Compassion for Self and Kindness for Others

Featured Image: “Untitled,” © Jonas Witt (own work), Nov 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

When I first began the Kindness Challenge, I was feeling frayed, haggard, and on the cusp. I felt overpowered and threatened by circumstances that were beyond my control. My coping skills were always, almost, utterly depleted under the unceasing exigency. Like a raw nerve, I cringed and recoiled at the slightest prick, hypersensitive in my anticipation of the next deluge. Edgy and exhausted, my thinking slipped into rigid patterns, my self-compassion waned, and I stumbled along a circuitous course of self-perpetuating frustration over my “regression.” My intention at the outset of the challenge was to reconnect with a gentler version of myself. Through the first few weeks, I honestly noticed little change. When the fourth week of the challenge began, I was ready to begin again with renewed energy.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

~ Blessed Mother Teresa

The focus of week #4 was “Be Kind,” which sounded simple and direct enough. However, after practicing loving-kindness meditation for the past year while striving to bring a bit more good into the world as often as I could, I wasn’t sure how the week would be different from my routine. I was re-reading Niki’s wonderful list of suggested kind acts while thinking to myself, “I already make eye contact and chat with everyone I meet, both friends and strangers. I already hold open doors for people, I’m continually working on being a better listener, I often write encouraging notes to friends and family members, I donate money to the church every week and to my favorite charities every month, I try to go out of my way just a bit to help other people when I see they need a hand, and I endeavor to remain open to the smallest act that might add a little light to the world…”

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

~ St. Thérèse of Lisieux

As I mentally scrolled through this litany of kindnesses, trying to conceive of something novel (that also wouldn’t take up too much time in my zany, work-a-day life), I was struck by how difficult it was for me to acknowledge my ongoing efforts. (Even typing them out here feels boastful and wrong. “People will get the wrong idea about me,” the voice in my head is saying. “I’m not that good.”)

Oh, that little voice. It clings on. I am no longer feeling quite so fragmented. Time and space are a soothing balm, but so are prayer, meditation, and the gentle, consistent, understanding, and encouraging support of an expert therapist, a skilled dietician, and a host of patient friends and family. Whether my external circumstances are truly altered, or the shift is an internal one, or both (I suspect the combination), I am thinking and feeling better. I leave it up to those who know me well to judge if my subjective sense of improvement correlates at all with an exterior change in comportment, but I am telling myself that I am less reactive and volatile than I was a month ago. Of course, my mind and my moods ebb and flow, and I continue to struggle with difficult and distorted core beliefs, such as that I am a bad person, blameworthy and wicked. Yet, I accept that I am a work in progress, and this work is the enterprise of a lifetime.

tide
Tide,” © Supermariolxpt (own work), Nov 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

After toting about the book, “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion,” by Christopher Germer, for a couple of months, I finally started to earnestly read it again. I also found a few other, short articles by various authors about what I would call, for a lack of a better term, the wholehearted approach to building an enriching life. Perhaps I needed a little refresher. With a highlighter and a pencil, I plodded along, a little bit each day, allowing the words to percolate as I scribbled my reactions and ideas in the margins. When I noticed a troubling or repetitive thought or an unpleasant feeling, I jotted it down on a sheet of paper that I titled my “monologue diary.” In five, neat columns labeled situation, thoughts, emotions, rational responses, and outcomes, I attempted to identify my underlying self-talk and pinpoint the circumstances that prompted these automated messages, countering the distortions with compassionate but honest reframing.

“Unless this love is among us, we can kill ourselves with work and it will only be work, not love. Work without love is slavery.”

~ Blessed Mother Teresa

At the conclusion of each day, as I tucked myself into bed, I permitted a few moments to feel the crisp, cotton sheets against my skin, rub my tired feet, and reflect upon my day. I paused long enough to bring to mind the different conversations that I shared with friends and strangers, the smiles, laughter, and encouraging words that were exchanged, to remember the emails or text messages that I sent to my loved ones, the letters that I mailed, the prayers that I offered for others, and each small act of generosity, whether it be holding a door open or allowing someone to skip ahead of me in line. From a six-week course on positive psychology that I completed last summer through the free, online educational website, Coursera, I learned that meditating for even a short while on “micro-moments” of connection or positivity at the end of each day would affect not only my mood but my body chemistry and neurobiology. I brought to mind the experiences from the day that were not-so-great and reflected on the ways that I failed to live up to my values. Rather than blaming or castigating myself for all of my shortcomings, I offered myself the same kindness that I was trying to cultivate for others. “Nobody is perfect. Yes, I made mistakes, and it just proves that I am human. It just shows that I am still a work in progress. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to try again.” It was grounding and humbling. Silently whispering my prayers, asking for the help, the grace, and the strength to navigate the coming day with an open heart, I pressed my face into my squishy, soft pillow.

