Writing a Love Letter ... to Yourself by Anna Taylor
As we approach Valentine's Day, Yoga Teacher, Yogacampus Yoga Therapy Diploma Grad and now MindfulnessUK affiliated trainer Anna Taylor, offers a slightly different alternative to jotting down sweet nothings to your beloved...and instead suggests writing one to YOURSELF! Self-compassion, particularly when integrated with Mindfulness, is an important part of what Anna offers, not only in her own practice but also in the work she shares with clients. Read on to find out more about this self-compassion practice, as well as the tools mindfulness and compassion can offer into your life.
It's that time of year when the days remain dark, the drive for change that felt so strong and positive when the new year was rung in may have faded a little, and as busy life kicks back in we are reminded that this culture doesn't allow much room for hibernating.
Amidst it all, an abundance of red hearts can be found slowly creeping around us in shop floors and windows. Whilst this could be a lovely addition to these mid-winter days, I don't know many people (whether in a relationship or not) that look forward to their cause - Valentine's Day.
Connection and love are one of our most basic human needs. Research has shown that loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). However, this slightly artificial and hugely commercial day only shows us one side of love. For those in a couple, it determines that "this is the day you express your love" regardless of where you are, or how you feel in your relationship. For those outside of a relationship, it says "this day isn't for you, you're not a part of this celebration".
When we restrict 'love' to purely the romantic sense we lose touch with the abundance of connection, love, kindness, and compassion that is open to us - both to give and receive. Whilst most of us are aware of this, it can be helpful to remember all these avenues for love, and ensure we don't forget the form of love that is most within our control, but somehow the most challenging to engage with, loving ourselves.
Over the last few years (largely through the inspiring qualification I took in Teaching Mindfulness and Compassion with Mindfulness UK) I've been working a lot with compassion practices and been amazed by their powerful and hugely healing impact. Within the context of mindfulness - which invites us to see our present moment experience with more clarity - it is compassion that enables us to be with it, to explore it, so that we can be with the challenging sides of being human, rather than ignoring or getting overwhelmed by them. It allows us to meet the parts of ourselves that we bury because we feel they somehow make us less than adequate, flawed, week, or shameful. The irony is that when we meet them, see them for the humanness they are, offer them attention, space and kindness, their power over us can lessen.
In the words of Tara Brach, a Buddhist meditation teacher:
"The two parts of genuine acceptance - seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion - are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together they enable us to fly and be free"
- Radical Acceptance
And yet whilst we can expend a lot of energy seeking love and approval from others, we can often experience a real resistance to loving ourselves. Many of us who consider ourselves to be kind and compassionate people instinctively meet others' sorrows with a kind, listening ear; yet when it comes to our own challenges our inner-critic pours layer upon layer of judgment about how silly we are, how we should be stronger, should know/do better etc. etc. etc. We may think carefully about the healthiness of the food we eat, the exercise we take, but do we consider the health impact of the thoughts we feed ourselves?
As we approach Valentine's Day, I invite you to give something different a go by writing a love letter to yourself. I can see why that may raise a few eyebrows ... and "REALLY!"s but do hear me out.
As many of you who regularly attend my classes will know, self-compassion or learning to be kinder towards ourselves is an important part of what I try to offer. Increasing evidence shows that learning to have a more befriending attitude towards ourselves (rather than always being our own worst critic) promotes resilience and wellbeing and lessens stress, anxiety, and depression.
When life is challenging, and we are experiencing difficulty, self-compassion invites us to hold what we are experiencing in a tender, loving, balanced awareness rather than try to block out difficult emotions (which can be exhausting and, let's be honest, never really works) or become overwhelmed by them.
I came across practicing of writing a loving letter to yourself in Brene Brown's book "The Gift of Imperfection" (which I would highly recommend) and on the occasions that I've done it I've found it so helpful in enabling me to step back from a challenging situation and offer myself some loving support for what I'm going through.
Brene Brown suggests that in writing this letter you might pick a specific thing that has happened or that you are going through that is creating some difficultly. In the letter, you might begin by describing to yourself your own understanding of what you are feeling. It is important that you talk to yourself in the second person, as if you were stepping back from yourself and offering “I can see that this is hard for you”, “I can see that you’re being really hard on yourself” etc.
- Writing what you observe is creating the suffering that you are experiencing.
- Writing back to yourself the core emotions or thoughts that you are experiencing.
- Thinking about what you would say to remind yourself that the 'what' you are experiencing is a part of the human experience; something that connects us to others rather than isolates us from others.
- Offering some self-guidance and self-kindness – what would you say to a loved one or a friend?
- Imagining that the letter is coming from your future self and you are looking back with wisdom and love.
- Offering some wisdom based on what you have learned through what you are experiencing.
- Telling yourself whatever it is you need to hear to feel encouraged, understood and supported.
As I said, I have found this process so useful on a number of occasions and it has helped to soften my feelings towards both myself and the situation, to see the situation more clearly and move forward more positively without blocking out my feelings. I feel heard, supported and more whole.
So with this in mind, I challenge you to be your own valentine this February and see how life feels. I would love to hear your experiences of doing this if you do give it a go. Please feel free to leave comments on how you found it.
Find out more:
Anna is a yoga teacher, Graduate of the Yogacampus Yoga Therapy Diploma, and mindfulness and self-compassion instructor based in north London. Having undertaken both the Integrated Mindfulness & Compassion (IMC) and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training with Mindfulness UK, she is delighted to now be an Associate Tutor for Mindfulness UK, delivering the IMC in both Cambridge and London.
Finding the course meant that she was able to not only deepen her teaching experiences, particularly with 1:1 clients, and her relationship with herself, but also allowed her to integrate a whole new element not found on Mindfulness trainings elsewhere: Compassion.
This is a unique 200 hour Level 4 qualification accredited by the Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CPCAB) for anyone who has experienced the benefits of Mindfulness and Compassion themselves and wishes to teach others.
If you would like to learn more about the IMC qualification, there will be two courses offered in London this year as follows:
Integrating Mindfulness and Compassion (IMC) Qualification with Anna Taylor
The course takes place over six Fridays in 2020: 29th May, 26th June, 10th July, 18th September, 16th October, 13th November
Early Bird Cost ends on 29th February.
Integrating Mindfulness and Compassion (IMC) Qualification with Karen Atkinson (Founder and Director of Mindfulness UK)
The course takes place over 3 Fridays and Saturdays: 27th and 28th November 2020. 22nd and 23rd January 2021, and 26th and 27th March 2021
Early Bird Cost ends on 30th June.
Anna is also running this one-day workshop for yoga teachers on Self-Care, Compassion and Mentoring: Tools for Sustainability and Karen will be offering a one-day workshop exploring benefits of conducting inquiry after guiding meditation practices, Process of Inquiry.