"Like a caring mother,
Holding and guarding the life
Of her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Hold yourself and all beings."
How can we be like the Buddha and hold ourselves lovingly even in the midst of change, challenge, disruption or difficulty? How can we be as gentle to ourselves as a mother to her only child? I know for myself, it's especially hard to remember to be gentle when my soft, human, vulnerable heart needs it the most. Yet, it is in these moments when it is essential to practice SELF-COMPASSION and self-care.
We may not get it perfect, we may stumble and fall, but I believe tenderness toward ourselves is possible, even in dark times.
Self-compassion, as described by Dr. Kristin Neff, has 3 elements.
I really like her 3 step approach to loving-kindness toward ourselves:
Can we be warm & understanding towards ourselves even when life doesn't go our way?
2. Common humanity:
We are not alone in our feelings & we all have the shared human experience of challenging times.
Can we observe thoughts and feelings with spaciousness and equanimity so as not to become over-reactive or overly identified with them?
Probably for many of us, it is when we most need love and kindness that we tend toward being judgmental and harsh toward ourselves and others, or we even push others away. To practice remaining open, kind and curious in these moments goes against the grain of our conditioning (for most of us). It is often when we feel emotionally flooded or feelings get intense that we want to push away, shut down and wall out rather than open up, get curious and just sit with ourselves or another. The good news is that the more adept that we get at being kind and compassionate to ourselves during hard times, the easier it becomes to act kindly toward those around us who are going through their own version. In essence, the kinder we become toward ALL of ourselves, the more kind and patient we can be with those we love (and maybe even those we don't love so much).
In Rumi's well-known poem The Guest House, he describes the various 'visitors' (feelings, emotions, thoughts) that arrive at our doorstep each morning and invites us to treat each one of these 'guests' honorably. He even goes on to say that these various guests may be 'clearing you out for some new delight'. This is powerful stuff in my opinion. If we only welcomed in the guests we like and want in our home (our self/soul) and turned away the less desirable guests, we could be missing out on the subtle riches they are bringing to the table. Deepak Chopra says emphatically that behind EVERY emotion, or feeling of being triggered, is an unmet need. So maybe those undesired guests are unmet needs that are just calling out softly (or loudly!) for our attention. The more we try to push the door shut on them, the louder they inevitably become. The more we open to them, invite them in for tea, listen to them and love them, the more we will understand them and hopefully, develop some compassion for them.
It's not an easy process but one that I think is worth exploring. It takes courage to become still, to let go of judgment and fear and to pay attention to the various parts of ourselves that are crying out for Self-Compassion. But we are not alone, we have a shared humanity and we can practice bringing spaciousness and equanimity to ourselves. We are the ones we've been waiting for and we are worth it!
Take a moment to pause, close your eyes, and place a hand on your heart. Take a long slow deep breath in and out. If it feels comfortable, whisper a few words of love or comfort to any part of you that is hurting, shut down, overwhelmed, ashamed, or fearful. Offer yourself some compassion today!
Here is Rumi's Guest House in Full & 3 poems that are food for the soul and that support and uphold the 3 elements of Self-Compassion outlined above:
The Guest House by Rumi:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
A poem for Self-Kindness-
Love After Love by Derek Walcott:
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
A poem for Shared Humanity-
Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte:
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
A poem for Mindfulness-
Unconditional by Jennifer Welwood:
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game;
To play it is purest delight;
To honor its form – true devotion.
As Always, I'd love to hear from you. Please hit comments below, to let me know what is in your heart and join me in Mexico for my annual Mythical Yoga Retreat, March 26-April 2, 2016!