Sometimes the mind is so set on indulging there's no chance to consider alternatives. At other times there's a little window where you're still strong enough to take the fork in the road. In such fortunate moments, I suggest these three alternatives as possibilities:
1. Self-Soothing Touch
Pat, hug, or caress yourself for comfort. You can do this during intense or stressful moments throughout the day or when you finally get a break and have a chance to zone out for a minute or two. Engage in these actions with the same awareness and intention you would touch someone you have deep and loving feelings for--after all, that's hopefully what you are becoming: someone who loves yourself completely.
- Give yourself a hug by grabbing your own shoulders or triceps. Hold it for a while.
- Tenderly touch your face with one hand or both hands.
- Cross an arm over your lap and gently pat the opposite leg with your fingers or palm.
- Reach your hand up to the V opening made by your shirt and gently touch your neck where it meets your shoulders and chest.
- Rest one arm across your body and gently pat that forearm with your opposite hand.
- Run your fingers through your hair and scratch your scalp.
- As you fold your arms, try holding onto your opposite arms the way you would gently hold onto an elderly person you are helping to steady as they walk.
- Rub your own neck and shoulders by lightly brushing over them or kneading them with a bit more pressure.
As amazing as it may seem if you're used to putting yourself down and feeling bad about yourself, you really can train your mind to treat yourself in more loving ways. In the book, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, Kamal Ravikant shares a wonderfully simple meditation practice that can help the mind replace old self-defeating mental loops with a more fitting one: "I love myself." Here are the basic instructions:
Step 1: Put on music. Something soothing, gentle, preferably instrumental. A piece you have positive associations with.
Step 2: Sit with back against wall or window. Cross legs or stretch them out, whatever feels natural.
Step 3: Close eyes. Smile slowly. Imagine a beam of light pouring into your head from above.
Step 4: Breathe in, say to yourself in your mind, I love myself. Slowly. Be gentle with yourself.
Step 5: Breathe out and along with it, anything that arises. Any thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories, fears, hopes, desires. Or nothing. Breathe it out. No judgment, no attachment to anything. Be kind to yourself.
Step 6: Repeat 4 and 5 until the music ends.
(When your attention wanders, notice it and smile. Smile at it as if it's a child doing what a child does. And with that smile, return to your breath. Step 4, step 5. Mind wanders, notice, smile kindly, return to step 4, step 5).
Ravikant's book is a quick read--took me an hour or so. Check it out for more guidance on developing the habit of loving yourself.
3. Skin Time
Sometimes I encourage couples to spend 20 minutes a day lying together spooning or embracing each other, preferably without clothes on. Not as a prelude to sex--make sure it doesn't become that or it will ruin the effect. It's just a time to connect at an even more primal and basic level. It enables us to let go of the tensions and demands of the day and let the body find its own natural, restorative rhythm.
Last year I heard back from a couple I worked with years ago. "We're still doing 'skin time' every day." They still had their struggles, but the bonding and soothing they experienced during those 20 minutes together every day played a big role in helping them weather all of their personal and relationship storms.
Animals that aren't "gentled" after they're born don't thrive. Gentling is the physical touch and nurturing that mothers, fathers, and surrogate caretakers provide. For most animals it entails licking, handling, being rolled over, pressed and caressed. Animals that aren't gentled have a harder time bonding with their own offspring. And, guess what, those animals also have more sexual problems. I'm not kidding!
Animals have a very small window during which they can benefit from gentling and imprinting. I'm convinced that, for us human beings, it's never too late to receive gentling. This is why, in my post about what to do when kids are young to prevent porn problems later, I encourage parents to kiss, hug, put their arms around, and rub the feet of kids even as they grow older. After reading that post and trying it out, here's what one mom wrote:
"Thanks for the suggestions. I especially appreciated the reminder to give foot rubs. My teenager doesn't let me get close anymore, but I just tried it out and it worked like a charm. We even had a conversation!"
I hope that one of these three alternatives will help the next time you're tempted. Let us know how it goes--or what else you on track when the pull of cravings is strong.