One of the places I’m most likely to stall out in my own personal growth and development is where I get disabled by self-judgments.
I have a pretty harsh inner critic.
She has high standards, very little patience, and a scornful tone of voice.
I can’t believe you just did that – what’s wrong with you?…
You have no integrity; you’re such a hypocrite…
That wasn’t just a mistake, that was a colossal mistake and you’ll never recover…
You see, I always knew you were an imposter and a fake…
The moment she takes over, I get flooded with shame and indignation, and when shame and humiliation begin to waft into my consciousness, my defenses gear up:
I withdraw, rationalize, intellectualize, and camouflage.
I say I’m fine when I’m not.
I smile when I want to cry.
I say thank you when I want to say fuck you.
I say fuck you when I want to say I’m feeling sad and lonely.
I push people away when I’m most wanting empathy.
I attack people when I’m feeling tender and vulnerable.
Honestly, it’s just a big internal mess.
I share this with you today because I really want to emphasize the importance of cultivating a deep compassion practice whenever we commit to any transformational personal growth journey. In fact, compassion is number two on the list of my five core commitments for living my most empowered, growth-oriented life.
The truth is that we can only change those things we’re willing to become aware of, but that necessary awareness is so very painful if we carry a sharp inner critic around with us. (I wrote about consciousness as core commitment #1 last week.) Without a deep compassion practice, it becomes very tempting to bail on all that painful consciousness-stuff.
Compassion focuses our attention on practices that are designed to alleviate suffering, soothe us, and remind us of our goodness. It’s a more direct path to the kind of life-affirming changes we’d like to see in ourselves and others.
I think of compassion as having two fundamental aspects:
The recognition of suffering
The desire to alleviate that suffering
First, we need to recognize suffering in ourselves and others, and while this may sound relatively simple it’s not always that obvious. For example, one of the ways I stay disconnected from my internal suffering is by converting it into judgments. Judgments and evaluations can feel much better to me than my underlying sadness, loneliness, or vulnerability.
Also, I can stay out of touch with other people’s suffering by focusing on what I think is wrong with them. As long as my focus remains on what is wrong with me or what is wrong with others, I’m disconnected from my own contact with the underlying suffering we may each be experiencing. And the more disconnected I am from that suffering, the more likely I will be to inflict more pain, harm, or hurt in an attempt to get a new outcome.
Compassion on the other hand, involves a willingness to feel into the suffering of any given situation, to recognize the hurt, the pain, and the fear, and to respond to that with an open, tender, and empathic heart. It’s a commitment to doing no harm, to recognizing the harm that has led to this moment, and to vow to stop that cycle of suffering by choosing a new next step. Compassion is about choosing to bring tenderness. Presence. Empathy. Understanding. Attunement. Settling. Acceptance.
Practice with yourself and others on a daily basis.
What suffering do you see in any given dynamic?
Look for the hurt feelings.
Look for the pain.
Welcome it. Name it.
Sit next to it. Get curious about it.
Accept it. See it. Hear it. Feel it.
There is nothing else to do than to be with it — with kind, loving eyes and an open heart.
If you’re looking for a daily practice to increase your own self-compassion, I highly recommend Tara Brach’s guided meditation, Light RAIN in Difficult Times. Do this anytime you’re feeling triggered, having a hard time, or needing more self-connection. If you do it daily, you’ll start to internalize it and have it at the ready as an internal resource that you can use anytime, anywhere, any day.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: