This is the final post in a three-part series on the main components of self-compassion. Today’s post is about Kindness.
“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” ~ Mary Oliver
I suspect that many people would say that they believe in kindness. However, the prospect of being kind to yourself can seem daunting or next-to-impossible when your inner critic is loudly and repeatedly detailing all the things you’ve done wrong. When you’re in the trance of self-judgment, you tend to lose access to the parts of yourself that have perspective and can see a bigger picture. But, when kindness seems far away, remember that it has infinite forms.
Some teachers suggest a “fake it til you make it” approach where you shift your thinking by reciting affirmations or turning your attention to a more “positive” aspect of your experience. This can help break the trance of self-judgment in a generative way, and I see almost anything that breaks that trance as a form of kindness. At other times, though, forcing yourself to be kind might not work because it isn’t an attuned response to the situation. It can feel false; like you have to “get over” your feelings and pretend that everything is fine when it feels far from fine internally.
In times like these, instead of trying to fake it, you can begin where you are. What that means is, pausing. Breathing. Naming the thoughts and stories that are arising. Perhaps in this moment, kindness looks like three slow, steady breaths that give you a greater sense of space. Or maybe it looks like creating titles for the stories your inner critic tells, such as, “The History of How I Never Get Anything Right” or “Biggest Mistakes of My Life, Volume 49.” And even when we feel low, there's often a little room (even if it's just a sliver) for some dry humor or mischief.
Benevolent curiosity is also a potent form of kindness. How specific can you get about what feelings, sensations, thoughts, images and/or memories are present? See if you can be like a detective, gathering clues. Not because you have a theory you’re trying to prove, but because you want to know the truth of your experience. For example, if you notice that lots of intrusive thoughts are present, and you feel disconnected from your emotions or sensations, start there. You might visualize putting your thoughts into imaginary folders ~ a separate one for each category that your thoughts fall into. For example, “Relationship Thoughts”, “Self-Critical Thoughts”, “Work Thoughts.” This, too, is a form of kindness. By coming into a relationship with your thoughts, you are implicitly recognizing that you are not them; your thoughts do not define you.
You can also sit with the question: What form of kindness would be most welcome right now? Maybe you can offer acceptance to the part of yourself that feels hopeless or discouraged; not trying to push it away, but opening to the possibility that it has some wisdom to share with you, too. Allow yourself room to wonder; to not know for sure what this experience means, but to be open to discovery.
Through this heartfelt sleuthing, you may start to emerge further from the trance of self-judgment and tap more deeply into your compassionate power. Maybe you'll notice a shift in your perspective on what you are experiencing. Often, shining the light of warm curiosity on what’s happening allows you to see from a vantage point that you were unable to access previously. Perhaps you are able to find more space for an understanding of yourself that’s not focused on what’s wrong with you. This space offers you an implicit dignity ~ a greater openness to the possibility that a challenging experience has something generative to offer, rather than being evidence of how you’re broken.
One last thing to remember about self-compassion: It’s all an experiment. At any given time, each of us will have a different way of expressing it. Part of this practice is allowing yourself to discover the most helpful response in each particular situation. Needless to say, no two moments are exactly the same. If you are struggling to find a kind response, start with the struggle itself. Notice it. Know that your willingness to notice, in itself, is deeply kind.