Moving from me, myself to the greater ourself | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Moving from me, myself to the greater ourself

BySonali Gupta
Jun 11, 2024 08:00 AM IST

At a retreat focused on patience, I learned the importance of balancing self-soothing with social soothing for a lighter life. Embracing interdependence over independence brings deep calm.

I spent the last week at a five-day retreat as a participant attending sessions which focused on patience. The teachers, facilitators and monks created a beautiful holding space that allowed for immersive learning interspersed with moments of playfulness.

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One of the key insights which emerged from the group experience for me was that as human beings we need both self-soothing and social soothing. These can co-exist and in moments when we can embrace both life feels better and lighter. This insight held deep meaning for me, because as a child I wanted to grow up faster than my years and become an adult so that I could become independent. But now, years later, interdependence seems so much more calming than the idea of independence. I’ll explain why this is so.

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Today we are far more individualistic that any other previous generation. This reflects in how we work, the way we live, how we choose our romantic partners to even how we think of resilience. In therapy set up, clients will sometime ask: “Can I strengthen my self -soothing capacities so much so that I never get hurt or disappointed by others?” Or they may ask: “Can I become so independent that I stop feeling the need to be surrounded by others?”

To me, it seems like we need to strengthen our capacity for holding space for ourselves and at the same time to allow for resilience and growth as part of a collective.

Our self-soothing instincts kick in when we feel discomfort, dissonance and or when we struggle with emotions that feel overwhelming and when we are in a situation where we feel too wired or too tired. Acts of self-soothing can take various forms for various people. For me, being in nature away from the hustle bustle of the city helps and creates a space that feels rejuvenating. On day-to-day basis, an act of going for long walks, slowing down my breathing and then listening to music can center one.

But as much as we are individualistic, as human beings we are also wired for deep human connection. Whether we define ourselves as extroverts or introverts or ambiverts we benefit from social soothing regardless. Social soothing reflects in acts of generosity extended to us by strangers, in moments where we feel seen and understood, and when we experience the attentive presence of a stranger, an acquaintance or our friends and family. This witnessing and connection allows us to feel a sense of shared humanity and even becomes something to hold on to when we deal with difficult times. I remember a client telling me, “At a time, when I felt I didn’t need any social interaction or soothing, I realized that my pet dog’s presence was soothing and company for me, although I wasn’t even aware of how much I needed that presence.” Our need for social soothing then can take forms that we sometimes ourselves aren’t aware of.

As I try and make sense of what emerged from the retreat, it becomes increasingly clear that while enhancing one’s capacity for self-soothing is crucial, just as important is to mindfully work towards spaces and community that allow us to care and support each other and create a common ground for social soothing.

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