- Mindful awareness and communication
Your body has a ton of intuitive information to share with you, all you have to do is listen. But how do you do that? A big piece of that puzzle is learning how to bring your attention mindfully to that spot and seeing what arises. To do this, bring your gentle attention to the body part you want to talk to and notice what physical sensations or emotions come up. The key is to be still and notice without trying to interpret, figure out, or make a story about what is happening. Start to notice any sensations or feelings and simply watch them. If anything sticks out to you, you can open a communication about it by gently asking your body, “Tell me more,” and seeing if there is a response or a change.
- Ho’ponopono (forgiveness and gratitude)
There is a Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and gratitude that can absolutely change your relationship with your illness and the energy around it when you practice it on a daily basis. It’s a simple 4 sentence mantra that has profound power. When you are mindfully sitting with your illness say the following: “I’m sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.”
“I’m sorry” is about taking responsibility for the way we’ve mistreated ourselves throughout this illness. Perhaps we push ourselves too far, or don’t ask for help when we need it. Perhaps we blame ourselves for getting sick and our inner critic pops up and says things like, “If you’d only eaten better and exercised more, this wouldn’t have happened.” Regardless of what it is, this gives you an opportunity to make amends with yourself and apologize for being anything other than understanding and supportive of your body, whether it’s healthy or ill or anywhere in between.
“I forgive you” is about allowing yourself to feel okay about whatever you were sorry for. You are doing your best and learning as you go, and that’s okay. Forgive yourself for any way you have not treated yourself with the utmost care and respect.
“Thank you” can be used here to appreciate your body and all it’s doing. Even if you are ill, there are parts of your body that are working well and you can send appreciation toward those parts. And even the parts that are ill or out of balance are trying their best to heal, so send appreciation their way for all they do to try to bring you back to health.
“I love you” is all about sending unconditional love to our body, no matter what state it’s in. Just like I can be frustrated with friends or family but still love them, we can feel upset or frustrated with our body or illness and still love our body at the same time. When we sit in the energy of unconditional love, magical healing can occur.
- Look at your relationship with your illness
It’s almost impossible to have an illness or chronic injury and not have it affect your daily life in some way. We all develop coping strategies, feelings and make meaning out of having an illness in order to get by. In order to heal, we have to not only address the symptoms, but also let go of the coping strategies, emotions and other ways we’ve incorporated that illness into our lives. This may sound strange — who would want to keep the coping strategies and emotions around their illness? But our brains are hard-wired to stay with the familiar and avoid change, and if healing also involves a change to how we live our lives, there may be some resistance in our bodymind to that change. This is especially true if your income, type of work or relationships revolve around your illness. For example, if most of your close friends are also people with the same illness, what will that mean for your support system if you get better?
- Understand you’re part of a larger quantum field
There are numerous studies showing that when people become aware that they are not in this alone and that in fact they are part of a larger field of consciousness, miraculous healing can occur. Take some time to sit in the awareness that your body is not separate from all the energy of the universe, it’s a part of it. So, even if you don’t have all the answers, you’re connected to the “worldwide consciousness web” that has more wisdom than you do. Allow yourself to feel that expansion, feel how you are greater than just your mind and body.
One of the most important parts of healing is accepting where you are. If you can think, “This is where I am right now, how can I be more accepting and compassionate towards my body and illness?” it can do a world of good. We all know that no one ever makes lasting changes out of shame, guilt or feeling like they should be somewhere they’re not, and the same is true for your health. Practice having an intention of feeling better without attaching the desire to get there in any particular time or fashion. You are where you are, and you will probably be in a different place tomorrow, and the best thing you can do today, tomorrow or at any point in your life is to be compassionate and accepting, right now.
One of the most difficult things I’ve done is learn how to love the person who abused me.
When I was 26 years old, I made the incredibly difficult decision to cut my mother out of my life. In child abuse survivor circles, this is often called going “no contact” or NC and it was not a decision that was made lightly. In fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
I’d tried everything I could think of — writing her letters, talking things through, therapy for myself, and family therapy with her and my sister. I desperately wanted a relationship with my mom, and I didn’t want to go through life without that type of support. The idea of not having a mom in my life felt so freakish and lonely, so I was trying anything I could to salvage a workable relationship so that I could have her in my life.
Finally, after a typical abusive episode at a restaurant where she loudly told me what I was wearing made me look fat, repulsive, hideous, and disgusting and she couldn’t imagine how I could let people see me in public like that (for the record — it was a nice skirt and blouse that I often wore to the office), I decided I’d had enough.
I was at a loss. How do you go about divorcing your mother? How do you deal with the guilt, the anger, the loss, and the intense emotional pain?
When I asked people who I thought of as older and wiser, the response was often, “But she’s your mother! You can’t cut her off. I don’t care how horrible she was to you, she’s still your mother.” I was told by so many well-meaning people that once I’d had my own kids, I’d understand how you simply CAN’T cut your own mother off. Then, they’d give me suggestions for how to work things out that I’d tried 1000 times before.
No one I knew seemed to have any answers.
And while I know they didn’t understand the depth of the abuse, and the lengths to which I’d gone to salvage the relationship, they were right about one thing. She was still my mother. I needed to figure out a way to relate to her in my own psyche, even if she wasn’t in my life. So what could I do?
About a year later, I found myself at my first meditation training. The instructor was B. Allan Wallace, a Buddhist monk who seemed like he may have some answers. One day I asked if I could eat lunch with him and talk to him about something I was wrestling with, in my life. I gave him a brief account of my childhood, my mom, and all the things I’d tried to do to repair our relationship. To my surprise, even after that brief account, he didn’t try to suggest new ways to repair it or even question my decision to go no contact. He paused for a minute and then said, “Sometimes the only way to have people in our life is to send them compassion from afar. And that isn’t nothing — sending someone the energy of compassion can be very healing.” At the time I thought he meant healing for my mom, but I’ve now come to realize he meant healing for me, too.
