“The cry we hear from deep in our hearts, says Thich Nhat Hanh, comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain will transform negative emotions.” Compassion can help us heal emotional pain…
Meeting emotional pain with compassion heals. However, it isn’t our first response. When emotional pain arises, we usually try to avoid it, distract ourselves or soothe it with food, alcohol or some other dismissive behavior. When we face pain with resistance the process of healing gets stalled.
Healing isn’t a linear process. It’s messy. The feelings that come up are complex and often many. There can be shame, grief, sadness, hurt and a myriad of others that can keep us stuck in a cycle of pain, withdrawal or lashing out at others. It can feel as if we are the wounded animal in the forest that retreats into a cave to lick our wounds. The intention maybe to heal, however sometimes what we’re doing to soothe ourselves isn’t healing. Actions that numb, distract or ignore pain just keep us stuck in patterns that we repeat over and over again.
The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can’t see her. That inability to see is a kind of ignorance. This child has been severely wounded. She or he really needs us to return. Instead we turn away. Thich Nhat Hanh
The only way to heal, is to open to the pain that we’ve banished to the nether regions of the mind. I often use the image of the basement as a storehouse for the hurts, experiences, traumas, disowned parts or anything that triggers a story of a flawed or unloved sense of self. Like the feeling of abandonment or rejection a child feels when reaching out for love, soothing or connection, we often re-wound ourselves when we banish a hurt that is arising in the present moment to the dark basement of our mind. If you were to picture that hurt as a small child, it might actually help you begin to connect with the healing power of compassion.
Compassion is something that most of us have the capacity to feel…
Opening to pain with kindness and compassion, helps us stay present to painful feelings. We begin to notice how the breath responds to pain, how pain is held in the body. Instead of reacting to pain with contraction, we being the practice of bringing mindfulness to what is arising in our moment to moment experience. It isn’t a one time practice; it is a loving connection that we cultivate as we develop a practice of meeting difficult feelings with kindness, gentleness and love. How do we practice this?
Compassion heals…one breath at a time
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh
When pain arises, our tendency is to use unhealthy coping skills to avoid it. Avoiding what’s painful is part of being human. Pleasure we like and want more of, pain we automatically turn away from. Part of it is survival instinct and part is a learned response to what is unpleasant. This learned behavior is often passed on to us by our primary caretakers. We learned how to deal with pain by watching how our loved ones reacted to pain or how they reacted to us when we expressed pain. So, it makes sense that if we developed this pattern overtime we can also learn to change it. So the good news is we can change unhealthy or hurtful ways we respond to pain.
In order to change any habit, there has to be a willingness to investigate what happens prior to and while we are engaged in the habit pattern. When pain arises, fear may be present, so going slowly, being patient and kind is essential. Creating a sense of safety and groundedness is also important and at first may seem impossible because of the fear. In mindfulness meditation practice we use the term anchor to represent a stable place to rest our attention when we get distracted or aversion arises. The breath is a stable and most times safe place to rest our attention if we get overwhelmed. Sometimes, it can be helpful to practice breath meditation prior to practicing self compassion. As you get familiar with the rhythm, pace and soothing sensation of breathing in and out, there can be a sense of safety and stability that develops over time. From this stable place, you can begin to explore how stress shows up in the body.
Learning to bring kindness to the places in the body that under distress helps us stay present as emotions arise in body, mind and heart. I’ve included links to some of the most helpful guided meditations that can help you develop a practice of self compassion. Developing this practice can help you stay present to joys and sorrows of life. As you do this there can be an awakening of the heart and a letting go of the limiting beliefs that often keep us stuck in cycles of shame, pain and suffering.
Self-Compassion Guided Meditations
I’ll end with a beautiful poem on powerful healing that comes when we hold pain with compassion.
The Healing Time
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
May you be well