self-compassion

Personal Responsibility and Spirituality: Ho'oponopono

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The ancient Hawaiian Kahuna culture has been teaching and living a spiritual practice known as Ho'oponopono since, according to their tradition, the beginning of time. And it is a timeless, universal practice. Combining compassion, forgiveness and love, the practice of Ho'oponopono (translating to: I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you) is self-directed for healing old wounds which create suffering in our present lives. It's another tool in our tool box for turning our gaze inward to heal both what's inside as well as manifest our soul's calling in our lives today.

When life presents us with situations that are challenging, creating suffering, it is asking us to turn to the root cause of the pain--the moment in your life, usually as a child, when we made a connection to believing in something limiting, hurtful, fearful and victimizing. As we practice true compassion, or other practices like Ho'oponopono, we begin to unravel those beliefs deeply, inside our brains, and our world literally transforms around us. 

For some of us, when we come across teachings such as compassion that are so powerful and true, we are excited and may try them a little, but deep down don't really believe they will work for us. As someone who completely understands this and went through similar blocks, I encourage and urge you to keep trying with a self-compassion practice. Next podcast I'll be giving a step-by-step of how I send compassion to myself that has worked deeply. In the meantime, he practice of Ho'oponopono is a great place to start (and continue with) on our journey to connecting with and living from our soul's purpose. 

Everyday Enlightenment, Episode 3: Am I an empath?

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In this week's episode, we explore what it means to be an empath. No longer considered as "out there," emapths are finding their voice and power in today's society. We look at the attributes of an empath, the differences between highly sensitive people and empaths, rekindling or cultivating our empathic abilities, and the importance of loving kindness and compassion in specifically an empath's life. 

Facing Your Fears And Discovering Joy. And Why It's Just As Scary.

fear_of_the_dark_that_casts_our_joy_to_the_shadows I’ve been thinking a lot about joy recently. I’ve also been feeling it. Knowing it. Experiencing it regularly.

These little bursts of joy aren’t necessarily from big, momentous occasions or occurrences. They are generally just here and there throughout the day.

Joy-bursts for me are: moments with my son, with Andrew, with a friend. A noteworthy passage in a book. A cuddle from my dog. Writing. A bite of dark chocolate. Holding a pose in yoga. Simple and very regular things.

Interestingly, it’s at night, before I go to bed, that I feel the most difference now that joy is showing back up regularly. It’s a subtle glow, as if those little joy-bursts throughout the day are helping keep my inner light stoked and alight all day long.

And into the next day.

It’s…wonderful.

But what I’ve come to realize is this: real joy is just as intense and vulnerable as fear.

Expressing our joys and successes is a vulnerable and courageous act.

Because, sharing our joy with others is an act of opening up. It’s again, showing up and being real. Criticism, apathy, or just blank stares could result just as easily as shared joy, happiness, celebration, and understanding.

Recently, I’ve been trying this out. When asked, I’ll share about how good things have been going. That I’m in a really good place. And all the toughness that I’ve worked through has ultimately become a springboard.

And it’s been such a relief to feel genuinely, overall good! This doesn’t mean that I don’t have frustrating moments or bad days---because I do. But I feel more elastic---resilient---with an easier bounce back than before. Hope!

This is a direct result of practicing a few things regularly:

kindness with myself (which then more easily extends to others from a heartfelt instead of dutiful place)

mindfulness (which I can only do if I’m in a headspace of kindness otherwise I get really really annoyed at just being aware that I’m feeling like shit in that moment) and

interconnectedness (girl, you are not alone in feeling this way)

Self compassion.

And it’s been a ridiculously wonderful perk to have these joy-bursts throughout the day!

Yet, there are times when I do share how I’ve been feeling, what I’ve been doing that’s working or the genuinely good aspects of my life---and in return I’ve received defensiveness, shutting down, snark, or passive aggressive criticism.

And it’s these precise instances that scare the hell out of me.

Because it’s in these instances where I can so easily crawl right back into old habits. Worrying about if I said something that hurt someone or was too uncomfortable for someone.

Or, just going down the rabbit hole of trash talking myself until the initial joy I felt has been squelched.

Good bye, joy.

The internal trash talking is precisely what keeps us from having real, honest connection.

For me, it’s been my first-line-of-defense mechanism for making sure outside criticism doesn’t happen, since I can remember.

And yet, whether or not I trash talk myself, the external criticism can and does occur. Me putting myself down or hiding myself does not stop external criticism one hundred percent. How could it? We don’t control what’s outside of us. So it’s a double whammy when the criticism does pour forth.

