“Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness… The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”
I don’t know about you, but I am harder on myself than I am on other people. Not that I don’t judge other people and at times have trouble being compassionate about their situation. That also occurs too frequently for comfort. But even so, I am much harder on myself. I can critique a small incident to death! ” I should have said this, I should have done that” or “I shouldn’t have said that, what was I thinking when I did that!” Those thoughts flow through my head on many occasions. Perfection always seems to be my target but never my accomplishment. It is hard to accept myself just the way I am, warts and all.
Self-compassion is the key to acceptance. Mistakes are just part of the human condition. When we acknowledge that we are human, we can feel more compassion for ourselves when we fail to live up to our values. Dr. Kristin Neff is a psychologist that has done extensive research on compassion. She found that self compassion is different from self-pity, self-indulgence or self-esteem. She states, “self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden.”
For more information on what she has discovered and techniques she has found helpful, check out her website.
In my yoga class, we are focusing on contentment. Contentment doesn’t mean the lack of suffering or pain but the ability to be present to what is, the “now”, and feeling gratitude rather than irritation. One of the main tools for obtaining this is self-compassion. Rather than critique our current feelings or situation, we are encouraged to rest in the knowledge that we are where and who we are supposed to be. Each situation is an opportunity for learning and growing. Each feeling is present for the moment and need not linger if we don’t feed it to make it bigger than it is. Fighting against reality makes it worse. Acceptance is the key to contentment. We must first notice what we are experiencing internally, welcome it rather than fight it, and bathe it in the light of compassion or love. When we do this, we are able to release it sooner.
Mary Mrozowski is the author of a technique that is helpful in doing this. It is call the Welcoming Practice. It has three parts: Focus, Welcome and Letting Go. First, when a distressing emotion or physical pain arises, you focus on what is going on with the sensations in your body. Are your shoulders tight? Do you have a headache? Is your heart pounding? Don’t analyze why, just stay present with the sensations in the body. Second, welcome the sensation by naming it. Say to yourself, “Welcome pain” or Welcome anger” or Welcome fear.” You are not welcoming the outer situation that caused it but only the inner experience of it. With the welcome of the inner experience comes the release of judgment and the beginning of self compassion. Third, when you seem ready to do so, release the feeling and allow it to dissipate. You can say “I let go of this anger or pain.” This release may only be for the moment. It may return. But the present moment is what is important with this technique. If it returns, you can repeat the technique to deal with that moment. There are many resources on using this technique and this link Welcoming prayer will guide you to these.
As we develop more compassion for ourselves, we will also become more compassionate with others and our world. Hopefully, in doing so, our hearts will become large enough to care for the world in the way it needs so desperately right now.
Centering Prayer and Inner Awareness, Cynthia Bourgeault
Forgiving Yourself: Why You Must, How You Can, Robert Lauer and Jeanette Lauer
Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Kristin Neff, PhD