The Power of Compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird

We live in a culture that encourages us to try to feel good all the time.  We hear the overt and covert messages: Be happy! Overcome struggles! Look on the bright side.

What is the problem with such messages?

First, it’s not possible to feel good all the time. Telling ourselves the story that we “should” feel happy when actually we feel worried, or sad or disappointed tends to compound difficult feelings. Instead of offering ourselves compassion and soothing ourselves for how difficult it is to struggle, we instead shame ourselves for not feeling good. “Shoulding” ourselves when we feel down is incredibly unhelpful.

Another problem with consuming the message that we shouldn’t feel sad or lonely or disappointed, is that it directs us away from the healing power of self-compassion. One way to define compassion is holding sorrow or suffering (our own or another’s) in a tender, loving embrace. When challenging emotions are held with connection and love, our hearts and lives can be transformed in positive ways.

There is a children’s story that beautifully illustrates the healing power of compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird. Although this touching story by Alice McLerran is now out of print, a small group of children and I have created a play of the story. I highly encourage you to set aside a little time to watch the play below and allow your heart to be transformed.

Four Steps to Help Kids Grow Self-Compassion

Father son pairHow many of us know someone – an adult, teen or child – who could benefit from the resource of self-compassion? We might think, Wow! That person really needs to be kinder to themselves and stop beating themselves up! 

But what is the best way to help another person to develop the resource of self-compassion? When I contemplate this question, I am reminded of the following quote by Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

While helping another individual develop self-compassion involves more than just our example, the power of example cannot be overstated. This is expecially true when it comes to children. The process of helping children grow self-compassion involves four steps, which are built upon the foundation of caregivers’ self-compassion.

Four Steps to Help Children Grow Self-Compassion

  1. Caregivers learn the skill of self-compassion either on their own or alongside their child.
  2. Model self-compassion in the presence of children.
  3. Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.
  4. Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

STEP 1: Caregivers learn self-compassion.

We can’t help children to acquire a skill that we do not possess. That’s why our first step as caregivers is to grow the personal resource of self-compassion. If, when you were a child, your parents modeled self-compassion and also consistently soothed you when you were struggling, lovingly encouraged you to own your mistakes, appreciated your strengths and supported you in becoming your most authentic self, then it’s likely that you already possess the resource of self-compassion. If you are like the rest of us who received parenting that was somewhat less ideal than the above description, you likely need to do some learning and practicing to acquire the skill of self-compassion. You can strengthen your self-compassionate voice by using adult resources such as Mindful Self-Compassion training and books such as the Mindful Self-Compassion workbook, and/or you can take a parent-child self-compassion class and learn alongside your child. 

STEP 2: Model self-compassion in the presence of children.

Modeling self-compassion as caregivers means that we appropriately name our struggles in the presence of children and model giving ourselves encouraging and/or tender support for our difficulties. This might look like giving ourselves a hug or audibly offering ourselves reassurance or support when we feel distressed. We might let kids know that we are going for a walk, calling a friend, or making ourselves a cup of tea as a kind response to our struggles. When we name and model compassionately responding to our struggles we create a bridge between children and ourselves. Our example lets kids know that it’s okay to struggle and that they can seek out support (including their own kindness) during difficult moments. Our self-compassionate example can then be internalized as a model for children to emulate when they struggle. As caregivers, we need to have our own self-compassion practice (step 1) in order to model self-compassion for children.

STEP 3: Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.

When you speak to children, ask yourself the question: Is this the voice that I want my child to internalize? Is this how I want children to talk to themselves in their own minds? Because children internalize the voice of their caregivers (including tone), as much as possible, we want our words to convey compassion – sometimes tenderly soothing and sometimes encouraging and motivating. When we are successful at speaking to a child in this way, our words contribute to the development of a child’s compassionate voice. When we fall short of this aspiration, as we all do, it becomes an opportunity to acknowledge our human imperfection and offer ourselves compassion. We can show children that just like them, we are on the learning team when it comes to treating ourselves and others with kindness.

