What is compassion you may wonder? To me compassion is more than a feeling: it’s a way of being in the world. I offer this discussion in relation to the New Year. And in particular in relation to the challenging times we are currently experiencing. Think back a few weeks, when you were feeling hopeful and ready to start again (or trying to feel hopeful....). Reflect on your positive attitude and confidence to begin to change negative habits and make this the year that you (lose weight, exercise more, begin meditating, etc.). As the New Year has taken root, how are you feeling now about the goals and intentions that you may have set a few weeks back? Like most of us, we are likely feeling disappointed and possibly even angry with ourselves as our good intentions have fallen to the wayside. We may also be feeling angry and fearful in general, but I propose some of the outer tension we are experiencing can also be in relation to our experience with ourselves. We might not even realize we are experiencing anger (in connection to ourselves). We might be so used to disappointing ourselves that the inner dialogue is like a friend and companion. But this friend, who we may be comfortable with, isn't really being very friendly. This friend is feeding our negative inner critic. Our inner critic is that voice inside of us that continues to tell us that we are not good enough, not living up to our expectations and or potential. And this voice reinforces all of our old wounds.
So how do we deal with this voice, which seems to be becoming louder and louder? How is it possible to be OK with oneself despite being constantly put down day after day? I purposely stated, being OK with oneself as a focus. You may wonder why I didn't say, how can I get rid of this voice and stop it once and for all? I do believe it is possible to change our relationship with our inner critic, and transform it into an ally. I don't believe though the goal is to vanish it from our being. 'Why not destroy it? Its not only not helping me, it’s making my life more miserable?’ The reason I suggest accepting our inner critic(s) vs. destroying our inner critic(s) is connected to the subject of this post, compassion.
I believe we all have many parts of ourselves, some we are more familiar with than others. I believe as a therapist the path of healing is connected to coming to know and accept all parts of ourselves. Learning how to accept those parts of ourselves that we don't really like and or feel good about it is a process. I feel so grateful to be able to walk alongside of my clients during this journey. I know it is not easy. Accept all of myself you say? Even those ugly parts of myself that I try to ignore, push down and ultimately pretend don't exist... Has this worked? Ask yourself: ‘Do I feel better, and more peaceful and whole by pretending that they don't exist?’ Ultimately If one was truly honest with oneself, I would propose the answer is ‘No, I don't feel better, I am still suffering’.
So how does one learn to accept oneself? I believe this can happen by first practicing becoming more aware of one's thoughts? Noticing the thoughts, good and bad, is a good place to begin. Likely the 'bad/ negative thoughts' are easier to hear. Research has shown that our brain is wired to focus on the Negative. Why is this, I’m not 100% sure, but I definitely have experienced this myself. I am not saying though that one should only think positive thoughts. Once again, I believe it is necessary to acknowledge all our thoughts. But we can train our attention towards positive and compassionate thoughts. Once again it’s a practice. It begins by listening. Then once we notice and are aware of the (unhelpful) thoughts, we can work on questioning and challenging the thoughts.
few This leads me to the idea of how much power we give our thoughts. Over the past years as I immersed myself into the healing world of Mindfulness, I have come to see it is possible to see our thoughts as just thoughts and not actually attach to them. One challenge as humans in this day and age, is that we believe that if we have a thought it must be true.
One helpful option for working with our thoughts (and inner critic) that I have discovered is to do 'The Work'.
Inspiring author and leader in Truth Telling, Byron Katie, developed ‘The Work’. She has identified 4 primary questions that we can easily use to challenge our thoughts…
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
If our 'friendly' inner critic surfaces we can use ‘THE WORK' as a way of challenging and consequently suspending beliefs that aren’t serving us. How does compassion figure into this? How do we move forward in this New Year when we already feel like we have failed? Notice I wrote the familiar thought 'I'm a failure..." Notice the word, notice. By practicing Mindfulness and becoming more aware (and noticing) of the unhelpful thoughts, we are acting in a compassionate way towards ourselves. I haven't yet used the term self-compassion, as I know too well how hard it is to be compassionate to oneself. But this is the practice. We can be compassionate towards our loved ones, but it typically much harder to offer the same compassion to ourselves. By implementing the practice of Mindfulness we can start to be self compassionate. We begin by first noticing the thoughts. This can take a while to move past. It takes practice to notice the thoughts and then to also challenge the thoughts, so be kind to yourself if you choose to do the work. Be kind to yourself just for the sake that you deserve it! The Inner work begins with self-compassion and can spread to compassion for all beings which one may say is the Outer work. And we all know we can all use more Compassion these days.
If I can help you do the work or 'The Work' please contact me. I would love to work with you to practice this act of self-compassion. And or any other acts of self-compassion.
Also I would love to hear your comments and or thoughts about any of these ideas.