How to have more compassion for ourselves and others.
All my life I have been hard on myself. My inner critic has lived in my head rent free. Noone has ever pressured me the way I have pressured myself. So its taken a lot of intentional brain rewiring for me to give myself the same compassion I am able to give to others. Mindfulness can help us develop a refined ear for the self-critical voice. Additionally, It has taken a lot of work for me to give compassion to people who hurt me, and to see them as sick people suffering too. Researcher Kristen Neff provides a simple mantra to say to yourself in times of suffering. I would suggest a hand over your heart.
“This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”
Neff’s research has found that people who are hard on themselves are less resilient after a setback and more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Compassion starts with compassion for yourself. First you need to relax, breath, and settle your mind down. Maybe you close your eyes and imagine a little child. How would you talk to that hurt little child? Neff also talks about how suffering is not caused just by pain but by our resistance to the pain. The more resistance the more pain. What is it you are resisting, that you cannot accept? What would it look like if you could accept it? It doesn’t mean its good or bad, it just is.
Noone gets everything they want, and noone is perfect, how can you meet pain with equanimity, or being more gentle with yourself, having less frustration. Recognize that your frustration is not just happening to you, all humans go through this, we all make mistakes, it is a shared experience. Through mindfulness we can meet our sensations and feelings as they are. We don’t suppress them, we are open to the full spectrum of our emotions. We also don’t get caught up and exaggerate our emotions, we simply observe them, feel them, let them come and go.
When you put a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water, it changes the taste of the water. However, when you put the same amount of salt in a gallon of water, the water will hardly change taste at all. Our self-critical side is like the teaspoon of salt. What changes with practice is that we can surround it with greater kindness and awareness.
Next time you find yourself experiencing self-criticism you can counteract it with meta, or loving kindness. We can say to ourselves inwardly and silently, May I accept myself just as I am … May I open to this moment with ease and kindness.
When we can begin to have more compassion for ourselves, as spiritual beings having a human experience, accessing a full range of emotions, and living imperfect lives, than we can begin to send that love out to others. More importantly, we can have compassion for people who are hurtful or we are resentful of or are in conflict with. We can see others as hurt little children. We can remember that everyone is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. As Ram Das said, we are all just walking each other home.
There is a story about a team of researchers trying to study a group of gorillas in a jungle. The research team tried to get close to the gorillas a few times. Before attempting to do that, they would gather supplies and pack their gear, which always included guns for protection, in case of an emergency. The researchers would then set out, in the hope of getting close enough to study the gorillas. But the gorillas pushed them back. Until, one day, a lone researcher decided to travel to the camp, without any guns. The gorillas welcomed this unarmed researcher into their home. They allowed him to stay in close proximity while he observed them and they invited him into their larger camp.
When we are dealing with a challenging situation, we often can approach it like the armed researchers, our walls are up and our mind is closed, we are defensive and maybe even hostile. People respond to our energy the same way and put their shields up and we can’t connect. But if we can approach people with openness, the result is different, if we are patient, compassionate, and understanding, people will relax and open up.
May you give yourself the compassion you seek and enter the jungle unarmed and with an open heart.