Written by Kate Landreth, Education and Learning Lead with FCBC
In the past year I completed an 8-week training in Mindfulness Self Compassion, and initially I was hesitant and skeptical about participating. While I practice and teach yoga and mindfulness daily, my concern with exploring mindfulness self-compassion was that it might erode my inner taskmaster that keeps me ambitious and helps me to achieve my goals. If I indulged in being soft and kind to myself, then wouldn’t that mean I would continuously let myself off the hook? But what my instructors introduced right from the first session is that research shows the opposite is true: the practice of mindfulness self-compassion contributes to resilience, wisdom and a greater understanding of the common humanity of life. The truth of the matter is that being self-flagellating is also self-limiting, and that if we cannot be kind and forgive ourselves, we are less likely to move on or to try again. This is well supported by research, which shows that self-compassion is a far more effective force for personal motivation than self-punishment.
I am grateful that I followed through with the training as I had many self-revelations that were personally life changing, but it also opened my eyes to see that many of the common perceptions of mindfulness are myth and not reality. Related to the above-noted myth of softening standards is that mindfulness is really just an escape from reality; a way to run away from problems by daydreaming. But again, the opposite is true: mindfulness is honesty. It is a way of confronting what is real with acceptance and without judgment. Mindfulness is not an escape but a compassionate confronting. The goal is not to become a blissful Buddha or to empty the vessel of the mind, but instead to become attuned to our passing thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.
Perhaps the biggest myth that was busted for me as I participated in the training was that, while it may seem it, mindfulness is not a selfish practice. I was initially unsure if committing to spending three hours per week for two months was going to be too much navel-gazing, at the expense of contributing to being with and helping my friends, family and community. But what I learned is that compassion for yourself allows you to show up more fully and kindly for others. It’s like the airplane safety demonstrations that advise placing the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting your children or fellow travelers; you are better able to lend help when you first have what you need to survive and thrive. Mindfulness allows you to be aware of your own needs, which can then translate to being aware of what others may need.
And while I long ago learned this hard lesson, the 8 weeks of training reminded me that the biggest “myth” surrounding mindfulness is that it is a panacea or an immediate solution. What I have learned after years of learning about and practicing mindfulness is that it is very much like training the body through exercise; consistency of time and effort is the most powerful tool for creating lasting change, rather than going “all-in” on a single training retreat. More important than seeking out the best-selling books and most revered gurus is making mindfulness a habitual part of your life.