So I practiced sending her the Buddhist prayer of Mettā each time I thought of her (which was still many times per day).
“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.”
I repeated this over and over, through tears, through rage, through confusion, through grief, and through loneliness.
Finally, I started to understand. I could be furious at how she treated me and also have compassion for her suffering. I could be brokenhearted and also have compassion for how miserable she clearly was. I could hate her for what she did to me and also have compassion for what had happened to her to create such psychological instability in her own mind.
And I could do the same for myself. I could feel broken and depressed and also have compassion for myself. I could feel shame and also have compassion for myself. I could hear her abusive voice in my head, now my own inner critic, and also have compassion for myself.
Compassion can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. Fondness or affection is not a prerequisite for compassion. In fact, seeing someone in their wholeness, both the “good” and “bad” parts of them, is a huge part of compassion.
And beyond that, once you feel compassion for someone else’s suffering, even love can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. You can love the part of them that hurts, the part that is suffering, and in this way, you can move towards healing the pain.
“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion–and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”
― Ram Dass
What Ram Dass is saying here is essentially the same thing that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” It is possible to have love in your heart, no matter what someone has done to you.
It took me YEARS to get to a place where when I thought of my mother, I was able to send her love. Now, don’t get me wrong — I was still angry, sad, confused, and traumatized (sometimes all at once) but at the same time I was feeling all of that, I was also able to feel compassion for her suffering, and then from there, eventually, I could feel love for her.
My mother died earlier this summer. I hadn’t spoken to her in over 15 years, but when I heard she was dying, I went to the hospital to say goodbye. It took 30 minutes of meditation in the hospital parking lot to regulate my nervous system so I wasn’t about to have a panic attack, but once I felt centered, I went in.
I told her I loved her, and I meant it. She asked what had happened, why we hadn’t spoken in so long. I looked at her and said, honestly, “Our relationship caused me too much anxiety. I couldn’t handle it, so I pulled away.” She said she wished it had been different. I cried and told her I did, too.
And then I held her hand and told her all the things I loved about her. And I told her all the things I knew others loved about her, too.
She denied it all. She said, “Oh, come on” and waved me away.
I know mom. I know you never felt worthy of love. I know that’s why you tormented me, and I can see that through the eyes of compassion now. Hurt people hurt people, until we break the generational cycle.
So, I’m here to break that cycle. I’m here to “be a statement of love and compassion.” In many ways, mom, you were the hardest place to do that work. You were the person who did the most damage to me and so you were also the hardest person for me to love. But I thank you for that lesson because you know what? Now that I know how to feel compassion for you, I can feel that same love for everyone I meet.
I understand that loving someone has nothing to do with agreeing with their actions, their beliefs, or their words and, instead, has everything to do with seeing them in their wholeness and that simple Mettā prayer of compassion:
“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.”
In every relationship, you are going to make each other angry. Through thoughtlessness, naiveté, and ignorance, we are all going to flub it up with our partners every now and again.
How do you know if you should bring it up? If you mention every little thing that irritates you, it will quickly devolve the relationship into a paranoid bickering match. But if you bottle things up, they will eventually come out in a messy, gargantuan tirade and may spell the end of the relationship.
Fortunately, I’ve found a middle ground.
When my sweetie does something that irritates me, I check in with myself using the five-year rule. I ask myself, “Will I remember this incident in five years?” If the answer is yes, then it’s something I want to address with him. If the answer is no, then I let myself be angry (on my own) for as long as I need to get it through my system and then I forget it. If it’s not something that I will even remember happened in five years, how important can it be?
The odd occasion when the dishes are left in the sink? I won’t remember that in five years. That weird, nerdy thing he said to my friend at a dinner party last week? I won’t remember that in five years. The mud tracked in when he was working in the yard? Nope, I won’t remember that in five years either.
When he said that I’m not as good about exercising as he is? Ouch. Um, yeah, I’ll remember that in five years so it’s time for a talk, buddy.
It may be that as a mental exercise, you’ll need to start with a ten-year rule or an eight-year rule. Make it however much time would have to pass before you’d look back on the incident and either laugh at it or not even remember it happened. Then test it out. How does it feel to let things go? Do they simmer for weeks inside you or do you move on faster than you would have thought?
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this and how it works for you! Remember as Buddha wisely said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping at a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Self-compassion is the ability to be compassionate (kindhearted, caring and gentle) with yourself. It has been shown to increase levels of happiness, optimism, and a sense of well-being. We’re all quite skilled at being compassionate with other people like our friends, family, and children. However, we aren’t as good at doing this for ourselves.
When was the last time you were gentle and kind with yourself after you made a big, embarrassing mistake? It’s so much easier to forgive others for their mistakes then it is to forgive ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up and rehash the failure over and over, rather than giving ourselves words of encouragement and support.
When you can learn to be as kind with yourself as you are with those friends and family you hold close to your heart, you will start to see so many aspects of your life, your happiness, and your health improve.
Self-compassion is when you accept, validate, and treat with care any and all things that happen to you. If you make a mistake at work and get called out by your boss, accept what happened, validate the truth of the situation and figure out how to fix it, and then tell yourself that you did your best at the time with the resources you had. Resources always include time, materials, emotional state, energy level, interest level and more. At any given time, you can only do your best with what resources you have at that moment. If you snap at your kids or partner after a long day, accept that you made a mistake, apologize, and give yourself the grace of knowing that you are a good person but at that moment your resources were spread thin.
We all make mistakes. It’s part of the school of life class in which we’re all currently enrolled: “Being a Human: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Be kind to yourself. It makes a huge difference in your life.