A couple years back, during a guided meditation on retreat, I was given the prompt, “Why are you here?” I don’t remember exactly how I silently answered that question but I think it was something along the lines of, to deepen my meditation practice. Whatever it was, it was a pretty standard response for the setting. And then I resumed focusing on my breath. After a few moments though, another prompt was given, “Why are you really here?” This prompt grabbed my attention. Why WAS I really here? I asked myself and paused. To get better at self-compassion, was my internal response. And I sat with that for a spell. Self-compassion was a concept increasingly taking up space in my psyche during this period of my life. It was a concept I understood intellectually but didn’t quite get in a heart-felt and embodied way. This is good, I thought to myself, I really do want to get better at self-compassion.
And then a third prompt was given, “Why are you really, really here?” And this is where I was stopped in my tracks. Where time suspended in a sudden wave of incredible discomfort. To get over my fear of being self-compassionate, was my response. What was that? Fear of being self-compassionate? Am I actually AFRAID to be kind to myself? The tears that quickly welled and fell let me know that yes, it was true, I was in fact terrified to express self-compassion. Terrified.
Thus began my journey, over two years in now, to actively work through my fear of self-compassion and to indeed get better at it. Interestingly and thankfully, fairly early on in my journey I stumbled upon the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, a Professor and Researcher in the field of Human Development and Culture. It was in that stumbling that I discovered I’m not alone in this fear. Quite the contrary actually. According to Dr. Neff, this fear of mine is quite common in the U.S. There are many folks out there who are, as I have been, afraid that should we be genuinely nice to ourselves we will in turn be irresponsible and lack accountability. We fear that self-kindness might hinder our capacity to make things happen and achieve our dreams. That is for many, being tough on ourselves (possibly even harsh) is a prime motivator to become the person we most want to be. Sketchy logic, I know. Completely not fun, I also know. But yes, that’s what’s going on for many folks. And I have been one of them.
Now I have two reasons for sharing this. One is for those of you who share this fear with me who may think it’s just you. It’s not, it really isn’t. You’re not alone. In fact, listen to this fantastic podcast with Dr. Neff to see just what I mean. (She also touches on how to begin working with self-compassion.) Know too you’re in a community filled with compassion resources. You can spot some of those by the orange wristbands they’re wearing this month. You may also want to explore practices such as Metta, also known as Loving Kindness. (Click here for a guided Metta practice with nationally recognized Meditation Teacher Sharon Salzberg.) And of course consider talking with your Teachers who may have ideas for supportive resources and practices.
My second reason for sharing this though is for those of you who don’t struggle with self-compassion, I’m sharing this with you to make a request really. My request is that you verbalize from time to time ways in which you are kind to yourself. And if you’re up for it, take that a step further and acknowledge out loud, here and there, when you notice someone else showing self-compassion. Why? Because for the folks who may intellectually grasp the definition of self-compassion but struggle to embody this concept and connect it to their daily lives, those simple acts and gestures can really help them in their journey. This I also know.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, 8 Limbs Executive Director
Join Ashley Dahl and Tracy Hodgeman this Saturday, February 16 for A Day of Kindness, their day-long retreat on self-compassion.