Being a Good Friend to Yourself
with Mindfulness and Self Compassion
I recently drove with my nephew and his good friend across Washington state. As I quietly navigated a curvy and beautiful mountain pass, I listened to them talk. Their conversation made it clear that they are good friends, and I noticed how happy I felt just witnessing their interactions. As they spoke about relationships, work, school, sports, and their trip out west together, they were kind, playful, and non-judgmental. They disagreed with each other at times, but they also took those opportunities to really understand and support each other despite their differences. Their friendship was clearly beneficial and meaningful to both of them. It was beneficial to me as well: simply being around these two young men made me feel relaxed and happy.
As I reflected on why their interactions moved me so deeply, I realized that this friendship conveyed four things very strongly. Without ever saying it, these two comrades were communicating to each other: I see you, I accept you, I care about you, and I support you.
Perhaps you’ve experienced someone like this in your life: A good friend, a teacher or mentor, a grandparent or other family member who saw you for who you are with acceptance, communicating in some way that they cared for and supported you. Or perhaps you simply understand in your heart how great it would feel to be seen clearly, without judgment, and to be cared for and supported with kindness. Regardless of who we are or what our life experience has been, each of us can learn to offer these gifts of genuine friendship to ourselves through Mindfulness and Self-Compassion practice.
Mindfulness practice cultivates greater awareness that helps us see ourselves more clearly. We learn to observe our bodies, our physical sensations, our feelings, and our thoughts in a new way. We develop a greater intimacy with ourselves, and we may begin to notice thought patterns and feelings we did not see before. We learn to stay more present for ourselves and learn to offer ourselves the gift of “I See You.”
As we cultivate this greater awareness, we can also practice the intention of being non-judgmental toward what we see. Even though judgments arise in our minds over and over again, the practice of intentionally looking for and seeing our judgments helps to weaken our judgmental habit little by little, over time.
We may also begin to observe how our thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise on their own. Seeing this, we blame ourselves less and are more accepting of our experience and of ourselves. We learn to let ourselves be as we are, and we offer ourselves the gift of “I accept you”. For me that is sometimes more of an “I accept a little bit more about myself than I did before” or “I accept this aspect of myself a little bit more in this moment” but it is the gift of acceptance, nonetheless.
Sometimes when we bring mindfulness to our experience we notice we are in the midst of difficulty. When we notice that we are suffering in some way, sometimes just being with the experience allows it to soften. At times the experience or emotion we see is stronger than our ability to just be with it. Times like these are when Self-Compassion practice can be helpful.
The seeds of self compassion are within each of us. We regularly do kind things for ourselves and often don’t realize it. Eating food and sleeping keep us alive. Brushing our teeth is an act of self-care. And reading this article or taking a Mindfulness class is motivated by the wish to be happy. Self-Compassion practice helps us get in touch with the often unseen part of ourselves that genuinely cares about our own well-being, the part of ourselves that wants us to be happy and free from suffering. It helps us to see and feel our natural capacity for self-care, to hear the part of ourselves that says, “I care about you deeply.”
Self-Compassion practice also gives us tools with which to meet and support ourselves when we are facing difficult situations or emotions. Rather than trying to fix ourselves, we learn to be kind and supportive. And we learn to do this not to get rid of our difficulty, but simply because we are having difficulty. It’s like how we would tend to a young child with the flu; we are not kind and supportive because we are trying to drive out the flu, we are that way simply because the child doesn’t feel well.
By making the space to let ourselves be exactly as we are, and by offering kindness to ourselves when things are difficult, Self-Compassion practice teaches us how to be our own best support, and ultimately our own best friend. And just like my nephew and his friend in the car that day, our friendship with ourselves helps us to see, accept, and care about ourselves just as we would a dear friend which benefits not only ourselves but those around us as well.