Is it possible to have compassion for oneself?
If we understand compassion as the ability to experience another’s pain, how would it be possible to have compassion for oneself? Don’t we just, well, have our own pain and suffering? How is the notion of compassion for ourselves relevant?
Somehow it is. Somehow it must be so. It may not seem logical, but if you’ve been reading this blog for a time you know that on the Way of Beauty, reason and logic are often outranked by the alchemical and magical forces.
And alchemy is essential in healing. It is the changing of the metaphorical lead into gold, illness into wellness. How we approach, hold, and release our own suffering is key to the quality of our lives. Need I remind any of us, there is no such thing as a life without some sort and degree of suffering?
My goal for one recent year was “Be kind to yourself, Lisa!” What did I mean? I meant, in pop parlance, to give myself a break. In Way of Beauty terms I meant to have compassion for myself. Too often our harshest critic is ourselves:
Only got a B+ on that exam? Shame!
Just because you had surgery last month and have been doing PT three times a week is no excuse for being behind on the month’s sales’ stats! Get with it!
Isn’t that baby fat gone yet ?! I brought the baby home two weeks ago!
The divorce was a year ago! Stop talking about it! Those 20 years are in the past!
You get the picture… too often our expectations of ourselves hold little compassion, no allowance for any suffering, any expression of the pain, for any margin of error, let alone honoring the authenticity of that suffering, the recognition of the need for a necessary and healing process of grieving, hurting.
We hold our suffering at bay, not allowing it in, feeling it, allowing it to be real, true. I might spin off here into the need and illusions of perfectionism, but that is for later. Now we are addressing being compassionate towards ourselves, understanding and forgiving of ourselves as we go forward doing the best that we can with the information and the tools at hand under the circumstances we have created for ourselves – with the helpful knowledge that nothing is static. Life and we are evolving.
Recognize your suffering: don’t let it rule you – either by assiduously ignoring it or by placing it on the throne and becoming its servant; wallowing is not healing either. A quick aside: Self-pity is not the same as self-compassion. There is a world of difference — that’s why there are different words. Pitying someone or yourself is not a constructive act. In our times a connotation of contempt has grown around the action of pity/pitying someone that is absent in other words that seek to address describing feeling with others.
As a teen-ager I remember my mother admonishing my moody 14-ish self: “Stop feeling so sorry for yourself!” My older sister would taunt: “What’s with the pity party?” So I was taught it was not only selfish and unattractive behavior, but also I learned that it got me no where: it was unproductive. Hmmm. How is it some adults have somehow missed that day at “How to Be A Grown Up” school?
But I digress.
Perhaps most importantly, endeavor not to disassociate from your pain. Ironically, through compassion for yourself you will learn that it is not an other, that “bad back” or (from my repertoire:) “stupid seizure disorder”. It is you, part of you. There is no “it” and “me.” When feeling compassion for yourself – feeling your own pain and suffering – speak of “we.”
“Oh dear, my broken heart, what must we do to get through to the other side of this!?”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY TO US!