“Mindfulness ….. was never intended to be strictly an awareness or attention – regulation exercise. Take away loving kindness and mindfulness is like being forced to watch a frightening scene, close up, under a bright light. That isn’t an experience that most [people] need to have.” Christopher Germer
Mindfulness allows us to be present with our experience, as people, as therapists and as clients. It allows us to bring difficult material to the surface. It is loving kindness that allows us to process it in a safe way so that the pain doesn’t overwhelm or re-traumatise us.
So how do we coax loving kindness out, instead of following old patterns of beating ourselves up and self-criticism? (Familiar anyone?)
Unconditional Positive Regard
In counselling terms, Carl Rogers (the originator of person centred therapy) spoke of the importance of the therapist showing unconditional positive regard to the client. When we feel this from our therapist it might be the first time we have felt that from another human being, or it might allow us to feel accepted and cared about when we open up about things we feel pain and shame about and have found difficult to open up about. Perhaps we haven’t even talked about them to anyone before.
A good therapist will be able to help the client to feel accepted and cared for. They will radiate loving kindness or unconditional positive regard strongly enough that we notice it and can absorb it. This experience can be very powerful and help us to take that sense of warmth into our own lives – in how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to the people close to us.
Loving Kindness Exercises
If we have a mindfulness practice ourselves we can also try simple practices that encourage loving kindness. Here are two practices to try:
- Enter a mindful state
Try sitting for a few minutes with closed eyes, watching your breath, and feeling the weight of your body in contact with your seat. Use this to centre yourself, to ground and shift your focus from your thoughts to your body and sensations. Then try one of the following exercises, or each in turn.
- Imagine looking in the eyes of someone you love
Whilst sitting in mindfulness, watching your breath for instance, remember a time you looked in the eyes of a small baby and how that felt.
If that doesn’t work for you try remembering contact with a relative you feel a strong love and affection for. Someone you love without any complications of resentment and so on. Perhaps a well loved grandparent, aunt or uncle.
That is generally an experience of unconditional acceptance and love…. By paying attention to how that feels we can learn to feel it more.
- Inner smile
Whilst sitting in mindfulness, watching your breath, let a small smile play at edges of your lips. Let that smile build and see how it feels. Perhaps you can also feel a warmth building in your chest or belly. Smiling, even if it is done deliberately, releases feel good chemicals in our nervous system, and this can help us to feel love for ourselves.
And most importantly, don’t take it all too seriously … have some fun!
Click here for a mindfulness tool you can use as a quick reset during a busy day.
If you’d like to take it further and really learn to love yourself unconditionally, somatic psychotherapy can be really helpful.