• John M. Smith, LCSW

The Gentle Breath

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one who inflicted it. And yet there is no peace without forgiveness.” Marianne Williamson

In the workshops I offer on self-compassion, I make it a point to ask two questions with the purpose of expanding the ability of participants to care for themselves, especially during times of distress. The first, “how do you energize yourself in healthy ways when you need to be energized”? Perhaps this is not a question we think to ask ourselves. But in our demanding and sometimes unpredictable world, we do need to find healthy ways to maintain our vibrance and our well-being.

The associated question, “how do you soothe yourself when you need to be soothed”, helps people to expand their awareness of their ability to respond to their own suffering with interest and compassion. Even at those times when we enlist the services of a helping professional or support group, it is always within our power to develop individual techniques to calm and soothe ourselves during periods of distress.

I also share with clients, as well as use for myself, a mindfulness technique I call “a gentle breath”. I explain that no matter how we are feeling and no matter what thoughts are racing through our minds, we can always come back to a gentle breath. Just breathe gently and focus your attention on that breath. Establish no particular agenda. You are not trying to change anything, you are simply breathing. And if your mind begins to race again, just return to the gentle breath. You can always return to the gentle breath.

For some, it can be helpful to add a loving mantra to the gentle breathing. I suggest something like the thought, “loving kindness”. Embrace yourself with the energy of loving kindness, and continue to breathe, mindfully attending to each gentle breath. You soothe yourself as you breathe; you embrace all the parts of yourself with loving kindness. If an image helps, imagine yourself in the caring embrace of a loving parent.

Marianne Williamson reminds us that the process of forgiveness can sometimes be painful. To assist us as we proceed on this journey, I am suggesting that we answer the question, “what are the best ways to soothe yourself when you need to be soothed”…and then take a gentle breath.