The life-altering time we’re all in carries its potential blessings. The extremity and uncertainty of the pandemic may attune us at last to the matter of what it is to be kind to self. Along the way, conscious awareness may expand and soften. (Sometimes it takes an extreme situation to wake us up.)
What is it to be kind to yourself?
We need all the kindness we can get, all we can give.
It’s to rest from wishing things were otherwise. They aren’t. Relaxing into what-is brings actual relief. Since something in us already knows the truth, to cease fighting it is restful.
As you move through the ordinary day, any time you become self-aware, invite yourself to see — to feel — how much exertion is involved in the act of thinking. In addition to being largely useless (and frequently circular), thinking tires a person. Engaging the mind has a cost, maybe too dear a cost, especially in these difficult times.
Invite your dear self to ease any self-imposed pressure. Consider letting a thing go altogether, or at least for now.
Allow yourself to notice — to register, in your body — whenever you’ve reached “enough” (maybe too much) of a thing. Be conscious of the cost of pushing yourself hard, of lingering over social media/the news, of fretting. It will feel restful to take a break. Maybe even restorative.
Grant yourself permission to simply sit, or to do something you enjoy. (Never mind how much “needs” doing.) Go outdoors to hold still, walk, take in fresh air. Do something creative, nourishing to the soul. Play with the dog, the little child. Take in how good it feels to give this gift to yourself.
Be aware of the story you habitually tell yourself about a given activity’s meaning. Tune into beliefs or habits that move you to action. See that belief and meaning are mind-created, not objectively “true,” as often supposed. Contrary to the mind’s impression, the perceived value of an action is not inherent to the thing itself. Be curious about what deeply motivates you to do a thing. Some things that have “needed” doing may gently fall away.
When your heart wants to break, let it break. If tears want to come (or perhaps a flood of love or gratitude), allow that to happen. Grant your heart all the space it asks. To do so feels deliciously alive, because it locates you in what’s real in the moment.
When something lovely or fun or soothing comes across your radar (perhaps quite spontaneously), if you find yourself turning away, urging yourself on with some “important” task, reconsider. Allow yourself to linger. Feel how much good it does to do so.
Do just one thing at a time. Thinking is a kind of doing. If you’re focusing on a task, do just that thing, allowing thought to rest for the moment. (If you need to think, hold still to do it.) Notice any tendency to urge toward what’s-next, or toward getting done. Just do what you’re doing now. “Next” will take care of itself, when its time comes.
If you have a tendency to take refuge in a desired future, or in the past, see if you’re doing this as a way to escape the unwelcome present. Avoiding the now is actually taxing. Give yourself some space to allow it — simply the immediate circumstance, the sensory reality, the interior of your body. Being in the now is not about the “big” now, the larger circumstance/problem (which asks the mind to get busy — perhaps the most tiring activity of them all).
If you have a spiritual practice, notice if you go at it like a rigorous discipline. Pay attention to how you feel when doing it. Do you see your practice as a means to an end? As an alternative, consider doing it not because you “should” but when genuinely moved. Allow being-here-now to be its own sweet “practice.”
A blessing of learning to be gentle with yourself, as you move through the day, is that you may find yourself renewed, refreshed. Energy and creativity are freed up. When life asks a good deal of you, you may have more resources to bring to it than you did when overly pushing yourself, or when becoming lost in unconsciousness.
When you’re kind to yourself, it comes naturally to be kind to others. Which is a blessing to them, and also to you. It feels good to be genuinely kind (which is different from doing it as a practice). We need all the kindness we can get, all we can give.