Self-compassion: can I be kind to myself?
As M. Scott Peck, author of the New York Times bestseller The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth said, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Naturally, this sounds a lot easier to accept in print than reality but alongside my attempts to be more mindful on a daily basis, I have found self-compassion the most crucial and empowering in understanding and accepting that life is hard, so we should not be harder on ourselves.
I do believe that we are often our best and worst critics, and at times we may take tough love a bit too far when we are too quick to judge and even condemn ourselves for our thoughts and actions. The result – a somewhat downward spiral emotionally and spiritually that yields no good for anyone. Let’s face it, everyone has different stressors in life but that is no reason for us to forget to be kind to ourselves.
I have observed that while many people openly promote consideration and compassion for others, more can be done to start with ourselves by being less unkind in our choices of words used and be slower to label our actions and inner thoughts. Even though we think that others don’t hear them, our minds and bodies are conditioned by the way we frame our thoughts so let’s do ourselves a favor and practice some self-kindness. This could take the form of simple steps such as:
- Saying something kind to yourself each day when looking into the mirror or walking on the way to work or home.
- Penning a few encouraging words in a journal or in the notes section of your handphone and reflecting on them afterward in between breaks.
- Keeping a ‘happy box’ of memories comprising compliments and kind words others have shared about you over time and looking through them once in awhile. This may seem a tad bizarre but it does wonders for your soul (provided it does not become self-infatuation). I am an old school so I keep a physical box of cards and handwritten notes sent to me over the years for old times’ sake. Recently, I’ve progressed to snapping pictures of them before they fade away and that way I get to keep them handy on my phone too. If you prefer, you can start by keeping screenshots of encouraging and kind text messages that someone sent as well.
‘Mindfulness is practiced non-judgementally’
“Expectations just keep getting higher, you just need to manage them.” I first heard this comment 17 years ago and it keeps resonating with me because there is no denying this, especially when people are involved or should I say especially when the family is involved.
Where expectations exist, judgment almost follows immediately – it is such a reflex instinct that seeps into our daily lives without us even paying close attention to it.
I struggle the most with this aspect of mindfulness because I am prolific in judging everyone around me and I genuinely believed that others were doing the same to me so it’s just the way the world worked. However, as time passed, this habit became toxic and I needed to do something about it, fast.
This whole business about expectations spiraling was a double-edged sword and it hit me only after I lost a loved one in my life. Suddenly, I blamed everyone around me for not showing enough help, concern, and support during this lowest point in my life and I criminalized them for what they did or did not do and even what I assumed they thought. Secretly, I had become a travel agent for guilt trips and it became so painful facing them when I had so much bitterness. It also did not help when other family members joined the ride adding spice to make things worse.
Eventually, it took me close to three months to ease out of the pain and talk to a friend about all this judgment I was inflicting on my family, my friends and myself. I realized that:
- Expecting anything from anyone can do more harm than good: in general, I found this a handy reminder. It is always so much more meaningful and gratifying to receive offers of help or concern when you don’t or least expect it. Instead, setting expectations on friends and family may get you more disappointed and worn out. I am certain that I have let people down before so why should I judge them more than I was ready for?
- The beauty of the earlier point is the fact that you can apply it to yourself as well: as long as you feel genuinely happy doing something for someone else, go right ahead and if you don’t, then free yourself from the fear of being judged by others. This is truly liberating as it gives you the option to respond rather than living up to expectations, imagined or otherwise.
- Being open in using the disclaimer “please don’t judge me for xxx” can be a useful lead in conversations with others. This has become a common catchphrase among close friends when we share certain stereotype views or deep-seated beliefs that most people are generally not comfortable discussing openly. I have found that this gives people a sense of assurance as a conversation starter and if anything, it encourages an open dialogue, tilting the attention more towards safe sharing rather than hasty judgments.
‘Mindfulness is knowing what is on your mind’: especially when you’re stressed
“How am I supposed to know what’s on your mind?”
I have known many people who wished they could read minds – but alas that special power continues to elude us. But we could start with something more tangible by getting to know our own mind a little better ☺ Knowing one’s mind takes more than intuition to simply decipher matters of the mind as we evolve over time. To make things more challenging, stress complicates and often clouds our minds. Some of the ways I have tried to obtain greater clarity of mind are:
- Putting the “ME” in Meditating: I have to admit that I fell asleep rather often as I tried meditating so I needed to find another way of spending this alone time with myself. So, I adapted it and chose to verbalize my thoughts in a quiet space on my own. This was a lot more useful to concentrate on my key thoughts and developing a comfort level to speak my mind.
- Seeking my center: now and then, I need some time away from everyone just to be alone and be with my thoughts while doing simple activities. For some of my friends, trekking does wonders as the natural setting is so serene that it conditions them to spend time with their own minds and focus on getting from one point to another. For me, it’s a hybrid between window shopping and people watching. For some strange reason, these two activities provide an ideal context for me to calm down and collect my thoughts as I observed who and what was around me.
- Penning it all down into words: this works for me since I’m a journal enthusiast so it all comes down to putting my thoughts into words, especially when I am stressed. It helps me develop a comprehensive discussion with my thoughts while considering some realistic solutions to reduce the stressors. More importantly, it makes for really authentic reading on hindsight.
Is Mindfulness the Way To Go?
I believe it is and after seven months of living in moments of mindfulness, I am a lot calmer and appreciative of this state of awareness. Given my personality and passion for life and people, mindfulness takes me a step closer to helping myself before I attempt to help others as an educator, communications practitioner, and just a fellow human being.
So go ahead, have fun on this journey of awareness and be mindful of how you evolve as a person.
If you are still keen to find out more about mindfulness, you may want to check out these resources as well – I know I will be!