What is Self-Compassion anyway?

Hello Dear One,

I hope you are well.  What do you need right now?  What one small thing can you do right now to ease any pain?  Maybe a breath, a head circle, a sigh, a moment to lay on the floor, or just a moment to close your eyes away from this screen (then come back, lol!).  Maybe speaking the words to yourself, “I love you,” or “It’s going to be ok,” or “I am doing the best I can, and I am enough.”

Perhaps you just place your hands over your heart right now and take one deep breath.  And that is you, breathing WITH yourself.  Not against yourself, as I like to say in my yoga classes.  

And that is self-compassion.  I non-judgemental awareness of your immediate experience and asking “What do I need?”  

“In psychology, self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. American psychologist Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main elements – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.”-Wikipedia Read HERE.

“Compassion comes into the English language by way of the Latin root “passio”, which means to suffer, paired with the Latin prefix “com”, meaning together – to suffer together.

Compassion means ‘to suffer together’.

Whow, just breathe that in for a minute.  

Now, think of what this means to turn it towards yourself.  How this requires that you take on the responsibility to take care of yourself.  To take care of your body which is the vessel of your spirit.  

To be kind and watchful of your thoughts and how you speak to yourself.  To be aware of your actions, habits, and patterns.  And, to guide yourself towards healthful practices and loving actions.  

This is you with You!  Your earthly self with your Divine Self.  

Pause though, I know how this can feel so unreal, like a heavy extra “other thing to do” in our lists of life practices.  So, pause to remember…

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” -Buddha

But so often we do not believe this, or something has taught us not to.  We have subscribed to some message embedded within us that isn’t ours, it’s not true… and it needs to be dug up, brought into the light, and offered compassion so that it can be integrated, dissolved, transformed, or transmuted into the Light that we each are.

This creates the Wholeness of our Being in our unique, individual self that allows our Truest Nature, our Highest Self, our Self as Love, to be the place from which we live. 

Tara Brach writes in her book, “Radical Compassion”, that “I have to love myself into healing.  The only path that can carry me home is the path of self-compassion.”

So, You are the ‘Holder and the Held’. Holding your self as your Highest Self holds you, because your True Self is the True Nature of the loving Universe.

Here is some good news…we are wired for compassion!  It is innate within us. Remember last week when I shared “What is mindfulness anyway?” Read the blog HERE. 

In it, I share about how mindfulness is a two winged bird; one wing is awareness and the other wing is compassion. I dive into each and explore these ideas, practices, and concepts.

“We are literally wired for compassion; we experience compassion in both our minds and our bodies, and the experience makes minds and bodies healthier. This explains why the absence of compassion is so painful.”-Greater Good Magazine article by Jeremy Adam Smith called, “What happens when compassion hurts?”

So, why does Self-compassion often feel awkward, hard, or even just down right impossible for most people?*

Consider for a moment: 

  • Your upbringing.  What was exemplified to you around self-care, self-kindness, self-compassion?
  • Where there any organizations, religions, or groups that made impressions upon you around acknowledging yourself, accepting yourself, and self-compassion?
  • What were/ what are societies impact on how you view self-compassion?
  • How has your cultural ethos around self-compassion affected you or not?
  • The people you come into interaction with today.
  • The events that currently take shape on a global scale, local scale, and just within your own families of origin. (This is why they say, “if you want to know how enlightened you are, go spend a week with your family!”)
*According to Kristin Neff, 86% of women and 67% of men in the US find self-compassion difficult. 

We can also, oftentimes, be the best one to downplay or disregard ourselves or just pity ourselves.  To hear in our minds and hearts that “I am the bad one”, “Its my fault”, “I am not worthy of this or that”, “I don’t deserve this when others are suffering”, “Anyone else would have done the same thing, I am not so special”, “I am messed up and deserved what I got”, “I am not as smart as others, so it makes sense why I didn’t figure it out”.  

This is the second arrow.  What do I mean by this?…

You may have heard this phrase before, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  It is a famous Buddhist saying.  It speaks to the story of the two arrows:

The first arrow is the event, the trauma, the situation that is not in our control; for example, what the person said or did to us, etc.  The second arrow is the arrow of self-blame and judgment.  This second arrow is optional; the second arrow is the suffering.*

This is why we must offer and practice self-compassion and ask “What do I need?  What is the most loving thing this moment needs?”

“When we suffer*, we give ourselves compassion not to feel better, but because we feel bad.”

-Chris Germer in an article HERE, who is a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School’s department of psychiatry who, with Kristin Neff, developed a program called Mindful Self-Compassion.

Be the person to yourself that will bandage your knee when you fall.  Be the kind person to yourself that says, “It’s ok, I know that hurts.” Be that person to yourself that wraps your broken heart into your own arms to cradle the pieces while remembering you, yourself are not broken. 

If you/we can stay curious about the causes or conditions, limiting beliefs, experiences in our upbringing that might cause us to believe this is our fault, that we deserve it, that I am not good enough, that I am not perfect enough, that I am not “whatever” enough, then we have already offered our self compassion.  

Each of us is in it together with our Highest self that is nothing short of completely loving and only wanting the best for us, even when what we feel sometimes hurts.  

Now here’s a little story:

One of my teachers was driving home from offering a workshop and she told us the story later. She said how she got stuck in traffic and started to feel the frustration rise!  All of the emotions boiled up and she really just wanted to be home.  Then she looked at the bumper sticker on the car in front of her and it read “If you lived in your heart, you’d be home right now.”

This story points to another important aspect of our experiences and why we need self-compassion which are emotions. Emotions can confuse us. And by confusion, I mean they make us go blind, they create this “othering” that sometimes supports us only in one way of seeing.  

We get stuck, fixed, or we fight, freeze, or run away from the emotions, situation, relationship, or even ourselves.  We see ourselves as separate from our heart, the world, our friends. We might not reach out to people for support, or we might just sit and become self-deprecating. We get separated from the Highest Self and can’t see a way out!  We forget we can hold ourselves in that moment. “You are the Holder, and the held.”-Tara Brach

This is why it is so important to drop down into our bodies and into our hearts and to become still and quiet and to listen to ourselves and what is going on(the awareness wing of the bird). To do this as often as we can. It only takes one breath.   Try it now, BREATHE!  Notice, feel.  What do you need right now?  Offer yourself that compassion (the second wing of the bird)!

Think of taking this breath when the first arrow is still stinging.  Think of how this self-compassionate breath could ease the second arrow of suffering.

And it is this awakening that we are practicing for. We use all of our tools and practices in order to awaken. We are awakening to the present moment so that we can see it, and that we awaken to our own hearts’ compassion. We are awakening to our own True nature, and in doing so we are inspiring that in others.

I want to leave you a quote:

Remember this essence from Mark Nepo…

“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot – free of expectation and greed, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry – an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologist call this spot the Psyche, theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of Unconscious, Hindu Masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love.

To know this spot of Inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it.”