This is why being kind to ourselves gets us so much further. You are your first ally and friend. How empowering!

You can always count on kindness from yourself. And when you feel that support from yourself, moving forward in a positive direction is much, much easier.

In the past, if I felt like someone was shutting down because of my happiness, I would have played down how happy I was, skirted the edges of it or simply not shared those parts of myself. All for the sake of making sure everyone around me was comfortable.

In the present, however, I’m feeling the fear and sharing anyway. This doesn’t mean I don’t get hurt or bruised. Because I do. Often.

But the immediate self defeating talk, the worrying about what other’s will think (as an initial motivator) has stopped.

On the flip side, truly sharing in another’s joy takes courage, too. When we feel the twinge of jealousy or irritation at someone else’s joy or success, that is our inner selves asking us to take notice and do some work around those very things in our own hearts.

This has also become a practice for me---allowing someone else’s success to open my heart to possibility. As opposed to shutting it down out of jealousy or fear---because I want those same things.

Surprisingly, this has been easier than I thought. Past lessons and old learned family habits taught me that scarcity was king and there wasn’t enough. So when someone else got something great, it meant that that thing was no longer available to anyone else.

Except, I now know this is backwards.

When we share in each other’s joy, more joy is created. More love is shared. More kindness is activated. Community is strengthened. Abundance.

It’s just up to us to notice. And participate.

Sure, it’s scary to not know what kind of reaction you’ll get when you put yourself out there.

If an unsavory reaction does happen, all it does is help us redirect our energy towards people who do share these concepts. Hello, community! People who share in the value of living life from the heart and believe in the power of kindness and community. Love.

So, who are we to hold back our joy?

Your joy is needed. For you. For us.

You are needed.

Revel In Kindness, Change Everything

we_must_learn_to_treat_ourselves_as_well_as_we_treat_others Your best friend comes to you in grief after she went through a tough break up.

You see a scared child in the mall who is lost and help them find their parent.

You help the older gentleman at the grocery store pick up the bag of dried beans he accidentally dropped and scattered across the floor.

You do these things without thinking, without question. You not only listen, but you are present with them, as it is: feeling the pain, the fear, and finding the humor in the beans.

So, why is this so hard to do for ourselves?

(And if it’s not hard---bravo! But please let me know what your daily practice looks like! Seriously.)

When it comes to compassion, it seems much easier to do for others than ourselves. But what we’re missing here is that we, too, deserve our own kindness and compassion.

I think the term “self” in self compassion can be off putting for some. It can feel like it’s selfish or narcissistic to be focusing that much kindness inward.

After all, there’s a rut in our cultural thinking that goes something like this: taking care of ourselves means that we’re not doing what’s really important---taking care of others.

The idea of sending myself kindness and compassion in it’s truest sense, used to really turn me off. I used to think of it as just “positive thinking.” And straight positive thinking used to piss me off to hell. Already feeling unheard and unseen by myself and everyone around me (hello, law of attraction), I would start down the “positive” road only to feel even more unheard because I wasn’t saying what really needed to be said. Instead, I was sugar coating it. Yuck.

And not saying what really needed to be said---especially to myself---was a recipe for closing off and closing down.

For most of my adult life, I was pretending that everything was sorted out, fine, on track. Little did I know that this became a defense, like armor, that bruised and harmed others. It also kept me from actually pursuing what I love and enjoy. Because, you know, everything was so perfect.

This armor not only hid my true, vulnerable self the world but it didn’t allow me to see the vulnerability in others. It made me squirm at the fragility of my fellow humans---pull up those boot straps, for gods sakes, and get on with it!

I think that’s why accepting our own fragility---our most vulnerable selves---truly opens the heart. Until we can see ourselves, how can we really see another?

Once I started practicing vulnerability (and opening my heart), I was terrified, first and foremost. But then, something amazing started to happen. Because I understood what it honestly meant to wish myself well, send myself real kindness, and to truly accept my faults---it wasn’t hard to extend these same feeling to others. Even people who I’ve had a difficult time with in the past.

After all, even they want happiness at the end of the day, too, just like me. Compassion.

And happiness takes many different forms---not just the smiling-all-day-long kind of happy. Happiness includes joy, most certainly, but also a sense of purpose, meaning, fulfillment and peace. We could even go so far as to accept with peace our being unhappy---therefore still being happy in the face of our own unhappiness.

This hasn’t happened for me yet. I’ll let you know if and when it does.

We all want peace and happiness. We all want kindness and belonging. We all want safety and love.

Even the people we don’t like. Even they want those things.

