I want to share with you a poignant moment which came not long after the birth of my son. I had been overwhelmed by a huge wave of relentless and overwhelming necessities. These washed over every moment of my life day and night – necessity to attend to the needs of my newborn. I was also recovering physically from a difficult birth. A couple of weeks in I had a few moments to myself for the first time and I put a self-compassion audio practice on to listen to. Immediately I felt my whole being drinking it in as if I’d built up the thirst of a mountain climber on a hot day. I drank from the well of self-compassion and it felt as though my body rekindled its energy. I was rejuvenated.
There was something about motherhood that made self-compassion the perfect medicine like never before. It was the perfect balm for my mothers’ heart which was giving everything to my little one and struggling to adjust to a life which was suddenly, overnight, unrecognisable. When I returned to my sleeping baby I felt revived and full of tenderness, witnessing his entirely fresh existence. I also felt a deep and joyful willingness to take on the responsibility of caring for him.
Self-compassion has been part of my practice for many years but practicing it as a mother has been a revelation. This got me thinking. There is something striking that, as a mindfulness teacher it’s been impossible for me to ignore. Overwhelmingly, it’s women of a ‘certain age’ who attend workshops. Time and again I’ve listened to the following story accompanied by tears – ‘I’ve given, given, given to others and I realise now that throughout all the years, I’ve never been kind to myself.’ This sadness tells us that as the years passed by, as they mothered and cared for and nurtured, there was a part of their heart that some women forget.
This part seems to reawaken when they come to a class to practice mindfulness, which involves cultivating self-compassion. The mysterious thing is that it’s only in the moment of receiving compassion from themselves that this neglected heart speaks. It’s as if it’s been in suspension while the mother, wife and daughter’s attention has been absorbed elsewhere. As soon as they turn to look, with tender attention, it reawakens and speaks its grief. And this grief is not just grief – it is grief which is simultaneously a liberation.
Fay Adams is a tutor for the Mindfulness Association, teaching on the Mindfulness, Compassion, Insight courses and Teacher Training.