Lesson 15: Self-Compassion
Last week, we explored how taking accountability can empower our lives. As we take responsibility for what is ours, without shame or wallowing, we can sense our energy shift inside, and appreciate this practice as an irreplaceable vehicle for internal change. We are coming to understand and accept all of ourselves, healing the splits inside, and moving towards Oneness. We feel more deeply connected with others as our growing understanding of shared humanity softens and unites us.
This week, let’s lean into this softness by shifting our lens to the ways we have harmed ourselves. As we consider last week’s list, do we see our own name on it? For many of us, it may need to be at the very top. Perhaps for the first time, let’s safely consider:
This week, let’s allow our hearts, minds, and bodies to inform us where we need to make amends to ourselves, remembering that hurt-people often hurt people. Let’s dig deep and try to identify the wounds beneath our hard exterior or self-defeating behaviors. These wounds, left to fester, can feed into unconscious, fear-based core beliefs. In those moments when we feel most afraid, anxious, alone, and broken, we might ask: “What am I believing right now?”
Let’s remember that our narratives and emotions stem from beliefs. At any moment, we can choose to pause and question the belief underneath the feeling. When we hold these beliefs up to the Light of awareness, our illusions can dissolve, and our Higher Power can help us find peace and Truth. This simple practice, lovingly tended, can heal the roots of persistent beliefs, and we can trust that emotional and behavioral branches will follow over time.
Often our deepest fears feel grounded in our worth or belonging. Let’s have compassion around these tender places and acknowledge that the desire to belong, to love, and to be loved is what makes us human. Let’s reframe our past without recrimination and ask, “In my past self-defeating behaviors, where was I hurting? What needs was I attempting to meet?” Let’s also consider the present moment: “Where am I hurting right now? What needs to be heard and held?”
In our reflections, let’s be careful to view ourselves with loving curiosity and take comfort in knowing that our new awareness can lead to more desirable outcomes. A compassionate mindset can help to bring our roles and responsibility into clearer focus, informing new boundaries that can both generate healing and prevent further harm—for ourselves and others. We can begin to view our lives beyond the black and white lens of the blame game, and replace feelings of shame with feelings of hope and curiosity. We can find rest in discovering that resolution is not really about who is at fault. Rather, resolution comes through acknowledging, loving, and accepting each heart involved—including our own. This is the beginning of compassion. Let’s view self-compassion as a powerful agent for change—much more powerful than shame and blame. Coming to know and more skillfully care for our own heart is our best protection against behaving in harmful ways in the future. When we feel safe and understood, we are in much less danger of making reactive, self-defeating choices.
Identifying, accepting, and meeting our needs with patience, kindness, love, and respect is part of a mindful practice of self-compassion. Such self-care is not selfishness. Rather, tenderly attending to needs is the very definition of love. How can we offer that kind of love to others if we cannot offer it to ourselves? We might bring our mindful attention to times where we treat ourselves like robots instead of humans. In this mindset, our purpose narrows to meeting the incessant demands and expectations of ourselves and others. Instead, let’s widen our view to see our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as fundamental components of our humanity.
Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation offers another useful lens for self-inquiry, suggesting that our behaviors trace back to unmet needs. So, with compassion, let’s ask ourselves: “What need might this behavior be trying to meet? Can I identify healthier ways to satisfy this need?” Kind inquiries like these can nourish our self-compassion and facilitate emotional healing.
This week, let’s explore what happens when we change our paradigm, compassionately viewing our self-defeating behaviors simply as unskilled responses to unmet needs. How differently do we feel towards ourselves and our experiences as we view them through the eyes of a loving, patient, and tender parent? What occurs inside us when we stop looking outward for someone to blame (including ourselves) and start looking inward to ask ourselves what we really need in the moment? How do our feelings change when we open our eyes to see that everything we’ve ever done served us in some way? Can we honor our misguided ideas as stepping stones toward a deeper, wiser way of being in the world? A shift toward self-love, self-acceptance, and self-care can powerfully change the way we interact with ourselves, others, and life itself. Self-compassion gives us permission to see ourselves as divine beings striving imperfectly to meet human needs. And through this lens, we have greater capacity to extend this same care and curiosity to others.
Infusing our self-assessments with compassion is a change that requires mindful practice. Meditation is a vehicle that can help to facilitate this change. As we meditate, we can invite our Higher Power into our mind, body, and spirit. We can ask Him to take us back to moments where our hearts or belief systems were broken—even if we do not know what those are. We can then watch in amazement when He offers us exactly what we didn’t know we needed. When we invite our Higher Power into these still-tender places, we find that His love can fill the void and hold our wounds. In willing surrender, we can ask Him to show us a different way—His way.
If God feels distant or unsafe to us, we can instead bring to mind a loving friend, mentor, or family member who does feel safe to us. In our space of meditative safety, we can allow our imagination to unfold. We can awaken the part of us that perfectly remembers what it feels like to be immersed in limitless Love and belonging. When we learn how to create space for Divine and healing Love in meditation, it is simply and magically there. It is a part of us.
