Self compassion

Since my last post, I’ve been thinking about self compassion and how we practice this in our own lives. We can talk about loving ourselves, having compassion for ourselves, but where do we begin? What does this look like? How does it work?

When I’m feeling bad about a situation or a relationship in my life, I might choose to numb those feelings by some sort of indulgence. And I might rationalize this in a way that seems like a kind of self compassion – i.e., I deserve something that makes me feel happy right now and takes away this discomfort. But every time I choose a response that resists, rather than softens into what is, the original discomfort only increases. Now I’m not only feeling bad about an argument I had, but I also feel bad from overindulging in food, alcohol, or consumerism. And that can be a new basis to criticize myself and continue a vicious cycle.

Self compassion is kindness towards oneself, at the center of which is respect for self. When we treasure and esteem ourselves, we aren’t relying on external circumstances or opinions for validation or happiness. When situations arise out of sync with how we’d prefer the world to be, we are less influenced, because we find our stability internally. When we’re respecting ourselves, it’s easier to make choices that feel positive beyond that moment of immediate gratification. We choose life affirming options to decrease discomfort, like finding a way to help someone else or getting out into nature for some exercise, rather than reaching for the closest numbing agent. And in time, old habits give way to new and our positive response mechanisms become the stronger inclination.

But of course, we’re not always going to make the best choices. Sometimes, there is nothing better than pouring your heart out to your closest friends over too many bottles of wine. (And nothing worse than the day after!) And that’s okay. The kindness of self compassion knows that perfection is not the goal.

The Yoga Sutras remind us that change is a process, not an instant transformation. There is a single endpoint in your development as a person; until then, everything is simply the process of change. If you find Samadhi on your mat in the morning and lose it by the afternoon, it doesn’t mean you have failed. Everyone is doing the best she can, exactly where she’s at. We all need to do our own work, in our own way. So with an eye towards how you might prefer to choose in the future, be kind to yourself now. There is nothing you can do to invalidate your inherent lovability and your worthiness as a being on this earth.

All these situations that come up and evoke feelings we’d rather not deal with – these are gifts, new opportunities to face our fear of discomfort, practice self compassion and grow.