Unlocking and Releasing Compassion this Season
As we head into the holiday season, many of us have different emotions and expectations bubbling up.
The month of December hosts many seasonal events including Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, and Solstice which often include physical gathering of family and/or friends. If this isn’t enough to get your heart beating faster (either from joy or anxiety), we have the additional complexity this year of resurging covid variants, uncertain return to office timelines and the expected heaviness of shorter days and reduced sunlight.
Many of us have family traditions that bring joy and shared fun. For us, it includes my annual batch of ‘nuts & bolts’, the most unhealthy and delicious snack ever invented (see below my old family recipe) and the arrival of our new family game of the year … Blank Slate.
This Season, I'm Investing in Self-compassion and Compassion
As I reflect upon the past year and think about the upcoming holiday events, I have decided to take time leading up to these connections to pro-actively invest in two growth areas: Self-compassion & Compassion for others.
Over the past year, within our Safe Brave Circles and Safe Brave Leadership sessions, we have been deepening our awareness of tools and practices that help strengthen our safe brave spaces within ourselves and in our relationships. Our collective discovery is that when we focus on enhancing our safe and our brave, we stabilize and equip ourselves to more frequently ‘pause’ and explore, participate in, and positively impact the present.
Within two recent sessions, we dove deeper into the importance of compassion, both towards ourselves and others as a foundation for enabling more of these moments. In my book, In Search of Safe Brave Spaces, I shared the discovery that safe brave spaces start within ME. This insight was reinforced within the above-described safe brave communities as a critical first component and thus we begin first with self-compassion.
Many studies have reinforced the importance of self-compassion.
I personally have found Kristin Neff’s work so helpful in strengthening my ability to be self-compassionate. She describes self-compassion as offering understanding and kindness when we fail or make mistakes and recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. When we are having a difficult time, fail or notice something we don’t like about ourselves we often bury it (although my experience is that it always seeps out over time) or judge ourselves.
Both responses pull us out of the moment and inhibit our potential by decreasing our personal safe brave space. Dr. Neff recommends that rather than ignoring our pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality or judging ourselves that we should pause and tell ourselves ‘This is really difficult right now’, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Self-compassion, like any muscle, takes time to strengthen, however, it is amazing the difference you can experience through a couple of great exercises.
Self-kindness affirmation meditation – all the meditation apps include exercises to enhance self-kindness. I found this practice awkward at first however it has now become a powerful way to begin a day or equip me for a challenging conversation. I personally use the CALM app and most exercises start with me and then expand this affirmation to those you love and those whom you may have challenges with.
Counsel for a Friend Method – this has been a game-changer for me. When I am experiencing churn, disappointment, and failure, I ask "what would I say to my very best friend to help them navigate the situation". Most of us can quickly tap into our compassion reservoir for those we love, and this question helps us focus our gift within ourselves.
Naming our Critics – one of the biggest inhibitors to self-compassion is our own self-critics. Although at times they may provide some good insight, most of the time they spin lies and "fake news". A simple and powerful way to interrupt the spin that they create is to name them and call them out when they arrive. Be creative with your names; for me they are Dougie Doubter and Judge Jerry. Now when they arrive, I smile and say “ah, Dougie’s arrived. Is there anything true in what they are saying? Really is there anything true? What is truer & what do I want to do?”. This short, direct conversation with the critic reminds me that I have control and can choose both what I believe and how I will respond.
Compassion for Others
Strengthening our self-compassion helps us recognize that imperfection is part of the human experience. Our personal work softens our hearts and opens us to be more patient and curious with others. As we enter this holiday period, a couple of exercises that I have added to my compassion muscle-building work are:
Pro-active gratitude and the shift from ‘to > for’ – think about those who will be at your events and list their impact on you through the ‘to/for’ lens. Often our first response to negative experiences is ‘why is this happening to me?’. Reframing the question to ‘why is this happening for me’. This has made a huge difference for me as the first one leads me down a path of victimhood, martyrdom, or feeling as though there is something wrong. The second one leads to deeper growth, appreciation, responsibility, and healing.
Living above the line – one of my favourite YouTube videos, created by the Conscious Leadership Group, helps remind me where I am and enables me to best show up. I often review this video prior to entering connection with others - https://youtu.be/fLqzYDZAqCI?t=13
Just Like Me – when thinking of someone who annoys you, say “just like me”, then think of the ways you have done the same. I have always found a sliver of truth that allows compassion to break through my negative thoughts.
My hope is that the above tools and ideas will help prepare and enable a greater likelihood of safe brave spaces within yourself and your relationships over the holiday season. Equipped with these simple tools and an above-the-line mindset, I wish you more joy, more peace, and deeper connection as you connect in community over the next few weeks.
For more information and free tools to support your journey towards safe brave spaces, check us out at https://www.safebravespaces.com/support.
Greg’s Nuts & Bolts Recipe
1 lb butter; 2-3 tablespoons Worchester sauce; 1 tablespoon paprika; 1 ½ teaspoon celery salt, onion salt, garlic powder; 1 box Cheerios; 1 box Shreddies; 1 bag of pretzels; 2 lbs mixed nuts
Melt butter in roasting pan; add spices and mix into butter; add rest of the ingredients and mix it all up; Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.