Soften, Soothe, Allow
May 2015 Graduate Meeting

Video, audio, printed material for this meeting:
Attention, Intention, Attitude by Shauna Shapiro [video - 16 min]
Soften, Soothe, Allow guided meditation by Christopher Germer [audio - 14 min]

"Soften, Soothe, Allow" is a key practice from Mindful Self-Compassion and during this graduate meeting, we did a meditation based on this process [see Christopher Germer's audio meditation above]. Christopher's 2006 article, below, Thinking with the Heart describes the origination of this process, then called "Soften, allow, and love". See also the December 2015 graduate meeting about Self-Compassion.

Thinking with the Heart [excerpt]
by Christopher Germer

    ...By now, I seriously doubted that I could help Madeline. Then I recollected that she'd volunteered for many years at a nursing home, brought Vietnamese children to the United States after the war, and was active in her church. I started to wonder whether she could bring the same quality of compassion that she had for others to herself. Would lovingkindness help her better tolerate her distress?
    Together, we came up with a new meditation: "Soften, allow, and love." Madeline was enthusiastic about this one from the start, so I made another 20-minute audiotape for her to practice with.
    The meditation begins with simple awareness of whatever sensations may be occurring in the body. Can you feel the pressure of your body on the couch? Can you notice the movement of your breath? After a minute, attention is shifted to an unpleasant physical sensation. For Madeline, this was either her tense stomach or her neck. The first component of the meditation, "softening," refers to relaxing that uncomfortable part of the body. However, to avoid frustration if relaxation doesn't occur, softening is an invitation to relax.

When you feel discomfort, can you soften that part of your body? You don't have to relax; just allow that spot on your body to soften—if it's ready to.

    The next component is "allowing." This refers to allowing the physical sensations of the body to be just what they are—unpleasant, neutral, or pleasant. It's an ancient Buddhist meditation technique.

Can you allow yourself to feel the discomfort as long as it lingers? Can you just let it be, as long as it's there, even if it hurts? You don't have to change it—it'll pass at its own time. Can you let it come and go as it wants to?.

    Finally, in the "love" component, you try to recollect a feeling of love that can be redirected at your own body. This is a variation on the lovingkindness practice. Instead of reciting phrases, we capture a feeling—a brain state, if you will—and associate it with a new object of awareness. In this case, the new object is a difficult body sensation.

Now, imagine what it was like when one of your children had a tummyache, just like you. Can you sense in your heart what you might have felt, or feel, as you sympathize with his or her struggle? Can you hold that feeling in your heart?

Now, can you give your own stomach the same love that you'd feel for your child if he or she were suffering in the same way? Can you bring some love to the very place where it hurts?
    After Madeline learned this meditation, she innocently inquired, "Where does the love come from?" "Where can I draw it from, if it doesn't come up on its own?" We decided that love just seems to be a quality that comes naturally to everyone. Sometimes we feel it most for a child or a pet. It seems to be inherent in all of us, just like awareness. The skill is to recollect what love feels like and to direct it where it's needed most.
    Eventually we expanded Madeline's loving awareness beyond her physical pain to encompass the emotional discomfort she felt when her home became too noisy...
           - from Thinking with the Heart by Christopher Germer