When I decided that I was going to write about compassion, my first thought was that I couldn’t believe that I had allowed my blog exist this long without writing about compassion. My second thought was that I have to get this entry right because compassion is such an important topic. That’s when I launched into my spiral of self-doubt and second guessing myself to the point of frozen deer-in-headlights-inaction. Generally speaking, I had no compassion for myself.
I taught my Reiki Level 1 class last weekend. Again, the difficultly we all have with having compassion for ourselves was demonstrated for me. This is a serious problem. I’m sure that you’ve heard that old adage, “You need to love yourself before you can love someone else.” The same goes for compassion and this is true for a couple of reasons.
The first: Without compassion for ourselves, we abuse ourselves to the point of exhaustion with negative self-talk and judgment. We have learned to navigate this world by teaching ourselves about what not to do in any given situation. When we do the thing we’ve told ourselves not to do, we come down hard on ourselves. This is a form of self-preservation, but left unchecked it can easily become a form of self-destruction. When we exhaust ourselves like this, we have nothing left to give to anyone else.
The second is this yummy¹ quote that I found in The Buddha’s Satori: “Compassion means the elevation of all that exists, including the grass, stones, animals, humans, to buddhahood, to the state of emancipation.”² The important word here is “all.” That means everyone. In case you didn’t get the picture, he included rocks and plants, too. “All” does not mean “everyone except you.” The second important word here is “emancipation.” This implies that no one is free (from suffering) until everyone is free (from suffering). This is a basic Buddhist idea. We are all one entity,³ and if any part of that entity is suffering, then we are all suffering. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not just letting yourself down, but you’re letting all of us down.
Hopefully, you’re now sold on the idea that it is important that you have compassion for yourself. Even so, I know that having an intellectual understanding of something and feeling that thing in your bones is not the same thing. This is the reason that your life has not been transformed, yet, despite the number of uplifting bumper stickers you have read, lately.
Cultivating long-term compassion for oneself is a difficult and complex issue. Often, this requires the healing of many, many layers of wounds. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one magical moment of true compassion for yourself. Having this type of experience will move you much further along the path of self-compassion because you’ll finally see what it looks like.
I can’t tell you how to manufacture this moment, but I can tell you what it contains. It contains the third person perspective. This means that you stop experiencing the world as you, and you start experiencing the world as your observer. This is something that happens naturally with enough meditation, and it is not as outlandish as it sounds. Most of us have people in our lives that we love unconditionally, flaws and all—friends, family members, pets, etc. If you can shift your perspective enough to see yourself in the same way that you see them, you will start getting glimpses of what it is like to truly have compassion for yourself. This is not about self-indulgence. It’s a balanced mixture that includes love, understanding and acceptance, which opens the door to emancipation—and truly thrive. This is a balance that only you know because that scale is internal.
I have only fully experienced this while in a meditative state, but those glimpses have informed all of the subsequent conversations I have had with myself.
If getting into a meditative state isn’t for you, you can start by talking to yourself in the way that would be the most soothing to you. You know yourself well enough, so you know what would make you feel good. Even if it sounds cheesy, canned and forced, no one else is going to hear it, so why not?
Give it a shot, folks, and don’t be afraid to comment on how it goes!
¹I’m using this word because Rita Fierro taught me how to use this in a non-food context, and I like it.
² Motoyama, H. (n.d.). Buddha’s Satori (1ST edition.). CIHS Press. Page 52.
³ My nit-picky Buddhist scholar boyfriend wants you all to know: “It’s worth at least footnoting that this ‘all one entity’ can be misconstrued. It would be more accurate, in many Buddhist contexts, to say that phenomena are connected in a way where all phenomena can be seen in any one particular phenomenon—yourself, for example—and that in all phenomena any one particular phenomenon (eg, yourself) can be seen. This is the notion that One is All and All is One, which can be seen in lots of Mahayana Buddhist traditions. Therefore, there is a sense in which we are all one entity, but a sense in which we are all separate but interdependent entities.”