Saturday, March 24, 2018

Self-Compassion in Times of Distress
Psalm 31:9-16

This is a beautiful Psalm of witness to one’s own suffering before God and to a letting go into God’s love.

At the Redwoods Presbytery January pastors’ retreat and at a recent staff meeting at the Interfaith Counseling Center, we learned about Kristen Neff’s research concerning the restorative practices of self-compassion.  At the Marin Interfaith Council’s March retreat, Dr. Wendy Farley (SFTS Professor of Christian Spirituality) taught about contemplative compassion and self-compassion.

These offerings speak to a growing recognition of the need for self-compassion: as a culture, we regularly berate ourselves for not “measuring up,” and we are collectively feeling overwhelmed by stress from current events in our country and the world.

Self-compassion is the practice of deeply listening to one’s inner voice in times of perceived inadequacy, failure, or suffering, and then extending self-kindness and regaining perspective. There are many helpful practices of self-compassion on the website

I also want to offer The Welcoming Practice taught by the contemplative teacher Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault.  The Welcoming Practice is another way of listening to one’s own suffering that increases our compassion for our own self, and therefore our compassion for others.

  1. When we can stop and observe a suffering emotion without repressing or justifying it, we can more easily dissipate the energy in it. There is no need to do anything – just notice.
  1. Whatever the sensation is, welcome it by saying internally, “Welcome, pain” or “Welcome, frustration.” It is the sensation that was felt in the first step that is being welcomed, not the situation that brought it on.  By doing this, an inner hospitality and unconditional presence is developed.
  1. Cultivate the attitude of “let it be.”  Surrender requires us to leave behind our wants, needs, and demands on the spiritual journey, giving up the adversarial or grasping position, and making space to experience our union with God as the primary importance.
  1. Pray: “By the power of the Divine Indwelling Spirit, I unconditionally embrace this moment, no matter its physical or psychological content.”  Once inner wholeness is restored, I then may choose how to deal with the outer situation.

May we listen to our own hearts in periods of turmoil, and pray as the Psalmist…
“My times are in your hand; deliver me; save me in your steadfast love.”

Rev. Jan Reynolds
SFTS DASD 2003, MDiv 2010
Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael, CA
and Spiritual Director at the Interfaith Counseling Center, San Anselmo