STEP 4: Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

Explicitly teaching children self-compassion and scaffolding their practice can sometimes be tricky, especially when teaching our own children, but it is a vital step. Many caregivers find it helpful to use resources, such as self-compassion books or a parent-child self-compassion class to help children consciously learn and practice the skill of self-compassion. After children have learned self-compassion practices, caregivers can begin to gently and selectively encourage self-compassion practice. When a child is having a difficult moment, it usually works best if caregivers first provide the child with compassionate support, and then, if the child seems receptive, invite the child to offer compassion to themselves. It’s important not to push a child to practice self-compassion as this can have an adverse effect. If a child resists practicing self-compassion, it can be helpful to focus primarily on the first three steps described in this article (increase caregivers’ self-compassion, model self-compassion, and use a compassionate voice with children).

It’s important that we, as caregivers, have a long-term view of children’s self-compassion development. We can normalize and offer ourselves compassion when children develop the resource of self-compassion more slowly than we would wish. It’s important that children know that we are learning and practicing self-compassion along with them, and that it’s self-compassionate to allow ourselves to grow slowly over time.

What if I Were Grandma

Click here to listen to an audio of this blog.

grandmother with grandchildren

My children are growing up. As they enter the second half of their childhoods, I am increasingly aware that my time with them is finite. Like many parents, I often function in a sort of survival or efficiency mode. What do my children and I need to get done today? What goals do we want to achieve? What tasks can be eliminated? While this type of thinking is efficacious, I know that I am missing moments with my children that I would like to savor, moments that I will miss when they are gone.

Recently, I’ve developed an internal archetype of a grandmother.  This grandmother archetype is a future version of myself. My grandmother self is less concerned about her to do list, about efficiency and order. My grandmother self delights in the laughter of children, enjoys sensory experiences and idiosyncrasies, and lingers in the moment.

In my daily life, I’ve begun to ask myself the question: What if I were grandma?

Ghost imageI was up in the attic the other day, and I found a ridiculously loud ghost stuffed animal. When you press a button on the ghost it vibrates with hysterical laughter and shouts, “Happy Halloween!” Should I donate the stuffed animal to Good Will before my kids see it again? It’s so obnoxious! I thought to myself. And then came a voice with the question, What if I were grandma?

If I were grandma, I would definitely bring that ghost stuffed animal down from the attic. I would delight in my children’s smiles and laughter at the loud, vibrating ghost. And so I did.

This morning I went for a walk to the lake. A part of me wanted to take off my shoes to feel the cool sand beneath my feet and the gentle waves lapping around my ankles. Another part of me didn’t want to have to deal with the grittiness of the sand and wanted to avoid the inefficiency of cleaning the sand off my feet before putting my shoes back on to walk home.

Shoes on rock by beach What if I were grandma? I wondered to myself. If I were grandma, I would definitely take off my shoes and enjoy the texture of the sand beneath my feet. And so I did.

The scenarios are endless: grades, whipped cream, playdates, choices about my work schedule. Each situation provides an opportunity to invoke the wisdom of my inner grandmother. Grandmothers oftentimes give themselves permission to be present with their grandchildren and enjoy the moment in a way that wasn’t accessible in earlier years.

I want to embody my grandmother archetype. I want to enjoy the moment now.

She’s Going to be Okay

A few weeks ago, my ten year-old came home from her first field hockey practice with some news that touched my heart. She said that the first half of practice she had been practicing self-criticism and comparing herself to others, but then the second half of practice, she remembered self-compassion, and she began to repeat the kind wishes in her head that we’ve been practicing together for the last few years (May I be joyful…May I be the person I wish to be…May my heart be full of love and connection…). 

My heart leapt with joy at her compassionate inner voice, and I thought to myself, “She’s going to be okay!” This is the same thought that I had when my now fourteen year-old began to report that she had an inner voice that soothed and encouraged her when she felt “less than” in middle school. When a child develops an inner self-compassionate voice, I know they are going to be “okay.” They have an inner ally that will soothe them during difficult times and help them to grow and change in positive ways.

