Savor Your Values: Finding Strength In Compassion

Mindful Self-Compassion teacher Steve Hickman offers this powerful practice to recognize and affirm the personal values that underlie our most challenging emotions.

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It’s only natural to experience very strong emotions in response to big things happening around us that we often cannot control. Yet those emotions hold an often-overlooked opportunity: to see the dread, anger, resentment, outrage or fear, as the product of a collision between things unfolding in the world and our deeply held and cherished core beliefs and ideals. When you feel outrage over the way some groups are treated by others in our society, this is precisely because you deeply value justice, fairness, and compassion. 

Feel what it feels like to fully embrace your deeply held values. Maybe notice how it feels in your body.

What would it be like to shift your brain’s tendency to focus on the pain and instead to take some time to acknowledge and treasure your commitment to those values? Consider holding it clearly in your mind and heart and strengthening your resolve to act in alignment with those core values, instead of becoming discouraged by the enormity of the challenge. Could this inner resolve perhaps allow you to feel a little less powerless, a little more inspired and emboldened to take whatever action is available to you in this moment? As a first step, maybe you can stand a bit taller and feel less defeated by events in the world. Mindfulness and compassion dance together in this way to make us stronger in the face of the challenges we face in life, even the seemingly vast ones that we see all around us today. 

A Guided Practice for Savoring Your Values

A Mindful Exercise for Recognizing Core Beliefs

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1. I’d like to invite you to consider what’s present in your heart just now. What emotions are arising? Perhaps you’re feeling uncomfortable, uneasy, suffering in some way, something weighs on your heart or your mind. Maybe you are attending to things around you in your immediate environment, or in society at large, or in the world. Perhaps you are feeling fear, discontent, outrage, nervousness, unsettledness, worry, anger.

2. Gently make room for whatever feeling is arising in you. And perhaps you will notice the thoughts that come with this feeling. Maybe even the thoughts come first. Take note of whatever is unsettled in your life and in your mind just now. 

3. If this feels difficult, remind yourself that you can meet whatever is present in your life with some degree of ease and patience, and even curiosity, if you’re willing to go slow to be kind to yourself, to comfort and soothe yourself as needed and to decide just how much you can manage in this moment. Maybe gently opening or closing your heart to just the right amount that allows you to meet what’s arising with some degree of presence and self-compassion. 

4. You don’t need to plunge into the hardest feelings, but neither do you need to avoid them completely either. Could you just make a little space in your heart for whatever is already here?

5. And as you notice what’s here, maybe you can actually label it. Maybe it was one of the labels I mentioned earlier, anger, frustration, irritation, fear, outrage. Whatever it is, see if you can name it for yourself in a kind and gentle voice. Oh, I’m feeling anger. I’m aware of resentment arising. I’m noticing fear is here. See if you can name whatever emotion is present for you, the way you might name it for a dear friend who was struggling. Oh, you’re feeling grief. You’re feeling fear.

6. And notice perhaps the language that I’ve chosen, that we are naming the presence of these emotions and not connecting directly to them. We don’t say “I am afraid,” but instead saying, “Ah, fear is arising.” We are not our emotions. But we certainly experience them, just as when you walk out into the rain. You don’t say “I am rain,” but you may say “it’s raining.”

7. See if you can name the strongest difficult emotion that’s present for you just now.

8. Here is perhaps the most important part of this meditation. Consider that whatever difficult, strong emotion is present for you just now, something you may be struggling with, the reason it’s arising is because there’s something underneath that is deeply held and valued by you. 

9. So, if you are angry at injustice, that means down deep inside what you value very dearly is justice. If you’re feeling fear for your safety, what you value is safety and comfort. If you fear for the future of our planet, for example, what you value is security, safety, nature. If you are outraged at politicians and leaders for their positions, regardless of what they are, look a little closer and see what is the value underneath that leads to this level of suffering? Maybe you value fairness or opportunity or compassion or wisdom.

10. What is a core value that leads you to have these strong feelings?

11. We only have strong feelings about things that really matter to us. So the invitation here is to consider what matters. If justice matters, if fairness matters, if kindness matters, if security safety matter, if nature matters, could you make some space for that value? 

12. Perhaps there is an image that arises in your mind’s eye associated with that particular value. Perhaps if it’s nature, there is a favorite place in nature. It brings you joy and satisfaction—call to mind that place. If you are feeling unsafe, insecure, where is a place that you feel safe and secure? If you are valuing fairness and opportunity, what is it that represents these qualities, these values, when you call them to mind? Maybe you can visualize a world that is fair, whatever that may mean for you. A situation that becomes equitable to all those involved.

13. Feel what it feels like to fully embrace this deeply held value. Maybe notice how it feels in your body.

14. If you’d like, consider going just a little bit deeper and a little bit further back into your history, and considering how did you come to hold this value? Who influenced you? What events led you to this place? Who inspired you? How were you inspired to hold this value of justice or fairness or compassion or kindness? What were the experiences? Who were the people? How did you come to be in this place of treasuring this value?

15. Finally, considering this possibility with this value firmly entrenched in your heart, clearly held in your mind’s eye, honoring the roots, the contributors to this important value. This thing that you hold so precious and sacred in your heart, can you let it strengthen you, empower you, and embolden you? Find a way forward, to do whatever is within your power to do, to align with this value. Even when it feels like the task is insurmountable. 

16. What is the one small step you might be able to take, in your own world, in service of this deeply held value? Maybe you can make a vow to remind yourself of this value every day to keep you strong, resolved, committed to what is most important to you. 

17. Be empowered by embracing and savoring your values, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and the things that we cannot change just now.

18. Picking a moment to drop into this body to breathe, to appreciate this being human, to appreciate these deeply held deeply important values, to savor and appreciate them and let them energize us. “Be the change we wish to see in the world,” to quote Mahatma Gandhi. This comes from a place of kindness and compassion for others, and especially for ourselves.

19. As you’re ready, if your eyes have been closed, allow them to open, give yourself a little time to pause and reflect and consider returning to this practice from time to time to touch in. To reconnect to what’s most important to us underneath the suffering and the struggle, the things that we wish for in our lives, in our society, on our planet. We’re reconnecting to this inner strength and letting it empower us to do what needs to be done, what is possible to be done, and perhaps letting go of what we cannot change.