Looking in the Mirror with Kindness
Mindful magazine has become quite a nifty resource for all kinds of mindfulness practices – for personal growth and self-transformation, for health and well-being, for creating social change, for revolutions in the practice of business and government.
The October 2014 issue includes the exercise below in using mindfulness to antidote moments of self-criticism and self-judgment. I have already incorporated the exercise into my Mindful Self Compassion groups as a way to bring, kindness, care and concern to moments of vulnerability and diminished self-worth. In this post, I offer additional exercises from my own teachings and from Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out to further develop your capacities to love and accept yourself, resiliently.
Looking in the Mirror with Kindness
Our faces are windows into our most intimate feelings. Yet we’re apt to treat them as strangers, reserving for them our harshest criticism.
We’re surrounded by mirrors that shows us our faces. But how often do we really take the time to look at our faces, as opposed to concentrating on ways to conceal what we consider to be their less than agreeable qualities? The onslaught of internal commentary is probably familiar to us all. “My nose is too big/too small.” “I wish I had more hair/less hair!” “Why can’t I be more like my sister? My brother? My friend?” When it comes to our faces, we throw compassion out the window.
Enter mindfulness, which helps us see how things are with an attitude of receptivity, balance, and patience. Observing with unshaded eyes how we respond to ourselves, we lay the groundwork for building a relationship with ourselves – and others – steeped in trust and acceptance, as opposed to constant dodging or denial.
1. Sit in front of a mirror, in a well-lit place. Make your face the focal point, and relax it as much as possible.
2. Bring awareness to each part of your face: forehead, eyes, cheeks, nose, lips, chin, jaw. Now include our hair and ears. Note what you see objectively, without judgment. They’re not “wrinkles” For example, but instead, as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas put it, place where the face has left “a trace of itself.”
3. Pay attention to internal comments of liking or disliking, as well as places in your face or elsewhere in your body where you experience tightness, clenching, or discomfort. Notice if your thoughts spin out – does resistance to the shape of your nostril expand into recalling a difficult conversation earlier in the day? Notice the emotions that cling to any of these thoughts or physical sensations.
4. Releasing areas where you are holding tension, watch the topography of your face shift and settle. What do you notice? Extend to yourself a wish of good will and well-being. It’s like the sentiment captured in these lines from Derek Walcott:
The time will come
When, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door,
In your own mirror
And each will smile
At the other’s welcome.
5. Observe your face again. Bring the attention that a loving grandmother would bring to the face of a beloved grandchild.
* * * * *
You can extend the practice of Mindful magazine’s Step 4, extending yourself wishes of goodwill and well-being, by saying to yourself as you gaze at your own reflection in the mirror, slowly, gently:
May I be safe.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself, just as I am.
May I give myself all the compassion I need.
May I be free of fear.
May I be free of sorrow and shame.
May I have deep inner peace and ease.
May I be loving toward myself.
May I be happy.
* * * * *
You can extend the entire practice further with this exercise from Marci Shimoff, which I learned from her in James Baraz’s Awakening Joy course.
1. Gaze at your own face in a mirror, with openness and curiosity, for one minute every day for 30 days.
2. Each day, say to yourself all the things you appreciate about yourself for that day.
3. Then say “(your own name) I love you.”
(Note: Marci Shimoff’s exercise can trigger lots of reactions – feeling awkward, shy, embarrassed. Over time, with patience and perseverance, you may notice visible shifts in the relaxation in your face and in the warmth of your eyes gazing at yourself. You may even notice the warm flush of oxytocin, the natural hormone of safety and trust, of bonding and belonging, of calm and connect, washing through your body as you experience yourself genuinely loving yourself. Keep trying; it’s a terrific, and life-changing, practice.)