In our mindfulness practice we learn that the residue of being mindful is compassion. One does not somehow “learn how to do compassion,” but rather in becoming mindful, one’s natural inclination, one’s “way of being” becomes compassionate. The pathway to becoming compassionate is to be mindful in each moment, and you’ll notice the suffering in the world, and wish to relieve it. In a like manner, setting the intention to be compassionate in the world will surely lead one to a mindful pathway.
How often do I, myself, need compassion? Every day! No, my suffering is not immense, and my life is truly a satisfying life. But like all beings I have pain, I suffer, I need relief, the relief that the compassion of a good friend, family member, colleague, or, yes, a stranger can bring. I count on the compassion of the people in the world, as I’m sure you do, too.
But how often do I lack compassion for myself? Too often, it turns out. It is so easy to judge myself harshly, to see my errors as defects of character. To know my innermost grouchy self and feel bad about the horrible man I imagine I am. To remember my worst moments, when I truly hurt another human being, and wallow in an old shame. I accuse myself, and without trial or judge the conviction occurs in record time.
Can I be compassionate to myself? How can I not be! If I stand accused and convicted of the dreadful ways I can think of myself, I would never be able to leave my home and do my errands and go to work and live in the world that invites me to live to the full. If I cannot be compassionate to myself, then I cannot be truly compassionate to another, because I would then allow envy to interfere. Envy for the love someone else feels but I don’t. And that envy is poison to every relationship I have.
So I must be self compassionate if I am to live and to love and have a full life in the world. Self compassion is a skill that can be practiced and learned. It does not always come naturally. My voice of self accusation is very convincing, telling me that I don’t deserve relief, that I deserve to suffer. “For after all,” it says, “look at how you hurt other people! Why should you feel better?”
Such a painful way to live! But fortunately we have a great teacher today, Kristen Neff, who is helping us remember how to be compassionate to ourselves, and is doing wonderful research about how being self compassionate can help each of us to live more to the full, with greater satisfaction for our lives. She has a wonderful website, which you can explore by following this link:
In the meantime, if you would like to begin to learn the practice of self compassion, I’ve recorded a short guided meditation that can teach you a few of the basics. I hope you will try this, as it truly brings you the relief you need to go out and make amends to those people you’ve hurt.
Oh, it also helps you to recognize the signs of a lack of self compassion in other people. You know, if just might be that when another person isn’t nice to you that what you are experiencing is their own self loathing, their own non-self-compassion, their own suffering. Maybe the antagonism of another person is just evidence that that person is hurting. Maybe your own antagonism towards others is just evidence of your hurting self. You might want to try some self compassion today. Come on, the recording is only 6 minutes long!