Imagine you’re gently holding a snow globe. The little flecks of fake snow are still, and the liquid inside is clear. Now shake the globe as hard as you can. The flakes swirl and woosh wildly, clouding the liquid inside. To let the snow settle, you loosen your grip and gently hold the snow globe again, and sure enough, the snow slowly drifts to the bottom, and the liquid within is settled and clear.
This snow globe is a helpful metaphor developed by mindfulness teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland to illustrate how mindfulness can help ease mental and physical discomfort. Stressors, such as difficult experiences or emotions, can disturb our sense of stability or calm, much like the snowflakes in the globe. Mindfulness teaches us to accept every moment just as it is, without wishing or forcing it to be otherwise. So going back to the metaphor, we can accept that our inner snow globe has been shaken, knowing, moment by moment, the flakes will settle and find calm again.
But there’s a part of the snow globe metaphor that isn’t the being addressed - our hand that’s shaking it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged and shaped our world in ways that we never expected, leaving many of us feeling that we have little control over our lives. We’re searching for a new normal as we mourn missed moments, worry about loved ones, cope with cabin fever, and accept what is out of our hands. But it’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly tough, which means now is the time, more than ever, to soften our grip and send some kindness to ourselves. In these times of uncertainty, let’s turn to self-compassion.
Like mindfulness, self-compassion is a practice of pausing and turning inward, with gentleness and openness. The practice of self-compassion teaches us to hold space for ourselves to experience life’s challenges without judgments like “I should do this” or “I can’t feel that”. It’s a practice of letting yourself simply be.
One way to practice self-compassion is through RAIN.
RAIN–recognize, accept, investigate, nurture–is a four-step meditation designed by Tara Brach, renowned meditation teacher and clinical psychologist, to offer self-compassion during times of suffering. For the full story of RAIN, I recommend you check out her RAIN talk or read her article RAIN for self-compassion, which I’ve adapted below:
To begin, find a place with few distractions where you can sit or lie comfortably and close your eyes. Brach recommends moving through each step slowly and sequentially at first, offering kindness and resisting judgment.
Recognize the emotions, feelings, thoughts, or experiences you’re facing. There’s a phrase developed by psychiatrist Dan Siegel, “Name it to tame it”, which refers to the importance of naming our emotions in order to address them. Often, this step alone makes us feel a little more at ease.
Allow yourself to experience what you’re feeling or thinking. As mindfulness teaches us, this is an opportunity to allow what is happening within and around you without trying to change or avoid it. Or to put this another way, “feel it to heal it”.
Investigate the feeling, emotions, thoughts or experiences that come up. Try approaching this step with curiosity and kindness, asking questions without judgment. What thoughts are in my mind? What might this feeling be telling me? What wants my attention?
Nurture yourself by sending kindness where you need it most. You might softly say a kind phrase to yourself in your head. I’m loved. I matter. I’ll be ok. If you’re having trouble, imagine the kindness of a loved one, close friend, or even a pet. What might they say or do to offer kindness to you? Bring this image to mind and feel their kindness. Or rest a hand on your heart or cheek, imagining warmth or light moving in you.
Let’s offer some self-compassion to our snow globes.
Each year, thousands of people attempt to hike the entire 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Only one in four complete the task; Megan Killigrew is one of them. Starting in March 2016, Megan officially became a “2,000-miler” when she completed her back-country hike in August 2016.
Before that feat, Megan taught English and coached mountain biking and cycling at White Mountain School for two years. A 2013 graduate of Dartmouth College, Megan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in Geography. She lives off-campus with her husband, two dogs, and cat.