Coincidence is great, isn’t it (but is there really such a thing?) I was thinking about self-compassion a few days ago, and then discovered a passage in a book about the very same subject.
I’d been thinking about self-compassion in the context of what a difference participating in an 8 week MBSR course has made to me. For most of my life, if I made the smallest slip-up, my automatic reaction was to say to myself “B****y idiot!!” ; “You’re useless!!” ; “There you go again, messing things up as usual”. Learning from the mindfulness of the breath, the body scan and other meditations, I have come to see that all I need to do, when my attention wanders, or I make a simple human error, is to smile, and bring my attention back to the breath, or say to myself “There I go, just being human again…and that’s OK”. If you’d known me before I started on the mindfulness journey, you’d know that this has been a huge transformation. I’m surprised the bruises didn’t show to everyone around me – I was beating myself up round the clock, every day, for the slightest ‘misdemeanour’. Now, I can see these things in context: I haven’t done them intentionally; the sky didn’t fall in; no-one was injured… And I can forgive myself within seconds and move on. It also means that I can leave other people’s reactions to my slip-ups to them: I don’t need to take on the burden of their judgement either. I can learn from their observations and, if necessary, take action, but I no longer have to be weighed down forever by guilt.
I guess one of the healing lessons from the course is that, rather than being some robotic, ‘perfect’ being, I am human, along with all the other members of the race, with our quirks, our judgements, our preferences, our griefs and our joys. I can forgive myself for being human; I can have some compassion for myself. I don’t mean wallowing in self-pity; I simply mean understanding that humans, all of us, fall along the way sometimes – it’s just part of being human.
It’s not a very great distance from having compassion for ourselves to having compassion for others. When someone else appears to stumble, rather than fold our arms and stand there in judgement, we can smile and say to ourselves “Yes, sometimes I stumble too…” We might even reach out a helping hand…isn’t that what we would want someone else to do for us…?
The book I was reading is ‘Why Kindness Is Good For You’ by David Hamilton, who I heard speaking recently. He was a research chemist, who has turned his attention to the science of the mind-body connection, and discovered, of course, how closely the two affect each other. His conclusion is very simple and is in the title: being kind is good for us. It has tangible effects on our body chemistry: it can, for example, soften our hearts in the sense that the ‘kindness chemicals’ (my term) protect against hardening of the arteries.
“And when we take care of ourselves, we begin to expand. We have more energy, and confidence, and conviction, and wisdom, and clarity regarding our future. Kindness for others becomes more natural then, and effortless. Compassion needs no thought. Gratitude flows out of us continually. And the hurts of the past fade away.”
David has a challenge at the end of the book: to do an act of kindness every day for 21 days. You might want to try it, and see what a difference it makes. He suggests getting a nice journal and, as you carry out a variety of acts of kindness over the next 21 days, record what you did and how it made you feel, and how it affected the other person. He also suggests carrying out some acts of kindness anonymously, so that the other person never knows that it was you!
I hope you had a peaceful Easter break, and you enjoyed the chocolate.
Be kind to yourself.