And this is where self compassion comes into play. When you turn your kindness inwards and send yourself the same attentive kindness you would show your best friend, a scared child, an elderly person in need, you can feel and then take very tangible steps to alleviate your own pain.

When your own pain is attended to, you are caring for your most fragile self. Being vulnerable with yourself.

Then, you can offer that same kindness and attention (aka: compassion) to everyone---even those people who are difficult.

Want to be a great parent? Send yourself kindness. Often.

Want to be a great partner or friend? Feel each other’s feelings. Be each other’s container. Judgment only happens when hearts are closed. Open your hearts. Be vulnerable.

Want to be great at your job? Listen more. Respond thoughtfully. Practice good boundaries.

These suggestions are all interchangeable.

And they’re all components of self compassion.

Revel in kindness.

First for yourself, then others.

What does kindness look like for you today?

How To Get There: Start Where You Are And Take One Step At A Time

what_you_do_is_who_you_become Living in a city like Washington DC, it can be challenging to not get sucked into it’s overall cultural structure. Like a giant fishing net of anxiety blanketed over the entire beltway, people live here mainly to work. The majority are here because of career---as a stepping stone in politics, lifers in the Federal Government, or working with one of the many many private companies or nonprofits, all of which directly profit from the government in some way.

The energy here is heavy. Fast, but heavy. Like a very wet blanket that won’t shake off easily.

So naturally, it can be challenging to see (and feel) beyond what life feels like without a wet blanket weighing things down.

Imagine! What freedom!

Yet, it’s possible. There are enclaves and pockets of wonderful people doing wonderful things sprinkled throughout the city.

They just don’t make headline news. That’s saved for the politicos.

As a mother who is taking care of her son full time, that constant high strung energy can be stressful. It’s a practice in and of itself to keep focusing my attention back to the present moment, what’s important right now. Otherwise, it would be easy to get swept up in the frenzy.

Recently, I’ve had more conversations about career and work than usual. Which is a lot because it comes up fairly frequently. These conversations have been with friends from every area of my life, completely separate from each other. And it’s usually broached with the same question, in varying degrees:

“What are you going to do about work?”

I have the same thoughts. Constantly. Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing?

We tend to express our inner anxieties as external questions to those around us. When we ask: what are YOU going to do about X, it really implies that we are thinking about the same X in our own life’s context.

With that in mind, and my own questions about this topic, my girlfriends inquiries have given me pause.

It’s a really vulnerable place to be---unsure, exploring, understanding. Doing incredible amounts of inner work. With nothing tangible (physical) to show for on the outside.

Except, for me at least, through this work I am discovering more happiness. Greater ease. Fulfillment. Joy, even. (!!)

Striving for more on the outside isn't always the answer.

What if we were to let go a bit?

Yeah, that idea scares me, too.

What if we were to let our explorations take us where they may? Our interests open new doors of insight or delight? Our questions lead to more questions...and then to more questions?

Maybe we’d find what we’d love---and that we love ourselves in the whole messy process. Self compassion. Digging deep. Going in.

Letting go doesn’t imply giving up. It doesn’t mean we stop exploring.

It means taking one step at a time.

Letting go of the whole, huge outcome while still moving forward.

The other night I started researching self-compassion courses and trainings. How can I GET this even more? Really understand it? You know, how can I use this as my tool of service to help others?

The more I searched, the more my hut started feeling like a big cold lump in my gut. Hey, it said, slow down. One step at a time. Relax. You have a job right now (Little Mister) and it’s not going to last forever. Enjoy! And, trust. You’ll get where you’re meant to be going. One step at a time.

So, what can we do about that new career (relationship, life issue, insert-major-life-category-here)?

Start where you are.

Then, trust.

Trust yourself.

Striving for more on the outside is not the answer.

Go within.

Trust what you find there.

And take one. step. at. a. time.

Onward.

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My dear 12 friends who read this: this is my last post on The Pinecone Baker! But don’t worry, I’m migrating everything over to triciamartinowen.com and the next post will be coming from there. It’s still in infancy stages---very simple, no about page or logo (gasp!) yet---but, I figured I need to walk my talk about the perfectionism thing. It’s not perfect and I’ll be working on it little by little. Speaking of walking the talk, I also felt like I needed to do this concerning vulnerability, too---which is why I’m switching to writing under my name, instead of using a really cute domain. Changes! Eeek!

So much love to you and gratitude for you. Each of you. Many, many, many thanks for being witness to my journey back to center.

Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance

true_belonging_happens “Why do I have emotions at all?? They just get in the way. I just wish they’d go away!” I chastised myself, out loud, under the huge fluorescent light of our rented kitchen in the concrete jungle of the DC metropolitan area (aka: Crystal City). Literally, I said this. I know, I can hardly believe it either.

This was 4 years ago, soon after we moved here from the emerald city of roses, Portland, Oregon. It had been a particularly rough day where I had been butting up against what I really wanted and what I thought I should be doing.

Alone. Scared. Back to where I never wanted to be again. Looking back, this moment was pivotal. It was the moment I decided to try to escape and evade my true feelings at all costs.

And cost it did.

I was in a pretty good place at that time too---a book deal was under way, my blog (Eating Is Art) was getting good readership, I was doing some photography and styling work for Food52. Things were going well.

Except they weren’t. None of it felt right in my hut (my heart and my gut).

So I shut down the hut. CLOSED.

I felt like a failure and I criticized myself endlessly. Some of the regular commentary was: you need a REAL job now that you’re back here. Who do you think you are? A creative? Come on. You have responsibility now.

It was no wonder I couldn’t go on with Eating Is Art or any creative pursuits. And no wonder I took several soul-sucking contractor design jobs,

One of the last contractor jobs I had ended with me smack dab in the middle between two warring departments. As each became more enraged at the other, I knew my time was near when I would show up for work and my desk had been moved, again. The last time was into the temp space in the basement (Milton, anyone?).

Then, without further ado, it just ended. No goodbye, no thank you, nada. Turn in your badge and leave. As I saw things moving in this direction, I had arranged it so I was off site 80% of the time, working from the comfort of home. It was an attempt to disconnect from the drama, to just focus on the work. Never the less, it still stung when my contract wasn’t renewed.

The funny thing was I felt like I had deserved it. Like I had done something wrong---or rather, like I hadn’t done enough---to bring peace between two groups of people who had a very difficult time relating. Us against them. Toxic. Totally dysfunctional.

Of course I didn’t do anything wrong. There were several instances where things could have taken a much different course, though.

Like the moment I was told that I was going to be the point designer for another group in the organization who needed “a lot of help because they’re a bunch of idiots.” Yeah, that might have been a good time to ask more questions. It was a very important job, they said, and the perfect fit for me. Diplomatic, was how they put it. You’re a nice person so you can find out for us what that department is REALLY up to. Then we’ll have them and can finally control them (seriously). Huh?

My ego took hold, I was buttered up. Oh, oh! They NEED me! How cool! Wow, someone needs me. They value my skills! And they think I’m NICE!

It was also perfect fodder to keep on keepin’ on with my personal stonewalling practice. Keep those real emotions at bay, girl, THIS is what you should be doing (said in a John Wayne drawl). Forget your creative expression, you can get some of that satisfied here. Then it switched to mocking: it is DESIGN, afterall.

My gut said “this seems weird,” but my head said “go for it. Who cares if they’re all a bit nutty and dysfunctional. What office environment isn’t? This could be big stuff for you!” I’m not sure what “big stuff” meant, but I bought it just the same.

My hut was closed, my heart shut off.

A sign hung on it saying: Do Not Feel.

And eventually, instead of ending up with “big stuff,” I ended up frustrated, alone and ashamed. Trying to “disconnect” from the drama, the group actually helped exacerbate my heightened sense of isolation---as in, I’m not okay.

Our brain’s attachment system is activated by feelings of connectedness and kindness (the two feelings I was disengaging from!). Our tendency as humans is to come together in groups---to be part of a tribe---in order to feel safe and secure.

It turns out, people who actually feel connected---like they belong---are not as frightened of difficult situations. They are also less likely to have intense self criticism prompting even more shame and disconnection.

Looking back, I’d have had a sit down with myself. I’d begin by giving myself a hug and reassurance. You don’t HAVE to do this, I’d tell myself. Or anything for that matter. Who are you trying to prove yourself to? You are loved just as you are, for who you are. You don’t have to BE anyone, other than you. Also, you don’t have to keep participating in this dysfunction. This is their issue. It’s not your place to “fix” anything or anyone, or be a martyr.

A little bit of kindness shown towards myself would have gone a long way.

A fraction of understanding about connectedness---how we’re all in this human life, feeling all the same feelings---would have embraced me in feeling understood, a part of something, maybe even forgiven myself for being so completely off center.

It was a good lesson to learn. Being there for ourselves---even retrospectively---while in the throes of feeling incredibly ashamed about something, creates a huge inner shift of perspective as well as feeling safe and able.

It’s never too late to be kind to yourself about something. Or someone. It’s also never too late to take a moment to realize, hey, I’m not the only one who’s gone through something like this.

There is power in literally feeling yourself connected to the millions of other people who have felt what you are feeling right now.

And those feelings that I wished would just go away? They’ve turned out to be my biggest asset, my literal guidepost for knowing what’s true for me. And what’s not.

My hut is back and open to life.

Turns out, it’s where I make all the best decisions.

I’m still sorting through it, clearing out some cobwebs, tending to a few gremlins who took up occupancy there while it was abandoned---their immediate evacuation notice has been given. Looking around, I’m stunned by it’s beautiful location. Overlooking a beautiful, aqua blue sea with a soft ocean breeze, there’s a hammock on the front porch that was just mended. I think I’ll spend a little time there in quiet contemplation---resting my head on the colorful pillow made from a bright pink, orange and gold sari---while I let those gremlins get their things together and get on out.

What’s going on in your hut?

Perfectionism Feeds on Fear and Fear Alone

perfectionism_tree There are a lot of things I’m afraid of:

snakes---more specifically snake FANGS and VENOM criticism---yes, even from you hairy spiders---oh lord scary movies---the Exorcist gave me nightmares for TWO DECADES isolation---being utterly, truly alone with no one who understands me. Terrifying. the dark---it’s true being judged---but, WHAT IF THEY DON’T LIKE ME??? A constant work in progress weird bugs with crazy looking pinchers---earwigs anyone?! abandonment---so so scary night terrors---my son has these and they scare ME not getting it right---hello, perfectionism

It’s that last one that I want to talk a little bit about today. Not getting it right. Also known as perfectionism.

As a fully struggling and recovering perfectionist, it’s sometimes hard for me to pinpoint exactly where I could ease up on myself.

Enter, my relationships.

Because our closest relationships are our most intimate mirrors to our “stuff,” it’s the people I love and cherish most who give me the gift of understanding where my perfectionism makes life a bit more challenging than need be.

Perfectionistic tendencies become sharp and blinding, especially when I’m under stress. The exact time when it would be really beneficial to soften into kindness, I’ve gotten into the habit of getting even more critical and to control the outcome.

For example, my son’s sleep (or lack there of) has brought up a LOT of these perfectionistic tendencies. Since he was tiny and dealing with reflux issues, we as a family have been struggling to figure out how best to get the rest we all need.

You know those people who can go for weeks on four hours a night? That is not us.

In my pre-motherhood life, rest was one of the main tools in my self-care toolbox. It helped me stay centered, grounded, thinking clearly and feeling whole. In grad school, I rarely stayed up past 11. I did my best work in the pre-dawn hours, usually awake to see the sun rise with my cup of tea and some creative endeavor in front of me.

As a mother, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to this no-sleep (or just less sleep than I’d like!) regimen. Going to bed later than I’d like because I stayed up to eek out a little creative project, talk with Andrew, read a book---simple pleasures that, when indulged in for too long (as in over an hour), would leave me reeling the next day. Even if we went to bed at a decent time, say 10pm, we would be woken up 1-3 times per night, up for the day by 5:30am.

As the sleep debt kept getting bigger, my patience wore thin, and the perfectionism ogre’s sharp jaws clamped down tight. And didn’t let go. In fact, I’m still prying those teeth out, but at least it’s not the death grip any more!

Getting enough rest for all of us is an issue. And the irony is not lost on me that my son is now having night terrors. In harder moments, I blame myself, feeling deep shame over “not getting his sleep right” or not doing SOMETHING, anything right. After all, being tired is one of the main reasons kids have night terrors. So isn’t it all my fault?

Sigh.

Last night, he had his worst night terror yet. We had just gone to bed about 45 minutes prior, each needing some deep rest because we are all getting over a virus. Being roused from that early, waking-dead-deep sleep, we decided he probably needed a diaper change (our sitter earlier that night couldn’t find the nighttime diapers so put two regular diapers on him). We assumed he was probably just uncomfortable.

Turns out, he was having a night terror. Andrew went in and tried picking him up. Screaming and thrashing, Little Mister was inconsolable and wild. I was called in to help. Trying to change his diaper was impossible, but somehow, we managed. He wouldn’t calm down, continuing to scream and thrash. Somewhere a voice reminded me “turn on the light.” So we did.

With the glow of the lamp in the corner brightening the previously shadowy room, we both sat next to Little Mister while he continued his inconsolable screaming. He wouldn’t let us touch him, much less get near him. This went on for about a half hour.

