Self-compassion. This theme has followed me for as long as I can remember. Recently, when I asked readers what they have been mulling over and would want to hear more of, “self-compassion” was thrown in the mix, once again.
Since I was a little girl, my parents have told me that I have been given the gifts of empathy, understanding and graciousness. Of being able to really put myself in the shoes of others, and feel what they are actually feeling. A dear friend asked me just the other day, “when do you feel most alive?” Among a few other responses one of them included, being able to sit with people, listen to their pain, dilemmas and conflicts, and somehow bring insight or direction that can offer relief to them. Even if just for a moment.
I have always been an empath. Someone who not only wants, but feels that I must, extend a sense of embrace to the world. This feels like breathing to me, a non-negotiable for living. And yet, I have often overlooked an important person in that extension of love – myself.
The ironic thing is, just as I can remember feeling those more “positive” traits above, they were also coupled with an intense inner-critic. Harsh accusations, self destructive thinking, and negative self-talk were very much part of the dialogue within my younger mind, and still can be today. I think somewhere in growing up, I just thought it was self indulgent, selfish and straight up wrong to consider myself with the compassion and grace I so quickly felt towards others. How messed up is that!?
As I have reflected on this theme of self-compassion over the years, and specifically more recently, I have discovered a freedom and acceptance that is unlike any other. Compassion is the gift and grace that we extend to the “other”, in order that we might connect, form intimacy and have a sense of belonging. This is something I have had to learn in accepting the “other-ness” within my own self.
“In a sense, the human being is the loneliest creature in creation. Paradoxically, the human being also has the greatest possibility for intimacy. I link compassion immediately with intimacy. Compassion is the ability to vitally imagine what it is like to be an other, the force that makes a bridge from the island of one individuality to the island of the other. It is an ability to step outside your own perspective, limitations and ego, and become attentive in a vulnerable, encouraging, critical, and creative way with the hidden world of another person.” – John O’donohue
The self is made up of many selves. My “self” is comprised of the compassionate self, the empathetic self, the creative self, the understanding self, and the self that belongs. While at the same time, the angry self, the depressed self, the jealous self, the critical self, the anxious self, and the outsider self, are also weaved quite tightly into that same thread. The compassionate self is able to look at these other selves with acceptance, and instead of trying to simply exterminate them, respond to their invitation for healing, and greater understanding. We must try and learn, for the sake of our well-being and for others, to accept the “other-ness” within. To befriend the shadow side of ourselves and be kind to her.
We are so hard on ourselves, us humans. We have absolutely unreal expectations of what and who we “ought” to be, especially here in the West. I am convinced, if we don’t do the slow, hidden work of self-compassion, we will never encounter the fullness of love, embrace and freedom. We will never experience that inner voice who guides the landscape of our souls as good and wise. That voice who settles us into a sense of home, and reminds us of the sacredness of being.
A poem by Rumi:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself dear friends.