Category Archives: Amazing Women

Self-Compassion Saturday: Andrea Scher

If you are like me, kind and gentle reader, there are certain moments or events, certain people and experiences that have changed you, transformed you in the best possible ways. And if you are like me you carry the memory, the love and gratitude for those times and people tucked inside your heart forever, the most precious of things held close.

One of the people I treasure in this way is Andrea Scher. I wrote her an open love letter exactly one year ago, posted Saturday the 16th of June in 2012. That post even included the above picture! I didn’t know either of these things until I started writing this post today. This is the exact kind of magic that Andrea attracts, generates, inspires.

self-portrait by andrea scher

self-portrait by andrea scher

I’ve lost tract of the number of classes I’ve taken with Andrea, but each one of them has been that particular kind of magic. The first Mondo Beyondo session I did, my first class with her, happened at the same time I started this blog, inspired me to finally start. That experience came full circle when Andrea invited me to be her teaching assistant for the most recent session of Mondo Beyondo. She has always been so incredibly generous, and her wise and compassionate coaching is helping me to create some of my own future ecourses, and beyond that to create a life that I am utterly in love with living. I am who I am right now in large part because of her support and encouragement. In the open love letter I wrote to her, I said,

Andrea Scher has been the sun at the center of a universe of amazement and goodness, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around.

Photo by Mara

Photo by Mara

I found Andrea Scher’s original blog, Superhero Journal, at a time when I was so brokenhearted, such a mess, so stuck, so tired. I didn’t know how to keep going, where to even start. I was searching, my view clouded by grief, knew that I had abandoned myself and my dreams, but didn’t know how to find my way back.

The person I am today: writer, artist, warrior, brave, open-hearted, funny, strong, joyful, sane, is possible in part because of Andrea Scher. She invited me to expand my idea of what was possible. She encouraged me, was kind and honest. She was constantly admitting the things that are hard and messy, while still pointing out what’s beautiful and precious. She reminds me of this quote from Muriel Rukeyser, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Split open, and through the cracks, the light would get in (or maybe get out?).

I’m so happy to be sharing Andrea’s answers to my four questions today.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

I’ve heard that compassion means “to suffer with.” What a gift, right? To not have to suffer alone, to allow somebody’s suffering but sit right down next to them and maybe even hold their hand.

Self-compassion is learning to suffer with ourselves. It’s extending the same kind of kindness we would to a dear friend. It’s learning to sit with ourselves and allow our suffering, to hold our own hand.

Practically, this means that we can acknowledge when we are suffering and not push it away, or tell ourselves it’s not that bad, or you don’t deserve to complain… These are some of the things I used to tell myself, echoes of what some important grownups in my life affirmed. For me, self-compassion is allowing myself to feel my feelings (even if they make others uncomfortable) and letting them move through me. (They always do)

Then it’s about using a kind voice to ask good questions: What would help right now? What do you need most? or What feels hardest?

image by jen gray

image by jen gray

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

Mostly, I learned from going through hard things and NOT being particularly compassionate with myself. This kept me stuck so much longer than necessary.

I cultivated a kind inner voice when I became a parent. Once I became a mother I noticed what my own self-talk sounded like – You idiot! You’re always messing things up! This was not a voice I wanted to pass on to my kids! So I practiced speaking really gently to my son. Over time it became a habit and I started addressing myself this way too. What a beautiful side effect of practicing non-harm and gentleness.

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

Recently, I learned a beautiful exercise from Kristin Neff. When you are having a rough moment, try this: Put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and say, “This is suffering.” Then take a breath and say it again.

It’s such a simple practice, but really profound.

eyes_closed_self_700

self portrait by andrea, eyes closed

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

This is going to sound very unscientific, but I must have carved a deep neuro-pathway in my brain that goes like this: Someone gets annoyed or angry with me. I completely FREAK OUT and do whatever I can to make it better (including betraying myself and my truth in the process) and if I don’t get a response from them or they are still angry, I believe that I must be a horrible, broken and unlovable person who doesn’t deserve to be alive.

I know. Totally dramatic, right?

I suppose I am making progress because I have a consciousness around this string of thoughts. It’s still very painful though… Next time, I’m going to put my hand on my heart and simply say: This is suffering.

andrea_cherr_497

You can see why I adore her so much, right? Since she sent me her answers, many times I have closed my eyes and put my hand over my heart. In that moment, imagining Andrea’s kindness, her smile, contemplating my love and gratitude for her is a path towards loving myself, her light leads the way. To find out more about Andrea, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Laurie Wagner.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.

Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning

i'm still standing

You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. ~Buddha

For just a minute, I am taking a deep breath and sinking into this moment. Eric is in the kitchen making pie crust — I’ve had a thing about pie lately, buying store made versions that claim to be Marionberry but aren’t quite, and he wanted to make me a “real pie.” Emeli Sandé is singing Next to Me, part of a mix I made myself on Rhapsody that I listen to while I write. Both dogs are asleep in their beds behind me. The window is open and I can hear the wind blowing, see the blue sky and bright green of my lilac bushes and the trees above. My hair is still wet from a shower, and I’m wearing clean soft cotton pjs and my favorite sweater.

*sigh*

I feel pretty content right now, in this moment. But I don’t always feel like this. I struggle, I suffer, I smash myself to bits. There are old, habitual ways of thinking and being that no longer serve me, and yet I still act them out, get stuck.

It came to me recently that at the heart of all of my issues, underneath every irritation or sadness was one thing. And when I realized what it was, I felt a deep longing, an intense hunger to understand, to heal, to transform that suffering, and I knew that I was connected to a tribe of wise and compassionate women who could help me, if only I was brave enough to ask.

pathgate

So I sent a request to them. It started like this,

Dear Beautiful You,

I said a prayer and took a deep breath before beginning this message to you. I am so worried it will come off like a creepy sales pitch or inappropriate request — it isn’t. This email, this request is an utterly authentic wish from the deepest part of my heart, an expression of my ongoing longing to ease suffering, in myself and in the world, and to be of service. It isn’t about my blog stats, building my own worth or value, or any other self-serving, self-fulfilling ego bullshit. This is not about little me, this is about Big Love. In fact, it would be so much easier for me to not do this, to not ask, but I feel compelled to, and as Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.”

I am writing to you with a tender heart full of longing. I am writing to YOU because you are a wise and compassionate teacher, writer, healer, artist. I am writing because I have big questions and I think you can help me answer them.

“How can I help the harm that has been done unravel itself? How can I help others find their own wisdom, kindness, and sense of humor?” (Pema Chödrön actually said that, but they are also my questions). As a writer and a teacher myself, the spark for the enclosed request came to me as these things always do: I was curious and confused, felt a hunger to understand something.

I was struggling and went to a new doctor to seek medical advice, to determine if the cause for my suffering were in my body. The help I was offered, the “answer” I was given didn’t sit right with me. In fact, every cell of my body said “that’s not it.” That very afternoon, I left for a meditation retreat led by my dear friend and teacher Susan Piver. In that safe and supportive space of contemplation the real answer, the true path, revealed itself: self-compassion.

Great! – and yet, what is that, how do I do that?! Having been in a long term abusive relationship with myself, I don’t know how to be in love, to be loving, to fully and completely accept myself. The momentary sadness of not knowing faded when I realized I knew many amazing, wise and compassionate women who have been my guides already in so many other ways – I could ask them.

So I ask you, humbly and with such gratitude and love, these four questions:

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

As a writer and a teacher, part two of anything I learn is the strong desire to share it, the knowledge that if this is helpful to me there are others who also must need it. So my intention, my wish is to not only benefit myself from your answers, but to share them in two ways:

1. “Self-Compassion Saturday,” a once a week post on my blog that includes an introduction to your other good work, explains why I asked you specifically, gives your answers and link(s) to your work.

2. When all the answers I get have been posted, I’d like to collect them into a PDF ebook that can be downloaded by anyone for free – not a “follow my blog/sign up for my newsletter and get a free gift” thing, but a truly free gift to anyone who would benefit, an offering made from love.

mettaprayer
This is the plan, kind and gentle reader: one post each Saturday until they stop coming, (29 women have said “yes”), and then I’ll create an ebook including the whole collection that anyone can download for free. These women’s willingness to be a part of this project, their generosity and kindness, has left me gobsmacked, so full of love and gratitude. And each response that I’ve received so far to the four essential questions has been a gift filled with compassion and wisdom that I can’t wait to share with you.

First up, next Saturday, is Artist, Author, Actionista Mary Anne Radmacher, (I’ve written about her before). She had her responses to me less than 24 hours after I asked, and even answered three extra questions! It’s so good.

I must go now. I smell pie :)