We spoke in low tones, telling him everything was going to be okay, he was okay, mama and dad were here, over and over. Finally, it was as if he woke up (because that’s what happened---night terrors are different from nightmares, and you are totally asleep through the whole thing. It’s way more traumatic for the parents!). He looked at me finally, started crying again. I was able to reach out and ask him if he wanted to cuddle. He scrambled up into my arms crying, but not thrashing or kicking. He was back.

It was so extremely difficult watching my son struggle like this---or what I perceived as a struggle. I couldn't do anything other than wait it out. No action, nothing. Just waiting for the storm to pass (one in which we had made worse by trying to change his diaper then physically comfort him in the beginning) while using a soothing tone of voice, comforting words.

I found myself having lots of conflicting emotion during this eternal half hour. Everything from: this needs to be over now! what else can I DO? oh my god, we didn’t DO THIS RIGHT from the beginning, so now it’s worse! And on and on. Blame started rising up, my chest tightening, my jaw setting. I could feel my own anxiety spilling forth…

But then, I stopped.

Kindness.

Be kind, I heard:

You are scared. This is scary. This is so hard. You and Andrew were in a deep sleep. Neither of you knew it was a night terror. You will know next time. This will end soon. Everything will be okay. It’s okay to be scared.

While my spoken words to Little Mister were soothing him, I was having this internal dialogue soothing myself. It was kind of strange, but so helpful.

And then, I felt...better. Not great, because the situation wasn’t ideal. But I was able to stay calm and out of the funnel of negativity and self-flagellation. While cuddling him, I was able to think clearly, focusing on getting my son comforted and back asleep. I also wasn’t worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get back sleep---an issue I’ve had for the past year. Because of “restless mind.” You know, when you can’t sleep because you’re woken up in the early morning hours and the thoughts. just. won’t. stop.

Kindness to yourself will help with that.

Self compassion didn’t make this situation less scary, or try to sugar coat it with positive thinking. It didn’t make things better on the outside like making my son feel better or stop the screaming.

What it did do was give me the comfort I needed in order to go forth and offer that comfort to my family. It took me out of myself---from feeling isolated in my own fear and like I was responsible to DO SOMETHING NOW, because otherwise the world was going to end (perfectionism)---to seeing how we were all experiencing this together. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. There was no blame. We were all scared and worried. We could and would figure this out. It was going to be okay. Kindness.

Be kind.

With yourself. With others.

It works.

Every time.

I promise.

The First Step To Wholeness: Self Compassion

love_turned_inwards For the next few weeks (possibly longer), I’m going to be exploring the practice of self compassion in daily life. It has already been revolutionary for me in ways that I’m only beginning to understand, much less be able to explain. But I’ll give it a shot!

All thanks to Little Mister handing me the open book to the page titled: cultivating compassion for yourself.

---

I’ve started jogging. This felt huge because I’ve always identified as a biker. Biking for me, is like freedom. Running just has never had the same zeal. Boring, is more like it.

“I’m not a runner. I just can’t/won’t do it because of...” was part of my usual line. My neighbor and friend, Caroline, is an avid runner. Monday nights we go to a yoga class at our neighborhood gym. Before class we have time to catch up---recounting our weekends, celebrating each other’s little victories and reveling in both of our son’s amazing growth.

Running is always a part of her daily and weekly routines. Reps. Up Martha Custis. A huge hill that has no mercy for walkers or small engined cars, much less runners. But she does them. With her jogger.

She, along with a daily self compassion practice started, have inspired me to revisit this “boring” form of exercise.

It was a gorgeous day out. Little Mister was still sick with a bad cold but we desperately needed to get outside. The stroller seemed promising. Let’s just go for a little “jog.”

I strapped on my “running” shoes (after digging them out of the back of the closet, not worn in almost three years), put Little Mister into the stroller, clutching sliced apples in his little fists, and off we went.

Did I mention my stroller ISN’T a jogger? This was going to be interesting.

We jogged. And then we kept jogging. Looking down into the little plastic window in the stroller’s awning, I could see Little Mister’s head bobbing, his fists still clutching half chewed apples. He seemed like he was in a kind of trance.

I felt that way, too. Because I just. kept. going.

“I wonder if you could make it to the next street,” I’d ask myself. Then, I would.

“What about across the bridge?” Yep.

“Let’s try up the hill! Why not? What have you got to lose? Just try…” Okay.

When I finished running---around five miles total, which included running half way up Martha Custis!---I couldn’t believe it.

My legs were shaky, my heart was beating fast, but I felt good. Really good. Because I had just done the unthinkable. Or, what I had perceived as unthinkable.

