Each January, it’s tempting to start thinking about resolutions and creating plans for how we’re going to become new and improved versions of ourselves. The means may vary ~ a change in exercise frequency, eating habits, finances, career ~ but the underlying assumption is often the same: There’s something wrong with the way we are right now. While the impulse for growth is an essential part of being alive, when we pursue it in a way that’s disconnected from a respect for who we are, it can feel oppressive instead of liberating.
When you think about self-compassion, do you feel worried that it’s a trick ~ that if you treat yourself with kindness, something bad will happen? Even if you know, intellectually, that self-compassion is important and something you want to cultivate, there are probably some parts of you that aren’t so sure. If you have a history of being a perfectionist, or feeling that you need to be productive at all times, you may have some resistance to practicing self-compassion!
Fire and heat and impermanence are on the minds of many folks right now. In the last two weeks, wildfires in Northern California have burned over 140,000 acres combined. While the fires are becoming increasingly contained, they are still burning as I write this. I have been thinking a lot about the people, animals, trees and land impacted by these fires. I know at least one person who lost her home, and I have been moved by the courageous and pragmatic way that she is meeting her experience abrupt change and unexpected loss.
It’s probably obvious that cultivating self-compassion will help you come into a healthier relationship with yourself. When you practice interrupting old patterns of self-criticism and relating to your experience with greater curiosity and less judgment, your internal climate becomes significantly friendlier.
If you struggle with self-judgment, you’ve probably wondered where it comes from, and how you can find relief from it. In my experience and training as a therapist, and in my own personal process, I’ve seen that self-judgment can have a variety of causes.
I was at Austin Zen Center recently, attending a ceremony for my teacher, who was installed as the Center’s first abbot. As part of the ceremony, my teacher made five statements to summarize his teaching. The one that stuck with me most was this: whatever you find in yourself, acknowledge it, accept it, and forgive. This statement aligns very closely with the three aspects of self-compassion: awareness, a sense of common humanity, and kindness. It also sounds like a recipe for making amends with oneself, and I wanted to share it with you.
If you’re human, you’ve probably made an unforced error. An unforced error is a sports term that refers to a missed shot or lost point (as in tennis or volleyball) that’s entirely a result of the player's own error and not because of the opponent's skill or effort. In other words, it’s the shot you “should” have made. You’ve made shots like that hundreds, maybe thousands of times, yet for some reason, you missed it this time.
In my groups and workshops, people often ask about shame: where it comes from and how to cope with it. I recently attended a self-compassion training with Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, and I found their teachings on shame to be insightful and helpful.
In a recent PsychCentral article, I offer more of my perspective on genuine gratitude ~ the kind that acknowledges suffering, rather than the kind that attempts to sugar-coat things by bypassing real-life challenges.
On October 18, 2014, I was at Austin Zen Center to give a morning talk and an afternoon workshop. In this talk, titled "It's Not Your Job to Pretend," I speak about how we often seek safety by pretending to be wiser or more compassionate than we are.
It’s just a few weeks until Halloween, a holiday that offers children and adults the opportunity to connect with the more shadowy aspects of human experience. For some, it means acknowledging death, and honoring loved ones who have died. In more mainstream cultural expressions, death is portrayed in a sometimes campy way (with dancing skeletons and cartoon ghosts). Still, Halloween reminds us that impermanence is actually right here, interwoven with our day-to-day lives. It can be scary to let that truth fully register. Most of us are understandably attached to our lives as they are, including our sense of who we are.
I had an experience recently which re-affirmed for me that self-compassion is probably the most powerful tool I have. Some might wonder how that could be true. While more people are becoming aware of the importance of self-compassion in mental health and well-being, it still runs counter to the values of the prevailing mainstream culture that tends to emphasize immediate gratification, competition, and self-esteem based on hierarchical achievement.
Did you grow up with Casey Kasem‘s weekly Top 40 radio show? It was a Saturday morning staple for me, and I always waited for his catch-phrase at the end of every show: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.” While Casey’s words might sound trite, they’re relevant to setting inclusive intentions ~ a key aspect of cultivating self-compassion.
Self-compassion is at the heart of my personal and professional life, and when people ask me how it got there, I usually say that it was through my meditation practice. It’s true that sitting for years on a consistent basis (when I’m tired, anxious, joyful, frustrated and everything else) showed me a lot about the power of choosing to be present with my experience, rather than judging myself for having it. But I first became aware of the revolutionary nature of self-compassion years before I started meditating.
At last month’s self-compassion circle, we focused on the group’s challenges with self-criticism at work. I wanted to talk about this topic because I had noticed that a lot of people have intense self-judgment in this area of their life.