Recently Anabel Büchner joined a Mindful Self-Compassion intensive taught by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, developers of Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC). As student Psychology she was already familiar with the science of self-compassion. However, what did she personally learn from the course? Anabel shares her experiences with you in this article.
Since I started conducting research about the positive benefits of self-compassion, I have shared my insights with the people around me. When they asked me how to enhance it, however, I did not have an answer as I only studied the theoretical background so far. Hence, I attended the Mindfulness Self-Compassion intensive in order to gain more practical experience in self-compassion which I could share with other people afterwards.
Focus on yourself, not on others
In this vein, it was particularly interesting when Kristin and Chris instructed us at the very beginning of the week to let go of any professional aims we have regarding the intensive and instead encouraged us to only focus on our personal development. This was difficult to realize at first as I was so motivated to help others.
During the course of the week, however, I started to understand the importance of first helping ourselves by investigating our experiences and emotions in a self-compassionate manner, before we can go on and help others, in line with the assumption that you can only serve others if your own cup is full.
Learnings from my participation
I started the training with no particular expectations for myself, as the intention to support others with the gained experience was predominant. As a result, the lessons I learned for myself came quite unexpected, but even more powerful.
At the beginning of the course, we were clarifying some general guidelines for the upcoming days. One of them was 'no fixing needed', which refers to people's need, including my own, to come up with a solution straight away whenever facing difficult emotions. As a result, however, the experience is unpleasant because it is characterized by resistance.
Kristin and Chris introduced the idea of letting go of this urge and rather allowing those emotions to be there by holding them in a compassionate way. I was surprised about what happened if I followed their advice: as soon as I had let go of the resistance towards the negative experience, the quality of it changed dramatically as compassion evokes positive emotions while the negative ones will soften at the same time.
At the end of the week, Kristin and Chris asked us to reflect on the past days in terms of what shifted in us. In this context, I reflected again how much my attitude towards negative emotions has changed. Suddenly, I realized that I can see them in a completely new light: instead of complaining about them or wishing them to be different, I can be grateful for the challenging experiences as these allow me to deepen my self-compassion practice. As a result, I replaced my tendency to dislike unpleasant experiences with a sense of curiosity in order to use these as the substantial basis for growth.
Integrating compassion in daily life
Mindful Self-Compassion influences all parts of my life. By changing the attitude towards myself and towards negative emotions, I can see life with all its challenges from a new perspective. Hence, just by fully engaging with the concept, I already make a big change in my life.
In terms of exercises, I discovered the self-compassionate touch as especially useful. Before the training, I would have never known how beneficial and warming hugging myself can feel and consequently, I will use this kind of support often.
Additionally, taking a self-compassionate break is an informal practice I will implement in my daily life. Stopping in order to honestly ask myself “What do I need right now?”, instead of “What should I do?”, is a crucial step to take. Because no matter what tasks need to be done, I can not fulfill them in the best way possible if I do not take care for myself first.
Inspiring and experienced teachers
I deeply acknowledge the essential role of the teachers and the group in the transforming experience I had. Getting the possibility to work with such talented and inspiring teachers as Kristin and Chris was of incredible value to me. I was especially touched by their openness for sharing personal experiences and their extraordinary humour – regardless of the seriousness of the topic or the length of the day, these two always found a way to make the group smile by not taking themselves too seriously and therefore, the ambiance was filled with ease and joy.
In addition, there were four experienced MSC-teachers to support the personal development process by offering small groups or one-by-one sessions. I gratefully took advantage of this service as I used the personal conversations to these teachers in order to clarify some challenging thoughts that came up during the journey.
Learning from other participants
The entire atmosphere was characterized by openness and the motivation to share and hence, the learning experience did not end with the 'official' sessions. The diversity of the participants enabled me to get in touch with so many different stories and perspectives and yet demonstrated the many similarities all humans share. Lastly, I felt supported by the Centrum voor Mindfulness throughout the entire week as the whole set-up was so well organized and all my questions were answered kindly. [quote: the learning experience did not end with the 'official' sessions.]
Author: Anabel Büchner, Student Psychology, University of Potsdam, Germany
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