use Compassion to Cultivate Resilience
You possess innate resilience.

Maybe you read that sentence and recognized its truth, proud of all you have overcome. Or maybe you read those words and balked, hearing a familiar critic say, “No, you don’t. You can’t handle this.”

For so many of us, we most often hear the inner critic. It’s the voice that fuels our fear, anxiety, self-doubt, and feelings of helplessness. If you live with this critic long enough, you’ll come to believe it’s the sole authority on you and your capabilities. You’ll come to believe you don’t possess the resilience needed to face life’s challenges and uncertainties.

However, we can rise against this familiar voice. We go beyond it to come in contact with the deep pool of resilience that the critic obscures from our view. The best tool we have to help us achieve this is our self-compassion. Lucky for us, self-compassion is something we cultivate, even if we have to build it from the ground up.

Self-compassion means regarding ourselves with warmth and acceptance, not just when we feel proud of ourselves but, most importantly, when we are at our lowest, most uncomfortable moments. Tara Brach – the psychologist and author who has penned books such as Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion – describes self-compassion this way: “Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.” Being able to respond to our lives – no matter what is thrown our way – with a sense of clarity and balance is what living with resilience means.

Self-compassion, therefore, is the ideal tool to help us come into contact with our inner resilience. It helps us see past the shame, self-doubt, and fear that cloud our ability to see ourselves for what we really are: loving, compassionate, resilient beings. Through practicing self-compassion, we see ourselves as a friend, not a foe.

Take a moment to think about how you talk to your closest, most trusted friend. Would you tell her she doesn’t have it in her to face her heartbreak? Would you tell him he is too weak to face his illness with strength? Of course not. You would be a mirror for your friend, making his or her strength and resilience visible. When we practice self-compassion, we treat ourselves this way. We hold this loving mirror up to ourselves.

If this sounds more aspirational than attainable, that’s okay. Like all good spiritual teachers tell us, we must start where we are. These three practices are intended to help you cultivate self-compassion so that your innate resilience is more accessible to you. Whether you adopt one or try out each one to find what works best for you, you’ll be taking a significant action that primes your mind and spirit for a profound shift.

1. Practice Metta Loving-Kindness Meditation

Metta meditation is a Buddhist meditation that helps you cultivate benevolence for yourself and others. It’s often referred to as Loving-Kindness meditation for the way it helps you generate compassion. Generally, the practice unfolds like this: After a few minutes of traditional sitting meditation, you make an offering of compassion to yourself, such as “May I be happy” or “May I be peaceful.” Then, you begin to widen the circle of compassion to include friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and even those who cause you pain.

If you struggle with self-compassion, then this formula poses an obstacle right from the start. For those who want to grow their self-compassion and cultivate resilience, it is wise to focus on a loved one, first, instead of yourself. Choose someone for which sending well wishes comes naturally. Bask in the care you have for them. When you do this, you begin to see just how capable you are of offering love, care, and compassion. Knowing that you possess this sacred capability, you can then extend it towards yourself. You realize you have the power to care for yourself.

2. Journal with Purpose

With the right prompts, journaling can help you see yourself, and your situation, from a different perspective. The human experience is rife with obstacles. If you have come this far on your path, surely you have already experienced hard times and done something to overcome them, whether you give yourself that credit or not. These prompts are designed to help you mine your experience for times when you were in fact resilient, offering proof that you can draw upon that power again. Find a quiet space, grab a notebook and a pen, and choose a prompt or two.

  • Write about a time when you took action even when you felt scared
  • Write about the quality you appreciate most in yourself
  • Write about a problem that had a silver lining
  • Write about a time when you ventured outside of your comfort zone but gained something valuable
  • Imagine an unconditionally loving being wants to offer you advice. What would this being say about the challenge you’re facing now?
  • Write about a time you forgave someone

3. Practice Random Acts of Kindness

We’ve all experienced the rush of warmth and equanimity that comes from being on the receiving end of a good deed. We know that the same positive feelings linger with us when we’re the ones who act out the deed, too. Everyone from preschool teachers to spiritual leaders to scientific researchers teaches the value of random acts of kindness. While it’s a good practice to adopt no matter where you are on your life path, it’s especially beneficial if you’re trying to tap into resilience by way of compassion.

Doing something kind for another person reminds us that our actions are powerful. It inspires feelings of agency and self-determination that make cultivating greater resiliency possible. When we see ourselves making a positive impact on the world around us– even if it’s small – we are given evidence that we can face challenges and make positive changes in our lives.

Practicing random acts of kindness also reminds us of our place in a greater social tapestry. Resilience thrives on nurturing social connections – stoic isolation cuts off its life force. When we do kind deeds for our friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, or community members, we are nurturing our shared sense of connection and belonging. When we commit to doing one kind thing per day for someone else, we remind ourselves that we are never alone as we walk our path. There are always others to share our struggles – and our triumphs – with. Having this compassionate camaraderie is a hallmark of living with resilience.

Discover the nature of resilience through the lens of compassion and care and connect with your wholeness in Journey to Well-being: Resilience, a four-part series with Daniel, available now in the Chopra App.