It is my deepest wish that all of us – adults and children – can develop an inner self-compassionate voice that helps us to know that we are “okay” and loved. As grown-ups, we can grow our self-compassionate voice by taking self-compassion training or learning about self-compassion, and then intentionally practicing our inner soothing and encouraging voice. We can also encourage the youth in our lives to take a self-compassion class or read self-compassion books to support them in learning and growing the compassionate voice that they have hopefully been hearing from the grown-ups around them.

My favoritie self-compassion program for families is the parent-child self-compassion class. I love it because it enables children and their grown-ups to learn self-compassion side-by-side. It is beautiful indeed when both caregivers and children encourage each other to remember to be self-compassionate during their difficult moments (see the below one-minute video).

Wishing you and the youth in your life the resource of self-compassion.

With love,
Jamie Lynn 

The Path to Resilience Journaling Challenge

I am formally inviting you (yes you!) on a Path to Resilience Journaling adventure.  I am sharing our first week of the Path to Resilience journaling blog with everyone.  If you would like to receive journaling prompts for future weeks (it is a sixty-day challenge), you can sign up for the challenge here.

Before you begin this journaling challenge, I invite you to consider your “why.”  Why would you want to go on a two-month-long journaling adventure?  What would you like to have more of in your life?  Joy, connection, freedom, strength, hope, well-being?  If you feel so moved, make a list of what you would like to invite more of into your life.  You could use this list of values from NVC to get some ideas.   If you have a moment, go ahead and do this now.

If you have made a list of good things that you would like to invite into your life, this can be your “why.” If you are not up for making a list of good things right now, you can borrow my reason to begin this adventure: following the tips and journaling prompts from the Path to Resilience has helped me to become the best version of myself.

Now…on to week one of our journaling challenge.   On week one of the Path to Resilience, we begin by focusing on mindfulness and our emotions.  As James Baldwin famously said:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”

Emotions deeply affect the way that we experience life.  And depending on how we relate to our emotions, we will have more or less well-being.  Feel free to click here to watch a two minute video if you would like to hear me explore the concept of well-being as it relates to mindfulness and integration.

In order to experience well-being, we need to be able to integrate our emotions, life experiences, and the various parts of our brain.  The journaling practice for week one helps us to name our emotions so that we can integrate them.   Additionally, the journaling activity for week one includes a hint of gratitude (the science of the inclusion of gratitude is touched on in the video recording below).

So, our adventure begins with a little gratitude and a lot of awareness. Click on the three-minute video below to listen to me explain the week 1 journaling challenge, or if you prefer, you can continue reading below the video.  Be sure to not just listen to the video/read about the journaling challenge, but also try what is suggested.  We have something called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which means that what changes our brain is experience rather than knowledge.

Our journaling prompt begins each day with the phrase, “Today I am grateful for awareness…..”  As the weeks progress, you will be invited to focus on different aspects of your life experience, but for week one we focus on our emotions.

For week one, all that you need to do is pause to remember your “why,” and then write down, “Today I am grateful for awareness…” at the top of a blank sheet of paper.  Go ahead and do this now.  Pause. Now, write down three emotions that you feel and the corresponding trigger (see above example).  Please be sure that at least one of the emotions is negative.  We need to integrate both negative and positive experiences, which means that it is important to be aware of and name both positive and negative emotions.

Please note that when we say that we are grateful for awareness, we are not saying that we are grateful for the things that have caused difficult emotions.  We are simply stating that we are grateful for an awareness of our feelings.  If you don’t feel authentically grateful for an awareness of your emotions, you can denote that as well (I touch on this in the above video).

For week one, this is all that is asked of you each day:  1) Remember your “why” 2) Write “Today I am grateful for awareness….” 3) Write down three emotions that you are feeling in response to situations in your life.  If you like, you could follow up your journaling with a mindful awareness practice such as dropping in, or a kindness practice such as kind wishes. 

If you would like to receive weekly journaling on the Path to Resilience blogs, guided practices and mindful movement videos for the sixty-day challenge, you can sign up for no cost using this link.

If you would like to learn more about the Path to Resilience training you can click here.

I wish you peace, joy, and integration.