The UK’s integrative cancer care charityHelpline 0870 163 2990

All Blog Entries

A practice for difficult times | Clare McLusky

26 Oct 2018

This week’s blog has been written by Clare McLusky, trained mindfulness teacher with a Masters in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University. She shares with us her practice for difficult times…


A practice that I have to share because it helped me stay together during a very traumatic period comes from an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion.  It is a simple but transformative practice for staying with painful feelings and for reducing feelings of isolation.  I am grateful to Pema Chodron whose teachings on this, and all things, I find profoundly helpful.

The last year has been a difficult time for our family culminating in a period of crisis at the beginning of the Summer.  Saying the word crisis, I have come to see a crisis as challenge and opportunity and over the years come to trust the process, however painful.  Loss and change inevitably become turning points when we allow life to flow and the opportunity to reveal itself.  But how do we not get stuck in the painful and difficult feelings that are part of loss and change?  We are so programmed to avoid difficult emotions and we all have our particular ways like getting very busy, zoning out, drinking too much or getting very caught up in our heads trying to solve things.  With the latter, I have noticed that the more caught up in my thoughts I become, the more cut off from the world and others I begin to feel.   It is a really isolating feeling which compounds the pain.

As I was going through this period of crisis I was experiencing strong feelings of confusion and fear and an intense sense of loss, but I had to act and make difficult and painful decisions on my own, a long way from home.  I did not have the luxury of falling apart which is why I am so grateful to have had this practice to support me.  The practice is simply this, when you are in pain, breathing it in and thinking of all the other people in the world who are experiencing the same thing.  Then breathing out compassion for yourself and everybody else.  Allowing the in breath to open your heart.  It is a practice to do the right in the moment of feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions whether of sadness, fear, anxiety, anger whatever. A great practice to become familiar with so you remember it at times of need, like waiting for test results or to have an uncomfortable medical procedure. It is described more clearly below.


Things don’t really get solved. They come together, and they fall apart. 

Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. 

The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: 

room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Life is just this way. Sometimes the ‘crisis is the healing.

– Pema Chodron


A Practice for Difficult Times


Step One: Breathe in Suffering – yours, others’ and the world’s

Breathe in for yourself and say these words to yourself, lots of other people are feeling like this and imagine all the other people in a similar situation. Acknowledging what you are feeling; the fear, the panic, the tension and this helps to understand what others are feeling.  Breathe in all the pain, all the darkness and heaviness weighing down on you, the suffering, the anguish.  Bravely, breathe it in for yourself and others allowing yourself to open up to it all as though your heart could become as expansive as the sky, giving the pain a lot of space.  We tend to push away pain so know and feel that breathing it in is good for you.

Step Two: Breathe out Compassion – for yourself, for others and for the world

Breathe out with the intention of healing the situation for yourself and others. Breathe out your hopes, best wishes, prayers, dreams. Let each exhale expand light, cool, fresh outward and outward into space.

The idea is to open as you breathe in and to open as you breathe out. That is to say, feel your body relaxing, softening, opening.  The opposite of closing in on yourself and tensing. Keep going as long as it feels helpful.  It may take a few breaths to get into it but let go and keep your intentions focused.  See what happens, be curious and stay with the non-verbal feeling.  I find that thinking of all the other people around the world in a similar situation and feeling the same pain, it becomes less my pain and more the painand easier to open to.  I hope as I did, you experience more compassion for yourself and an opening to your own healing and a greater connection with others.

We can see that self-compassion is mindfulness; recognising how we are feeling without judging ourselves.  It is self-kindness, being understanding toward ourselves, like we would be towards a good friend.  And it is connectedness, thinking of all the other people in the world struggling and suffering in the same way.