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March 19th, 2017--
Reflections on Self Compassion (How to be a Grown Up Part II)
I have been consciously studying and practicing Self Compassion for a few years now and I am still amazed at the power of such a simple practice. It is the number one most useful way I’ve found so far to transform my experience of life from bravely surviving by the skin of my teeth to resiliently and joyfully thriving. “Super Power” is the term that stubbornly arises whenever I search my mind for the right words to describe the strength of Self Compassion.
My practice of self compassion begins when I bring attention to the many common and habitual ways I am mean to myself (in word, thought, or deed). Once I have that inner light of awareness turned on, I can then notice when I’m veering off track and choose to replace meanness with kindness. It is ahimsa, (the yogic principle of non-harming), directed inwards towards the self.
When I am kind to myself, my whole being softens and settles and I have more peace. I feel more safe. I am more confident and optimistic. I get through difficult situations with more ease and I can just think better, so I make smarter choices overall. Life is much improved. It’s like becoming your own best friend.
At first, the notion of self directed kindness sounded outrageous and absurd, even. I seemed to have absorbed—as if from the very air itself—the belief that to be purposefully nice to myself was somehow weird or wrong or selfish or lazy and would surely cause harm to myself and others (and I have lots and lots of theories about this which might make an interesting topic for another time). I had been operating on the largely unconscious assumption that all niceness should be directed towards Others, whether it is healthy for me or not, and that treating myself sternly would surely lead me towards increased honor, respect, and spiritual enlightenment.
The problem with this theory is that when we are overly generous towards others and miserly towards ourselves, we start to become resentful and burnt out and ill, among other things. In short, we cannot hold healthy boundaries. We take on other people’s problems and ignore our own until eventually we break down (physically, mentally, energetically). We dry up. We often have the conscious or unconscious expectation that someone else should do for us what we cannot seem to do for ourselves. We are disempowered and disappointed.
It turns out that only we really know what we need or want. We are the expert we’ve been looking for. Others can guess, but that’s a risky business at best. Furthermore, once we are adults, it is really no one else’s responsibility (or business) to take care of us, but our own. There is no Prince or Princess Charming (or parent figure) out there holding the shiny magic key to our happiness (neither can we rescue anyone else). I know, it’s upsetting. But really it is not upsetting at all, it is incredibly freeing and empowering. “You mean I don’t have to lie here forever, like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be awoken with a magical kiss?” Or “You mean I’m not responsible for everyone else’s happiness?” Phew. What. A. Relief.
Other people can help us to love ourselves, in the best case scenarios—our caregivers when we are children, our lovers and friends as we become adults—but inevitably it comes down to us to know what it takes to care for ourselves and to make it happen. If we don’t learn this skill, we can’t fully develop into adults. Likewise, we need to allow others the space to develop these skills for themselves.
Once we learn how to be kind to ourselves we have more capacity to be kind to others, which is a a lovely side effect. Contrary to my original concerns, being kind to myself does not lead to selfish and slovenly behavior, instead I feel more generous and patient and happy around others. I am learning how to say no so that when I say yes I really mean it.