“I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness.”

~ Blessed Mother Teresa

A week later, my heart feels fuller, and my mind is more at ease. I continue to hear the sharply judgmental and critical voices telling me that I’m worthless, that I need to work harder and earn my redemption, and fearfully casting others as potential threats to my own best interests, but I understand where those messages come from, and I don’t become angry or frustrated with myself when they occur. I recognize that they are just thoughts and emotions, and that everyone experiences unwanted and unhelpful thoughts and emotions from time to time, but they don’t dictate who I am or the choices that I make. I still need practice. It feels like a tiny, baby step. The result thus far, though, is liberating. When I am compassionate with myself, my heart feels gentle, and I treat others the same way. The kindness flows outward, but it starts with me. Wishing you all a kind, gentle, compassionate day!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

~ Blessed Mother Teresa

Gentle breeze
Gentle breeze,” © Bill Harrison (own work), Dec 2014. CC BY 2.0. (license)
Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Compassion for Self and Kindness for Others

  1. Beautiful, thoughtful post, Lulu! I’m so glad you’re “thinking and feeling better” than a month ago. We really are works in progress. I love the quotes from Mother Teresa! I relate to the micro moments of compassion. Every night I like to reflect on the good things that happened that day, and the positive things I accomplished. Thanks for the reminders of self-love and self-compassion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad that this was something you could connect to. And you’re absolutely right about all of us being works in progress. I can’t even begin to imagine where the future will lead, but when I am in this frame of mind, it feels like I am on a good path.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are… keep moving on that path! And the future will sort itself out, I’ve learned it doesn’t do much good to dwell and worry about it. I tend to be a “what-if” person, and worry about things that haven’t happened yet. And usually they don’t, and I’ve worried for nothing. Sorry this comment kept going and moved in a different direction 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “When I am compassionate with myself, my heart feels gentle, and I treat others the same way. The kindness flows outward, but it starts with me.” I love that!! So true! It can be soooo easy to beat ourselves up for all of our shortcomings, faults and things we do wrong. Taking the time to compliment ourselves, pat our own backs and genuinely appreciate ourselves for who we are is so important! I just want to honor you for taking this at your own pace and committing to it the way you are. Continue to be gentle with yourself.

    I checked out that site you mentioned, oh my gosh!! How did I not know about that before??? I signed up for 3 courses last night and already started 1 😮 Thanks for the info! Have a beautiful weekend! By the way, I love your new picture. I noticed it a few weeks ago but it wasn’t appropriate to bring it up in the conversation we were having. You look beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Niki, thank you so much for all of your words of support and encouragement! It truly means a lot. I’m plodding along the challenge so slowly, I must admit that I have thought about just giving up on the final couple of weeks and reflections, but I’ll keep going, even if it takes me several more months.
      I’m glad that you found the Coursera courses appealing! The Positive Psychology class was phenomenal! I have actually thought about taking it again, but there are so many other books I want to read and online courses to explore. There’s another website called edX (https://www.edx.org) that is like Coursera and also offers MOOCs (massive open online courses). I haven’t taken any of those classes, but I’ve perused their offerings, and some of them look awesome. If only I had unlimited time! Slowly but surely, right? And thank you for the comment about my profile picture. That is so sweet of you to notice. ❤ Hope you have a great weekend, and definitely let me know how you like your Coursera classes! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awwww of course! Do what’s best for you, from the outside I see you doing so much inner work with this challenge. I encourage you to keep moving forward at your own pace but be mindful if you feel it’s for the best to not continue, then pursue that option.

        Oh my gosh, that’s a goldmine! I can’t wait to check that site out! I’m currently taking the public speaking course with the intention of that helping me to build up my skills to offer seminars in the not so distant future 🙂 I’ve also enrolled in the Positive Psychology and A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment.

        ❤ ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s no wonder you chose to punctuate your words with those of Mother Theresa. I love your whole-minded and whole-hearted approach to kindness. And your acknowledgement that it must begin with kindness to ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my goodness, Eli! Thank you for your comment, and I can’t believe it’s a week later and I’m only now just responding. You wouldn’t happen to have a time-management tonic, would you? I hope that your week is off to a good start, my friend, and that you are finding little ways of treating yourself kindly! In a way, I think I am glad that I am coming back to this post today, because I needed this self-compassion reminder again. Why is it so hard?!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s