April showers bring May flowers says the old adage.
It sounds so predictable. But life is not so predictable, is it? Have you noticed that ? Life has ups and downs, twists and turns. Although we might want it go a particular way, it sometimes doesn’t.
I have been in a life phase where things I was expecting to happen did not happen and things I did not expect to happen are happening. And yet I feel an incredible alignment and trust with this unexpected unfolding.
The way this brain of mine is wired up, shifting from plan A to plan B can be a challenge. I am a planner and organizer by nature. It comes naturally. I have a vision, I make a plan, I see how all of the parts need to come together and I spend time ruminating how things will unfold, look and feel when they come to reality. But when plan A falls through and it is time for plan B to come in….. well, that is not a smooth transition.
When I was a river kayaker I loved how quickly I could move from plan A to B to C to D. Sometimes my life depended on a quick change of plan. I used to fantasize about how my life would be if I could transition that quickly in “real life”.
The practice of Mindfulness has been an enormous gift for me to face transitions (and a million other life arisings) in a more flowing way.
I realized that plan B was often a knee jerk reaction. “Well if this isn’t gonna happen, then I will just do that.” There was often disappointment followed by a scrambling in my psyche to find some stable ground. I would sometimes make a plan B that was perhaps not the best choice. Giving my disappointment acknowledgement and space to be held was transformative. It allowed my nervous system to slow down, be soothed and it gave space for clarity. I could then choose the best plan B that would be of most benefit.
Knowing that I have this tool always available to me helps me feel an alignment and trust with life and I can flow more easily with unexpected life unfoldings and arisings.
I have found the simple practice of “Soften, Soothe, Allow” a most valuable tool. I would like to share this simple step-by- step practice with you. I have learned to do this practice “on the fly”, in the moment of challenge. However it is helpful in the learning stage to practice in a quiet space on your own.
This process was created by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. (Most of the language here comes directly from their document, Soften-Soothe-Allow.pdf)
Beginning with Breath and Kindness
Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take three relaxing breaths. Place your hand on your heart for a few moments to remind yourself that you are in the room, and to bring kindness to yourself.
Labeling the Emotion
Let yourself recall a mild-moderately difficult situation that you are in right now, perhaps a health problem, stress in a relationship, or a loved one in pain. Do not choose a very difficult problem, or a trivial problem—choose a problem that can generate a little stress in your body when you think of it. Now clearly visualize the situation. Who was there? What was said? What happened? Now see if you can name the strongest emotion—a difficult emotion—associated with that situation: anger? sadness? grief? confusion? fear? longing? despair? Repeat the name of the emotion to yourself in a gentle, understanding voice, as if you were validating for a friend what he/she is feeling: “That’s longing.” “That’s grief.”
Bringing Mindfulness of Emotion into the Body
Expand your awareness to your body as a whole. Recall the difficult situation again and scan your body for where you feel it the most. In your mind’s eye, sweep your body from head to toe, stopping where you can sense a little tension or discomfort. Now choose a single location in your body where the feeling expresses itself most strongly, perhaps as a point of muscle tension or an achy feeling, like a heartache. In your mind, incline gently toward that spot.
Soften, Soothe, and Allow
Soften into that location in your body. Let the muscles be soft without a requirement that they become soft, like simply applying heat to sore muscles. You can say, “soft…soft…soft…” quietly to yourself, to enhance the process. Remember that you are not trying to make the sensation go away—you are just being with them with loving awareness. You can let yourself just soften around the edges, like around the edges of a pancake. No need to go all the way in.
Soothe yourself for struggling in this way. Put your hand over your heart and feel your body breathe. Perhaps kind words arise in our mind, such as, “Oh my dear, this is such a painful experience. I’m so sorry it’s so hard for you right now”. If you wish, you can also direct kindness to the part of your body that is under stress by placing your hand in that place. It may help to think of your body as if it were the body of a beloved child. You can say kind words to yourself, or just repeat, “soothe…soothe…soothe.”
Allow the discomfort to be there. Abandon the wish for the feeling to disappear. Let the discomfort come and go as it pleases, like a guest in your own home. You can repeat, “allow…allow…allow.” “Soften, soothe and allow.” “Soften, soothe and allow.” You can use these three words like a mantra, reminding yourself to incline with tenderness toward your suffering. If you experience too much discomfort with an emotion, stay with your breath until you feel better.
Easing back out… When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes, letting your attention move out into the world around you.
I hope you feel the benefit of the practice. And I do hope that April showers do bring LOTS of May flowers for you. Above all… Be kind, gentle and compassionate with your Self!