Many people with chronic or recurring mental, physical and behavioural problems, whatever form these may take, suffer from low self-esteem, self-reproach or shame. Their world can be gloomy, fearful, full of yearning, anger or suspicions, and they find it difficult to experience feelings of warmth for themselves and others. They may escape into isolation, busyness or relationships that do not bring real satisfaction. Talking therapies do not always offer a solution. Sometimes they provide certain insights, but they do not reach the experiential level (‘I understand what’s going on but I can’t feel it’). Particularly in such cases compassion practice with exercises in how to experience more warmth, safeness, acceptance and connectedness with oneself and with others could be helpful.
It is recommended that participants are already familiar with the practice of mindfulness, preferably by having followed a MBSR or MBCT course. After having followed such a course many people say that they benefited from the exercises. They are more aware of what is happening in their lives and more open to the richness of their sensory experiences. They have begun to feel more ‘at home’ in their body and started learning to observe feelings and thoughts as passing events, without identifying with them. They feel more freedom as regards their options in stressful situations. And often they report that they have become kinder towards themselves and others. Yet there are quite a number of participants who find it difficult to really take the gentler, kinder attitude to heart, particularly those who have always been harsh, severe and critical towards themselves (and/or others), and those who are tormented by feelings of shame, guilt, unworthiness or a sense of being wronged. The persistent nature of their complaints, symptoms and unhealthy habits – whether it is anxiety, depression, irritability, physical pain, tiredness, obsessive-compulsive or addictive behaviour, loneliness, social problems or the more general or varying complaints associated with stress – makes it easy to change the gentle attitude back into its opposite. They often find it difficult to continue the exercises after the course, without the guidance of a trainer and without the support of the group meetings. It seems as if an inner critic quickly raises its head with harsh judgments and reproaches them that they are not doing enough practice, or not doing it well enough, or that everything is meaningless anyway. Old patterns do not disappear overnight and they easily creep back in again.
In people with chronic or recurring health problems the inner critic, in one form or another, often plays an important part in the continuation or worsening of these problems. Although in the basic course the attitude of kindness is introduced in the practice, this is often not enough to soften these persistent patterns. It seems as if insufficient foundation has been put down to let an inner helper flourish and calm down the inner bully. For them in particular the compassion training can be a valuable advanced course.
It can also be meaningful for all others who are interested in finding ways to deepen their mindfulness practice and be more compassionate in life. Also experienced mindfulness teachers, who followed the program, often share that the exercises have enriched their personal lives and their teaching skills.
We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.