Make allowances for suffering
13. Minding the self
Living is harder when there is suffering. Not only the weak but the heroes, the saviours also hurt. Many people cannot relate with empathy to others in pain until visited by personal misfortune. Buddha’s first noble truth concerns the undeniable fact of suffering in the world. To learn how to alleviate it and pass on his discoveries was his quest and achievement, as it is, and has been, of many unsung carers throughout the ages. Mirroring the golden rule found in some variation in human groups down the ages across the globe, how you do onto yourself is the foundation for doing onto others. Authentic attending to others in distress results from first practising compassion towards oneself. Other valuable results accrue too, including more motivation, overall well-being and reduced anxiety. Resources to integrate self-compassion exercises into everyday life are available at mindfulselfcompassion.org and elsewhere.
A staple of mindfulness training is the pleasant events diary. This involves becoming aware of a pleasant event as it is happening and recording observations as soon as possible afterwards about what it was, what thoughts, images, moods and emotions accompanied it, what was sensed in the body, and what it feels like writing about it. Once completed for a week, it’s advised to switch the focus to unpleasant, and then neutral, events, in respective subsequent weeks, continuing to make diary entries. Comparing notes can intrigue the new explorer of subtle factors of existence. The process is sometimes described as mindfulness of feeling and constitutes one of the canonical Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
There are many other ways to take care of the self. Prioritise tasks and divide them into segments to make them manageable – the thought of what’s involved in executing a whole programme can overwhelm less organised people. Schedule time for recreational breaks, for play and fun. Avoid perfectionism. Everyone has limits and it’s best to know and accept them. Often the strain of confrontation is not worth winning the argument and being seen to be right. Consider giving way and concentrating on what’s going well instead. At the same time, a good cry can work wonders and be incredibly cathartic, so do indulge when tears are near.
Follow health tips, resist anything but occasional self-medication that tends only to mask and prolong symptoms, and keep stress at bay. If tactics fail, share worries and concerns to gain a fresh perspective, either with trustworthy friends or family, or with a therapist. It may or may not work, an issue I’ll return to. Participate in preferred activities, which has the added bonus of alleviating loneliness, frustration and boredom and attracting other people. In tense situations, visualise scenes of tranquility and quietness. Once the state of relaxation is reached and the self is treated with kindness, there is peace in oneself and more peace in the world already.