This weekend I toasted my finger along with my bread. In a moment of utter mindlessness while flipping slices I actually touched the heating element and crisped myself. I can’t even blame my children for distracting me—they spent the night with their grandparents and Richie and I were enjoying a blissful weekend morning alone.

“What was I thinking?” I wondered as I ran cold water over the angry burn. Now several days later it still hurts—especially when I wash the dishes and my band aid gets soggy and slips off. Left untended the pain functions like a little anti-mindfulness bell in my mind—frequently drawing my attention back to my misstep and my concurrent frustration with the situation.

Most days I feel like I know enough about meditation to get myself in trouble. Meaning I know what it should look like: “breathing in I dwell in this present moment, breathing out I smile” —but not necessarily enough to live out that knowledge. This has me wondering…

When we miss the moment how do we catch up? When we burn ourselves or yell at someone we love or make a purchase we regret—what’s next?

Enter “Compassionate Self-Observation.” Compassion is the key word.

Most of us observe our mistakes and then let loose the pack of dogs known as the inner critic. Ironically, as therapists and self-help teachers have known for decades, this practice does not actually lead to change or growth. When we stir up our shame or sense of regret we actually reinforce the “mistake” rather than redeeming it.

The hard things in life — ranging from little things like stubbing your toe to big things like realizing one day that you don’t like who you have to be to do your job — these are really invitations: to stop, to breathe, to discern next steps, and to take really good care of yourself while you listen.

Self-care, it turns out, is actually a much more effective way to enable our inner growth than berating ourselves. For me this looks like putting a lovely herbal balm on my wound, wrapping it in one of my kiddos band aids and claiming that moment to return to center: “Breathing in I care for myself—breathing out I smile.” Every time the pain bell goes off in my head I try to stop and notice it and welcome in the fullness of life. Yes I burned myself in a kind of dumb moment this weekend and yes yesterday I yelled at my four year old to get her shoes on and who knows what I might do today, but I trust that a growing awareness of these moments and compassion with myself will lead me forward on the path to living a fuller, richer life.

And this leads to the next lovely lesson. As we care for ourselves around our missteps we build up our capacity to catch the moments of our lives as they come down the pike. So that rather than missing them and wondering how to repair our bodies or relationships we can instead catch the good stuff and avoid some of the bad stuff.  Because despite our frequent sleepwalking stance, life keeps delivering more beauty, meaning, and opportunities in the present moment. As we learn to breathe and have compassion we catch the moments that are coming our way. I know I’m managing to do this when I really see my husband as he makes a warm breakfast for the family and I touch the love in my heart or I hear the flock of birds which have landed in the trees in our front yard and revel in their wildness and proximity to my life.

Compassionate self-observation is not “airy fairy” or “new agey.” It is the means through which we cash in on our suffering by coming out the other side with enhanced self-knowledge. It is a powerful tool for inhabiting your own life and building your inner capacities to hold joy and peace. And truthfully don’t we all need a bigger reservoir of those?

What ways you might practice compassionate self-observation and self-care today?