The First Step To Wholeness: Self Compassion
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.