5 Ways to Weave Gentleness and Compassion into Your Meditation Practice
When a child is trying to learn something new, we offer them a huge amount of patience, compassion and kindness. Yet when we find ourselves in the position of the beginner, it's very easy to be self-critical.
Gentleness and compassion in meditation are about how you treat yourself. Many meditators start their meditation practice by diving right into doing the instructions they have been taught. They don't just bring their attention to the breath, a mantra, or visualisation, but rather force it. Behind that force is aggression, pressure, driven-ness, or just plain tension. And when things don't go well, they tend to chastise themselves with thoughts of failure and self- doubt.
When I started to bring this essence of gentleness into my meditation practice I experienced a sense of softening and release. I finally let go of control and allowed myself to just be with the practice of meditating. Instead of wrestling with all of the thoughts in my mind and striving to achieve meditation “perfection”, I simply let go.
And this is what compassion is all about. It’s about letting go of control, striving, effort and force and allowing yourself to just be as you are in the present. It's about inviting a sense of relaxation into your body, calmness in your mind and peacefulness in your spirit. It's about choosing LOVE above all else.
1. Be as comfortable as possible.
You don’t have to sit in a rigid, upright position with your legs crossed and your hands contorted into a mudra. Instead, allow yourself to find a posture that feels inherently comfy and will help your body to relax. This can be either sitting on your sofa, laying down on your bed or on a yoga mat with a bolster underneath your knees – any position that will cultivate a sense of contentment within your physical body. Personally, I like to wrap myself in my favourite blanket and place a scented eye pillow over my eyes.
2. Place your hand over your heart or embrace something in your arms.
The warmth of your hands will help you to cultivate compassion towards your point of focus. If keeping your hand over your heart feels uncomfortable, you might prefer to cuddle a teddy bear, hot water bottle or a pet if they’ll let you.
3. Offer yourself compassion each time your mind wanders.
This is the key to cultivating gentleness. Each time you get distracted or caught up in anticipation of the future or past regrets, send some love and kindness towards yourself rather than beating yourself up. Tell yourself it’s okay, you’re here to help, that you’re doing the best you can. Remind yourself that you are human and you are allowed to be imperfect.
4. Approach difficult thoughts, emotions and sensations with tenderness.
This is my favourite step to practising with a patient approach. If a strong experience arises during your meditation, imagine yourself cradling this sensation with a sense of unconditional love, support, compassion and kindness. Swaddle your intense thoughts, emotions or sensations with tenderness. Instead of warring with your experience you’ll realise that you have the power to love your discomfort into gentle submission.
Meditation doesn’t have to be so serious; allow yourself to actually experience pleasure, relaxation, contentment and peace. If you’re experiencing these sensations then why not smile? The simple act of smiling releases the happy hormone, Serotonin, so you will instantly feel better for it.