Earlier this year: It was already an impossible week. After 60 hours at work and school, I needed to hop on a red-eye to attend another funeral.

To make matters worse, A*, my then girlfriend, and I had a stormy sort of love. Before leaving for the funeral, I made a reservation for us at a little Japanese place hidden away at the foot of the Rockies.

The pressure of it all overwhelmed me. I longed to connect with A* but knew we couldn’t always pull it off. I doubted my ability to continue meeting the demands of work, school, teacher training, and life. Quietly, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to offer my friend the love and support I wanted to at the funeral.

As A* waited outside to pick me up, I paused to try something a meditation teacher suggested. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so I took a slow, deep breath, placed my hands lightly over my heart, and whispered, “This is hard for you.” Without expecting it, some of the pressure, stress, and fear that seemed to define this chapter melted away. Moments later I realized something simple. This must be hard for A* too. And for my friend who lost his mother. Amidst the isolation of enduring more pressure than I’m cut out to handle, I quietly felt connected to myself and the people I loved.

***

It’s inevitable that every now and then, you’ll get torn apart by the world. For many, our natural reaction is to fight through the pain, grit our teeth, drown it out, or deny it. And while I understand the tendency, I fear that these approaches are little more than covert forms of self-denial.

Though it can be harder than running from the weight of the world, I suspect that the most skillful way to deal with being broken is to hold yourself with a sense of care and compassion. After all, this is almost certainly the way you would tend to a friend who’s feeling beaten down.

When you pause to acknowledge, “This is hard for me,” with sympathy and grace, two things seem to happen. First, you stop fighting against reality, and instead, embrace it. This is a position of true power and courage. Second, you seem to drift back to becoming a bit more whole and at ease.

I know that claiming that compassion and vulnerability is a truer path to strength, healing, and power sounds like a contradiction. I don’t want you to take my word for it. Instead, next time you notice that life is more difficult than it should be, pause, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, place your hands over your heart1, and allow a momentary sense of grace and compassion to wash over you. Perhaps whisper, “This is hard for you,” and see what happens. You might also spend time cuddling with your puppy, choosing to cancel a meeting, dedicating a few minutes to coloring, or whatever. The point is to extend a bit of gentleness and compassion to yourself amidst the storm. You may notice that you too deserve the same care that you so willingly give to others. You may sense that granting yourself a bit of affection restores your ability to face a world that refuses to let you live in peace.

Footnotes

  1. There’s a body of research suggesting that gently placing your hands on your heart (or your chest and stomach) and taking a few deep breaths offers a very real sense of being soothed and comforted. While I find the research compelling, I would suggest simply trying it for yourself and seeing if it makes a difference. Also, this is one of those exercises (like looking into the mirror and saying, “I love you” to yourself) that if you find it frightening to do, that’s a good sign that you might have something real to gain by doing it.
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