In August 2012, my husband and I did ‘The Alchemy of Relatedness’ with Fanny and Colin, a couple who runs retreats in Devon, England. They call their work ‘The Movement of Being.’ On this week-long retreat, held on Dartmoor, we stayed clear of ‘normal’ distractions. In the mornings we sat outside facing the lush countryside of Devon and listened to bird song. Each day, the group met in a circle. If something came up, we had the opportunity to speak up and process our feelings.
It’s amazing how much stuff comes to surface when we are willing to slow down and embrace stillness. I loved the time inside the circle. Feeling held and relatively safe, I could allow my feelings to surface.
But time outside of the circle was a sheer torture. I know many people feel socially awkward. For me, it was verging on a phobia. Most of the time, I hid behind my husband. We huddled together, away from the rest of the group, enjoying the safety of our connection.
On a typical day we had three circles. Towards the end of the retreat, Fanny and Colin suggested that we have a ‘free’ evening. The plan was to gather around bonfire after dinner, chat and sing. Anxious, I went to have a shower. When I came out, my husband was sitting at the table with the rest of the group having his dinner. In that moment, something flipped inside of me. In total despair, I ran away. He was with them too. I was totally alone. I couldn’t bear the thought of joining the group at the table. Individually they were all lovely people. There wasn’t a single person I felt uncomfortable with. But as a group, they intimidated me: it was as if I disappeared.
I walked around the village for over an hour waiting for someone to notice my absence and come looking for me.
No one came.
Tired of crying and walking, I returned to the venue.
‘Did you go for a walk?’ My husband asked. He had no idea about my drama. His casual tone was the last straw and I fell apart.
‘Ask Colin to hold a space for you to process this,’ he suggested once I couldn’t cry anymore.
15 minutes later, I was sitting with Colin on the ground not far from the bonfire and telling him about how I got triggered.
‘Can you allow yourself to be touched by this?’ He asked softly.
The words felt like an empty sound.
‘Can you feel compassion to this part of yourself?’ He rephrased the question.
‘How do I do that?’ I asked eventually.
‘Well, if a little girl, perhaps your daughter or sister, told you that this is how they felt…’
Finally, I got it. That was the only way I could feel self-compassion. For years afterwards, I clung to the image and returned to that little girl every time I was open to feeling self-compassion.
You see, I was brought up in a culture where when a child falls down, an adult can hit the child and reprimand them more. ‘I told you not to…’ was a common phrase used in my family, if something went wrong. When I failed, I didn’t share with my loved ones. I knew I wasn’t going to get a compassionate response.
What’s worse, I internalised their reactions. So, when something wasn’t quite right, I beat myself up, adding insult to the injury.
It was only last summer that I really started to learn giving myself compassion. The power of self-compassion is astounding. On the face of it, the process I use is deceptively simple. All I need to do is to focus on my heart centre and solar plexus, and say ‘I’m so sorry [fill in the blank]. Yet within a few minutes, I feel lighter and calmer. It works without fail and has the capacity to heal the deepest wounds.
Practicing self-compassion had several added benefits for me:
- Self-awareness: to name what I feel, I need to be willing to stay present to the discomfort.
- Acceptance: to move through the pain, I need to face whatever is. It doesn’t mean resigning myself to the situation. Paradoxically, I can transform the pain once I acknowledge and accept what is.
- Kindness: with self-compassion comes kindness. It’s not a fluffy type of feeling. It’s more of a softening and relaxation in the face of discomfort.
I’m half-way through a certification programme in Compassion Key with Edward Mannix. As part of this programme, I am offering free Compassion Key sessions. If you’d like to experience the power of self-directed compassion and shift a major issue in your life, give it a shot. It’s amazing!
If I can give myself compassion and transform my life, so can you.
This guest post is by Gulara Vincent.
Dr Gulara Vincent is a writer, blogger, and a university law lecturer. Her book proposal was a winner of the Transformational Author Experience in the USA in 2015. She lives in Birmingham, England, with her husband and two young children. You can visit her writer’s blog at gularavincent.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@gulara_vincent).