There is no one more deserving of compassion than you.
Wouldn’t it be nice to feel as if your intense, scary emotions could rest in a hammock of compassion? It is possible, if you create a hammock in your mind using imagery and supportive self-talk. With a little effort, you can build a psychic sanctuary where all your extreme emotions can hang out, gently sway with the breeze, and go with the flow of life.
It is natural to want to feel good all the time, and it’s also natural not to find every moment pleasant or fulfilling. The more safe places you create for yourself, whether through thinking differently, developing nurturing practices like yoga and meditation, soothing your body with massage, hot baths, or naps, or cultivating deep, supportive relationships, the better you are able to weather life’s disappointments and discomforts. As wonderful as these options are, they all require something or someone external. The beauty of weaving a compassionate hammock is that, like breathing, it can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
To create your compassionate hammock, first find a spot you have visited, visit regularly, or imagine. Picture it in as much detail as possible. Use all five senses: smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight, to really connect with as many aspects of your environment as possible. Make sure your hammock is extremely comfortable. Add padding, a pillow, a light blanket, anything that anchors your vision in ways that delight you.
If you are not visually oriented, just cup one hand in the other and rest your hands in your lap, or your fourth chakra, the heart center. This little gesture serves as an instant reminder of how you want to treat yourself, and anchors you in the practice.
Choose whichever technique works for you. Or, go to town and alternate them for different situations. After a while, just cupping your hands will automatically calm your nervous system, since you will associate it with feeling safer and protected.
You may want to lie in your compassionate hammock with all its beautiful imagery as a luxurious way to relax and meditate; or, you may want to use the hand cupping as a quick mnemonic device to calm you when you feel frazzled or overwhelmed.
Coupling this imagery with some helpful thoughts will increase its ability to reliably comfort you during stressful times. Grab a piece of paper and write down a list of things you would wish your best friend, closest relative, or therapist would say to you when you are upset. Think of specific pacifying, supportive, reassuring, uplifting, and optimistic comments. Perhaps, you would like them to remind you of other difficult times you have weathered. Maybe something funny would be welcome. A reminder of how loved, valued, and appreciated you are can be helpful, too. Imagine yourself as a 6 year old, and think of things she or he might like to hear. Just allow your mind to alight on anything that would feel soothing and gentle. The real work is saying those words to yourself, either silently or out loud, until you begin to believe them. If you like journaling, try writing them in as many ways as you can think of. By infusing your compassionate hammock with calming words, you have increased its power.
The negative, harsh, or critical inner voice will not be permanently silenced, but it can get fainter and fainter with practice. This combination of imagery and words is a strong antidote to old ways of reacting when life’s challenges and transitions seem daunting.
By actually creating your compassionate hammock, you are more likely to access it when life is challenging and your emotions feel unwieldy or overwhelming. Developing the capacity to self-soothe, sometimes called building emotional muscle, will help you feel more positive and in control when your boat hits a rocky shore.
You can be pretty sure of two things: Life’s challenges will continue to appear, and you will always be there with yourself. So, why not cultivate a practice that supports you through thick and thin?
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