The coolest part? I had proven that my initial negative thinking was simply self limiting. I CAN do this! I chimed.

This burst of confidence, and just trying something different, is the result of my daily self compassion practice I’ve begun.

After starting this practice, I thought, hey, I better learn more about what this self compassion thing really is about. I had scoured the internet reading everything I could find. But I wanted to dig deeper.

A few days ago, I started listening to Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Talk about digging deeper! I’m only about half way through but already feel a deep, profound shift.

Neff’s extensive research about self compassion is delivered thoughtfully, punctuated with stories of her own vulnerable life experiences throughout. She balances delivering some pretty heavy material with a side of well-done humor.

A few things that hit home for me were the traps we set for ourselves in our thoughts. Neff quips something like, “well, at least I KNEW that I was being a harsh, judgmental bitch. Now I can fully JUSTIFY beating myself up, making myself feel guilty and really really bad. Because what I had said to that person was so terrible, my guilt is reasonable. So is feeling bad for days. I deserve it.”

But she continues on, explaining how when missteps and mistakes are made, this is PRECISELY WHEN SELF KINDNESS is most needed. Self kindness, turns out, is a component of self compassion.

This is where I struggle. I can easily find myself in a swirling funnel of self-doubt, loathing, and mean spiritedness. And that ain’t easy! But when I started practicing self kindness during these moments, a huge, wonderful shift began to happen. Mega. Insane. Let me repeat: WONDERFUL. It’s changed my life.

Culturally in the west, we’ve been programmed to be kind to friends, family or neighbors, even strangers, when they’re in a place of need or down.

But ourselves? A ritualistic beating up is a cultural norm. Society continually shows us that strength of character---the proverbial stiff upper lip---includes sucking it up (beating ourselves up) and carrying on. Showing ourselves kindness is just plain weird.

Yet, kindness opens our hearts to our suffering, giving ourselves what we need in the moment. A gentleness, a softness. Kindness.

It’s rare we see anyone publicly tending to or listening to what their real needs are in the moment. And by publicly, I mean in the media.

Listening to ourselves---especially our most vulnerable selves---I do believe deserves the respect of a quiet, safe space. But it doesn’t need to be taboo, either.

“Self-compassion is a gift available to anyone willing to open up to themselves. When we develop the habit of self-kindness, suffering becomes an opportunity to experience love and tenderness from within.” --Kristen Neff

The gift is unbelievably worth the initial pain, even shock, that’s felt when we first open up to ourselves. Truly.

After all, how can we honestly love anyone else unless we love ourselves first?

Love turned inwards allows our light to burn bright for others.

Lead the way with your bright light. Shine. You’re needed just as you are.

How To Give Space To Your Thoughts And Why It's Actually Awesome

true_self_compassion My eyes scrapped open, like they were sandpaper instead of skin . My right shoulder, the arm I predominantly carry my son with, throbs pain up into my neck as I try to roll over and look at the clock. I lift my head a little.

It’s 4:30am. Again.

For the third week in a row, he’s been waking up well before the birds. He had gotten into the habit of needing Andrew to rock him back to sleep in the wee hours.

Except, even the rocking stopped working. The minute he was put down, he’d cry and want to get up for the day. So Andrew would be stuck in the chair with him until he needed to get up for the day and get ready for work.

Something, obviously, needed to change.

What do we do? How do we change things? What’s our first step? OH. MY. GOD. MAKE THE FUSSING STOP AND LETS ALL GET SOME FREAKING SLEEP ALREADY.

It’s in these early, exhausting, painful hours that I face my absolute toughest critic. It’s a nightmare really. And it’s created by none other than, moi.

As the sleep debt got bigger and bigger, each early morning prompted even more internal criticism, more internal judgment. Her list got longer, harsher. It was down right mean. Now, not only was I exhausted, I was beat down.

Way down.

Next to my bed, I have piles upon piles of books. They're mostly overflowing out of a big basket under my side table. It’s filled with a variety of authors Nora Roberts, Sylvia Boorstein, Cheryl Strayed, Dan Siegel, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day, during this very long slog of sleep deprivation and foggy mental capabilities, Little Mister started rooting through said basket. He pulls out Mindful Motherhood, by Cassandra Vieten.

He liked looking at the cover---an illustration of a sweet mama-baby pair, swaddled against each other, each with a little smile.

He handed me the book, open. On the page was the section titled: Cultivating Compassion For Yourself. Point taken. I brought it downstairs with me to look through. I hadn’t read it since my ninth month of pregnancy---a far, far cry from the realities of ACTUAL motherhood.

