Connecting with our senses and with self-compassion

December 21, 2021

By Ken Barringer            

What do you think when you listen to holiday music? Does holiday music make you yearn for the past? Look optimistically at the future? Both? Neither? People may say it “doesn’t feel like the holidays”. What are the holidays supposed to feel like? When we “can’t believe the holidays are here (or have come and gone)”, why not? Do we engage in certain holiday practices out of habit, tradition, or obligation? And what happens when this get disrupted? Do we actually like some of our practices? If we do not give ourselves an opportunity to look at things differently, make changes or decide “not this year”, then who will give us permission? Is it possible that changes in holiday traditions will give us a break from our grief? Or will changes trigger our losses? Like so many things in the aftermath of grief and loss there are more questions than answers and the questions change over time.

The route to our soul is through our senses. This entry point is through our eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. What we see, smell, taste and hear hold and trigger our memories. The holiday season is a smorgasbord of stimulation of our senses which naturally means a smorgasbord of memories. How are we holding those memories? With longing? Avoidance? Somewhere in between? What makes a griever long for the holidays while others look forward to them ending or not happening? (This could be the same griever each year.) The statement here is you can be more than one thing. The difficulty arrives when we feel like we have to be singular in our experience. Where you are is where you are - right now. This can shift over time. The one constant in life is change. 

There is a yoga pose called Uttanasana (or “forward fold”). By hinging at your hips and folding your torso over your legs this pose becomes a literal and metaphorical turning inwards toward yourself. This is the personification of self-compassion. A simple definition of self-compassion is giving yourself the kind of care and understanding you would give another person who is suffering. If the holidays are about giving and “it’s better to give than receive”. How about we deliver self-compassion? That way we can be both giver and receiver ☺. What we would be receiving is a gift of kindness going forward. A form of self-love which keeps giving. 

To fully give to ourselves means we must fully acknowledge that we can benefit from self-compassion. This acknowledgment might be the reason people turn away from self-compassion. Self-compassion means owning our suffering and pain. What we know about grief is that there are no short cuts, and the way out is to go through. We are “entitled” to self-compassion. I know entitlement is often not thought of as a positive term but in this case it is. Think of self-compassion as a lotus blossom. Lotus blossoms are beautiful flowers that grow in mud. What you can’t see from the surface are strong roots that grow down into the mud but they keep the blossom upright and growing  above the water.