As we deepen our practice, we can find that our connection with the Divine best fills so many of our needs: mental, emotional, and spiritual. With it, we can feel safety and security, experience healthier relationships, grow in feelings of self-worth, achieve our potential, and express our creativity. Whatever else we do or create in the world becomes secondary to the wholeness we feel as we touch home—over and over again.
When God is at our center, everything else fades in importance. We can lose our sense of crisis or neediness. We can be in the world without being hypnotized by it. We can stop harming ourselves and others. This magical place of presence is available every moment of every day. Let’s pay attention and discern the fruits for ourselves: we don’t find our best self through harshness, berating ourselves, or rigid perfectionism. We find our best selves through slowing down, practicing willing surrender, offering acceptance to every part of ourselves and our journey, and consciously framing our experience through the lens of self-compassion.
Mindfulness Practice: Practicing The Steps of Self-Compassion
There are many mindfulness exercises that can help us to practice self-compassion. The following four strategies were developed by Kristin Neff; they are adapted and reprinted here with permission.
Step 1: Mindfulness
First, we use our loving awareness to recognize that we are struggling. Before we can access compassion, we must first step into vulnerability and admit that something is amiss. Only then can we touch into the part of us that is hurting, uncomfortable, or disturbed. First, we pause to slow down our reactions and find a safe space to re-center. Next, we bring our focus away from blame, defensiveness, despair, or the story and instead focus on the present felt-sense of the experience in the body. We might identify where in our body we feel sensations: “I feel tightness in my chest.” We may even name what is happening inside, perhaps identifying an emotion: “Rage.” “Fear.” “Anxiety.” “Failure.” Then, we may employ safe and loving physical touch by placing a hand on our heart or belly. Lastly, we acknowledge that what we are feeling is hard, perhaps verbalizing this aloud with: “This is hard.” Through this process, we give ourselves permission to be exactly where we are.
Step 2: Shared Humanity
We acknowledge that suffering is part of the human condition. Experiencing difficult emotions can be thought of as a manifestation of our shared humanity. Our suffering does not inherently mean that there is anything uniquely flawed in us. When we mindfully allow our emotions to be exactly as they are, we choose to take, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as we would have it. We can use this mantra from the Serenity Prayer to find our center, speaking out loud: “I can accept hardship as the pathway to peace.” Accepting and understanding our shared humanity connects us to the human race and frees us from insufferable isolation. Rather than retreating to a lonely planet of despair, let’s find empathy and connection in a shared inheritance of suffering.
Step 3: Speaking Kindness
We use kind and tender words, taking care to speak to ourselves as we would to a cherished friend or young child.
“I am here for you, darling.”
“I am never leaving, I am with you every step of the way.”
“It’s okay. This is just how it is right now. There is room for this, too.”
Step 4: Attending to Needs
We consciously give ourselves permission to be human. We can ask, “What do I need right now, if anything?” We may notice a desire for self-care, rest, or space. We may feel the need to reach out and connect with someone. We may realize that we need to eat or drink something that nourishes our body or soul. We may find that we need to set a boundary or use our voice to say no.
Like everything in the Universe, self-compassion has two sides, and we want to mindfully employ both forces. We can think of these as the Yin and the Yang of self-compassion. We harness both of these energies in our Daily Practice; they are reflected in the second and first half of our classes, respectively:
The Yin represents the soft, feminine energy. With it, we can create a sense of being held, a loving presence. We can foster this energy by using gentle words, terms of endearment, and opening toward a tender heart. The second half of our Daily Practice harnesses the Yin energy. The slower pace, the sweeping and flowing movement, the long and slow breaths all serve to build a strong Yin energy in body, mind, and spirit that prepares us for meditation. Even the music we use in the second half of class invites us to connect with our softness, open to our inner world, and release the mental blocks and emotions we carry.
The Yang represents the strong male energy. We can think of it as our Mama Bear protector that moves us to take action to stop suffering—both for ourselves and others. The first half of our Daily Practice harnesses the Yang energy: throwing down thoughts, emotions, and energies we don’t want to carry anymore, yelling, grunting, kicking, and punching. We can use this energy as the motivating factor for healthy boundaries that serve to protect and promote our integrity. A supportive community can help us find the courage required to utilize this side of compassion. We can find this support in the Lifehouse Body & Soul community, if not elsewhere.
The Yang of self-compassion asks us to find healthy ways to use our voice. As we work with difficult emotions, let’s be a tender parent and ask the hurting child inside what she needs. We may find that one thing she needs deeply is simply to be heard. So we can kindly ask ourselves: “What words need to be spoken? What needs and emotions need to be expressed? What will help me to feel that my experience has been acknowledged and my feelings have been validated?”
Using our voice can be both a concrete action to take ownership of our lives and an ongoing practice of self-compassion. We must learn to find and speak our truth if we want to live authentically with an open heart.
Journaling can be a helpful step towards finding our voice. If we can speak our truth and identify our needs to an empty page, we have more capacity and courage to speak them to others. Reaching out to others in our LBS community can also provide safe and valuable practice. As we learn to clearly and compassionately express ourselves, without defensiveness or self-deprecation, we can step into our divine power. Self-compassion is both the beginning and the end of seeing ourselves more clearly.