My latest obsession is a book that is likely old news to many but new to me. It's called "The Wise Heart," by Jack Kornfield, and I'm savoring each word. There's a quote in this book that has haunted me since I read it, as it's the most searing, sad and shimmering description of resilience I've ever read. Kornfield quotes D.S. Barnett, who wrote into the magazine The Sun describing years of emotional abuse in childhood, and one of the rituals that helped her survive. She says:
From the age of five or six until I was well into my teens, whenever I had trouble sleeping, I would slip out from under my covers and steal into the kitchen for a bit of bread or cheese, which I would carry back to bed with me. There, I'd pretend my hands belonged to someone else, a comforting, reassuring being without a name--an angel perhaps. The right hand would feed me little bites of cheese or bread as the left hand stroked my cheeks and hair. My eyes closed, I would whisper softly to myself, "There, there. Go to sleep. You're safe now. Everything will be all right. I love you."
About this passage, Kornfield says:
Describing the life denying landscape of her childhood, Barnett shows how caring floods through us like an inner angel of mercy, like green shoots forcing their way through cracks in the sidewalk. We can see the natural hand of compassion in all the ways we try to keep ourselves from harm, in a thousand daily gestures of self-protection. The Wise Heart, 27
Resilience, by way of sublime self-compassion, is a gift that Barnett developed to cope with the extreme challenges of her childhood, but self-compassion is something we can all practice and may need to focus greater attention on in times of stress and transition. As Barnett found her own way through her trials with her "inner angel of mercy," so can we. Several of my favorite, simple exercises for this practice are on Dr. Kristin Neff's site, here (some lovely guided meditations, too!):
How do you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when he or she is suffering? This exercise walks you through it.
This exercise can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion in the moment you need it most.
Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like; something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” This exercise will help you write a letter to yourself about this issue from a place of acceptance and compassion.