Finding Compassion Within
Every part of us that we do not love will regress and become more primitive – Carl Jung
I have been thinking for a long time about writing about Self-Compassion. In my work as a psychotherapist and with my friends and family, I am constantly struck by the lack of self-compassion people convey in their words about their work and life. They are constantly saying things like “I am so stupid”, “I should have known better”, “how could I have missed that”, “who would notice or like a _____”. “I am just a ________” etc. etc.
No wonder we have high levels of depression and anxiety in our culture. Western society is high on guilt and judging individuals. It also encourages people to have unrealistically high standards for themselves and sometimes their standard is pure perfectionism. Their failings are seen as a panacea for everything that is wrong. Not only are individuals judged and blamed, parents, in particular, are one of most heavily blamed group in society. Some people believe that Individual blame conveniently shifts the responsibility from organizational, corporate and /or institutional/governmental culpability.
What is self-compassion? I think we confuse it with selfishness if we tend to spend time on caring for our self. Self care and self-compassion, I suggest is an afterthought, something we do when we have time and when all our responsibilities are taken care of. What happens usually is there is nothing left to give to self. We turn to other things like alcohol or drugs, food or other dependencies that hook us quickly but do not provide the profound and positive affect of simple self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the act that states “I am human; I am fallible and it is OK to make mistakes to change my mind, to pursue my passion.” It is not judging our actions as good or bad, just viewing them as part of learning and growing, part of being human. How can we be compassionate of others if we do not practice it with ourselves? The Green Cross Standards of Care state that we cannot perform our work as a caregiver unless we take care of ourselves. There is also the metaphor of the airplane oxygen mask, putting it on first before we put it on others.
The driver of this judgemental approach is our critical voice or voices that are internalized from the Media, and the dominant stories in our culture about who is valued and who is not; from our parents and school experiences. Awareness is the key to self-compassion and the more we understand these influences,the more we have control over our actions. When we judge ourselves harshly it demeans us and often drives our self-esteem into the black hole of constant recrimination, fear and helplessness.
There is a Buddhist sutra that is called Metta or lovingkindness that blesses ourselves and others. It is a meditation similar to the following:
May I be safe
May I be healthy
May I have ease of body and mind
May I be at peace
The practice goes on to bless others, dearest ones, benefactors, neutral ones and those we are in conflict with. Compassion starts with the self and it encompasses our work, our friends and family, relationships with others and those who are sick, troubled or difficult to deal with. The whole world looks and feel different when we practice self compassion. The native Hawaiians have a practice called Ho’oponopono which is a forgiveness ritual that starts with loving, accepting, and forgiving the self and then others. They call it the miracle healing practice.
Self- compassion is a simple concept however it is not easy to practice. It takes accepting ourselves and all our parts warts and all!
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