On the first nice day this spring, with the warm sun shining and melting the recent snow, we went outside to play. I brought the book with me. Grabbing a highlighter, I sat down on our next door neighbors lawn chair while Little Mister played in the mud.

After reading a few pages, I highlighted: “Have others in your life ever changed as a result of you being increasingly harsh or judgemental towards them?”

Sitting back, I was a little startled, then curious about why I chose to highlight this first.

Looking closer at the question however, it made perfect sense. The thought of being intentionally harsh, critical and judgmental to anyone else makes my stomach turn. Especially as a means to make someone or something change.

So why would I go ahead and do this to myself?

Silence. A bird was chirping near by. Little Mister was happily babbling and splashing in a puddle in the yard.

It was a good question. Very good.

Reading on, she clarifies:

“True [self] compassion sees the situation clearly, acknowledges the pain or grief that gives rise to the situation, and then takes realistic action to address that pain and grief. That might mean getting counseling. It might mean asking for help in other ways. It almost always means taking some action that prevents further pain and grief.”

As a recovering I-gotta-do-it-all-myself person, this was a good reminder. Vieten continues:

“Compassion is good for you…[it] acts as a buffer against emotional states such as anxiety and depression, rumination, and thought suppression, as well as promoting positive emotional mindsets, such as greater happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity and exploration, personal initiative, positive emotions, autonomy, competence, and relatedness.”

Gosh, yes, please. Let’s do this! I thought. SELF COMPASSION is where IT’S AT!

Sometimes there’s this wiser, older voice that will pipe up when I’m having serious doubts. It’ll say something along the lines of: who said you have to know how to do everything, anyway? Girl, that’s a lot of pressure! The point in life is to LEARN. You gotta start somewhere and so here you are! You’re not your thoughts anyway, honey, so let’s move on.

Good point, I usually reply back to myself. For some reason, the voice that says these wise things to myself sounds like a boisterous, go-get-em old southern woman.

Andrew’s great grandmother, Ma, I imagine sounded like my inner-compassionate voice. She was a tiny woman, with big, 70’s style glasses. There’s a picture of her and her sister in his parent’s hallway. Taken at a Sear’s photography studio years ago, I imagine she’s telling the photographer to get a move on with it, that the lights are hot and she has got A LOT to do today. It’s the spark (not a sparkle, not just a light, but a genuine spark. A deep, seen-it-all spark) in her eyes that tell me she was a woman to be reckoned with.

I look at that picture every time I visit Colorado. She tells me, in no uncertain terms, to get a move on with it. Life is short and you’ve got important things to do. No sense in moping around, girl. Worry? What good did that ever do? You’ve got a life, so live it! Come on honey, let’s go!

I have no idea if Ma was really like that or if she’d ever say something like that to anyone. But I’d like to imagine so. Spirit. Spunk. Self-compassion.

self_compassionate_individuals_web

“Like mindfulness, self-compassion is not just a form of positive thinking---cheering yourself up or reframing everything with a rosy glow...Self-compassion refers to the ability to hold difficult negative emotions in nonjudgmental awareness without having to suppress or deny negative aspects of one’s experience...Because self-compassionate individuals do not berate themselves when they fail, they are more able to learn, grow, and take on new challenges. This makes self compassion, which overlaps with mindful awareness, a great ingredient for becoming a new mom.” ---Cassandra Vieten, Mindful Motherhood

The other day, while on the bike at the gym, I felt my super harsh inner critic gaining speed along with my strides. My throat constricted, my heart started racing even harder, the tears welled up in my eyes. I was spiraling, walking (or riding) directly into my inner critic’s judgments.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I remembered: you are not your thoughts. Notice, I am thinking. I am thinking these thoughts. But you are not your thoughts.

Over the next 50 minutes on that bike, I practiced this. The judgment would surface and I would just notice. The criticism would start winding around my gut, and I would pull back, to watch.

And it worked. It always does---which still surprises me. But it’s a practice. A constant, daily, hourly, minute by minute practice.

I’m given ample opportunities to practice, too. AMPLE. Our early mornings are getting easier. I no longer feel like the living dead most of the time. That’s huge. It’s also given me space to problem solve the issue more. See a different perspective. That and talking to my girlfriend Megan!

With all this practice, I’m getting quicker at noticing before I slide down that slippery slope. I watch. I breathe. Always breathing. And it’s getting easier (halle-freakin-luja!!).

Give it a try. If you’re struggling---like I have been---with being bogged down by inner criticism, you might be amazed, too.

Notice. Give space. Breathe.

And then remember: I am not my thoughts.