I will be tender with other people’s hearts.
I will be fearless with my own.
~Judy Clement Wall
I have been deep in practicing self-compassion these past few days. The loss of our sweet Dexter offered an invitation to be fully present, experience the full measure of life, keep my heart open to the bitter and the sweet, receive big love from so many, honor all that is precious and impermanent, sink into the comfort of being connected, and be gentle with myself.
It seems so right that it would be Judy Clement Wall’s responses I’m sharing with you today. She is one of my dear doggy loving friends (in fact, in her Ten Things About Me list on her website’s about page, she says “I feel sorry for people who don’t have dogs”), a woman who “gets it,” a member of this awful club of those who’ve loved and let go. As I’ve said about her before, “In both moments of celebration and grief, Judy has offered her encouragement, inspiration, and support. I am so lucky, so grateful.”
I’ve written about Judy before, “writer. doodler. love warrior.” In that post, I said,
I can’t remember how I first encountered Judy’s work, but I do know the first community project I took part in was her collaborative project with Julia Fehrenbacher, 41 6-word Days … I immediately adored her gentle, kind, brave and funny spirit, and her ability to connect people.
Everything she writes … invites readers into a conversation, into connection, to community. It might be her superpower, that and love, which is also her religion.
Judy always challenges me to open up a little more, to contemplate, to feel and to think. We have a lot in common: writing, dogs, hiking, and yoga. We also both apparently tend to be a little Lucille Ball-ish, slightly clumsy and adorably goofy from time to time. We both are in love with love. I think it’s the answer to every question, and she wrote a manifesto about it.
I admire Judy for many reasons. She’s a mom, (dogs and kids), a wife, a yogini, a warrior of love. She’s a shared project instigator, a master doodler, a practitioner of hiking, a seer of beauty. But most of all, I admire and aspire to her writing success. She’s both self and other published, (I’ve heard a rumor she’s working on a novel, among other things), committed to her work, to engaging with the world and her experience, and sharing that with her readers, inviting them to do the same.
Since I wrote that post, Judy has also begun to pursue her art in earnest. She is simply one of the most loving and real, creative and playful, gloriously messy and brilliant women I know. When I think of her, I can’t help but think of what Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” I’m so happy to be sharing her perspective on self-compassion with you today.
1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?
Once, when my son was little, he drew me a picture. I said I loved it, though I couldn’t tell what it was. I started pointing out specific parts of the picture that I liked, and then he’d say things like, “See how I made the tail long?” and “I know she has spots, but I wanted stripes.” Eventually, I figured out he’d drawn our Dalmatian and I declared it the best Dalmatian drawing ever.
Of course, there’s no other way that story could have gone. I would never have risked crushing his budding creative impulses by offering anything other than praise and encouragement. We do that with the people we love. We see their imperfections and we encourage them to spread their wings anyway because we were never expecting them to be perfect, and we absolutely know, with every fiber of our being, that they are capable of flight.
Self-compassion to me is when we turn that same sort of deepest truth and nurturing attention on ourselves. It’s when we stop expecting ourselves to be perfect and then beating ourselves up (mercilessly!) for falling short. It’s when we’re patient with ourselves the way we’d be with a child or our best friend, knowing that they are worth all the tenderness we are giving them and so much more.
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?
I guess I had a moment that set me on the path. At a very difficult time, I’d made some truly disastrous decisions, one after another, putting at risk the things in my life that are most important. The problem was that even after I’d realized the magnitude of my mistakes and was well into the work of repairing my life, I was still lost in my guilt and shame. I believed I deserved every bad thing that happened to me, and, maybe even more damaging, I couldn’t accept anything good.
In my moment of clarity I understood that if I didn’t forgive myself – truly forgive myself – I would never be able to move on. Of course, the realization and the making it so didn’t happen simultaneously. I still felt lost, not knowing how to get where I needed to be. I looked for teachers, guides, a path, resources. I read Eckhart Tolle, Martha Beck, Jack Kornfield, Sugar (Cheryl Strayed), and so many others. I devoured anything written by smart, soulful people talking about being human.
I took up yoga and meditation, and I wrote about my experiences. Over time, step by painful step, I accepted myself, realizing that (just like everyone in my life that I cherish) I’m exquisitely human, capable of fucking things up royally… but also of stepping into grace, gratitude and forgiveness.
3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?
I’m still learning this, but I think it’s about consciously being a friend to myself. My tendency, and I think this is true for so many people, is to be incredibly hard on myself. Mean, actually. The voice in my head can be very vicious. And the problem with having a constant inner dialogue that is undermining and judgmental is that I start to look for love and validation externally, and that’s like running on a hamster wheel, or trying to stand tall on shifting sands.
So I’m learning to be gentle with myself. Patient. Forgiving. I’m using the “What can I learn from this question” instead of berating myself for mistakes. And I try to think what I’d say to someone I love if they’d screwed up or been rejected or produced something that was less than perfect. I would never tell them (as I do with myself), “Of course it didn’t work out. What made you think you could do that?” I’d love the crap out of them as they work their way through their disappointment and pain, and I’d tell them this is how life works. For everyone.
More and more, I try to love the crap out of myself.
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?
I get better all the time, but I still struggle with not being enough validation for myself. I’ll write a piece and feel good enough to submit it, but if an editor doesn’t get back to me or rejects it (a fact of life for writers), I doubt the quality of my work, rather than assuming it wasn’t a fit for that publication and trying again somewhere else, which is what I would tell any other writer to do. I’m using writing as an example, but the pattern of assuming I’m not (good, smart, savvy, talented, etc) enough exists in all parts of my life.
I think being self-compassionate requires me to value my own opinion, my own voice, as much if not more than I value the opinions of others. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, but I’m learning. It’s a practice. It involves doing things I love – writing, doodling, yoga, hiking, connecting with nature, building community – because I love them, and doing them consciously, grounding myself in a life that makes me strong.
I am filled with love and gratitude for Judy. Ever since I received her responses, I’ve been trying to “love the crap out of myself,” and continuing to love the crap out of her. To find out more about Judy, to connect with her:
- Visit her website
- Read some other things she’s published
- Shop her Etsy store
- Friend her on Facebook
- Follow her on Twitter
Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Anne-Sophie Reinhardt.
P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.