I first met Sherry Richert Belul in an online writing class, Telling True Stories with Laurie Wagner. In her profile picture, she was wearing a bright orange hat and feather boa, and the pieces that she wrote for class were sharp and sweet, beautiful and heartbreaking and true. After class was over, I kept bumping into her around the web, always loving our interactions. She is the brightest light, this one.
At some point, we became real friends. Sherry is the very best sort of friend, kind and generous, openhearted and full of joy. One of my favorite things she does for me is send me ninja poems where she records a short message using her phone, reads me a poem and says sweet things, and then she emails me the sound file. There is almost nothing better than a voice mail ninja poem love bomb from Sherry.
She even made it onto my vision board for 2013, in the most magical happy accident. I was selecting pictures, and cut out one from Taproot that I didn’t realize was her, was just a woman at a bright blue typewriter wearing a snazzy hat, an image illustrating an article about one of my favorite poets Maya Stein, a picture about which I said, “that hat looks suspiciously like one owned and worn by my good friend Sherry Richert Belul. If it’s not you, Sherry, please don’t tell me. The thought that it might be her/you, that she/you might represent the friendship and support of a collective of kindreds, of like-minded artists and warriors, of all those in my tribe, including all my kind and gentle readers, gives me so much joy.” She later commented and said “but it is me!” and I knew that I would somehow get to meet her in person this year, which I did — twice!
Sherry Richert Belul is an ordinary gal seeking poetry, color, spontaneity, and connection in everyday life. She and her company, Simply Celebrate, offer unique experiences through products, services, stories, adventures, and a community that helps people wake up to all the joy, spontaneity, color, and connection that is available in every moment. Her mission is to “Turn ordinary days into an extraordinary life!” and through her work, she “offers products and practices that help people celebrate ourselves, the people we love, and the shape of our lives — even when none of it looks the way we had imagined.” Her practice is celebrating the ordinary, unwanted, and unexpected. (And everything else that comes along). “Joy is a practice. What can you celebrate in this small moment of your extraordinary life?” I am so happy to share her perspective on self-compassion with you today.
Self-compassion is that way we whisper, “Oh honey” to ourselves while we wrap Grandma’s frayed purple quilt a little tighter around our scared body. It’s the way we quickly take it back when we mistakenly say “you idiot” to ourselves. It’s what inspires us to ask for a re-do and murmur, “That’s okay; anyone could have made the same mistake.” Self-compassion is having the spinach-pineapple-mango smoothie instead of the cinnamon roll ‘cuz we know what really nourishes. It’s saying no even when our best friend pleads, because we are over-booked and over-committed and over the idea of thinking we need to sacrifice ourselves for someone else. It’s saying yes to the lime green nail polish, to that crazy notion, to his kiss, to the giddy risk. Self-compassion is the way we look in the mirror and wish the wrinkles weren’t there, but change our focus to how damned sparkly our eyes are. Self-compassion is having the patience to listen, listen, listen to that all-knowing Self deep inside of us — because there are no rules, pat answers, should-be’s, or this-is-how-it-is’s; there is just this moment, this is what’s calling to me. There is this collection of me’s inside of me, and the desire to help all of them feel safe and warm and vital. Self-compassion is that feeling of “I’m here with you, no matter what.” It’s letting ourselves love the rose and gold fingerless gloves, the smell of cotton yoga blankets, the sound of our son’s silly songs, and our own plump toes. Self-compassion is drawing the circle around us bigger and bigger and bigger, to accept it all: all the glitter, all the dance, all the mud, and all the mess.
I learned self-compassion from my cat Tiger, who used to try to jump to the high shelf and sometimes missed. She’d look at me, give a little sniff, wash her face, and walk away, tail held high. Next day, she’d try that jump again. Best I can tell, she didn’t beat up on herself for the fall. And she just kept attempting to go where her instinct told her to go.
I leaned self-compassion from my Grandmother, who had none. She’d shop for size 18 brown or gray shapeless dresses, all the while berating herself and her body. I always wished she’d buy herself something flowered, silky, or sexy.
I learned self-compassion from guy sitting outside his little house at college. While everyone else was boozing it up at frat parties, he had dragged a comfy armchair outside in the warm spring air and was reading “The Tao of Pooh.” He was all alone, but seemed to be about the happiest person I’d ever met.
I learned self-compassion from every honest soul I’ve ever met. From the seventy-year-old woman who wouldn’t let herself have even the smallest slice of cake for fear she’d get fat. From the sixth-grade girl who slumped her shoulders in sorrow. From the middle-aged professor in Indiana who set off in a brand new direction, despite his age and great fear. All the people who abandon themselves and don’t abandon themselves are my great teachers.
For the past 20 years I’ve been soaking up self-compassion tools and tricks from my spiritual teacher, Cheri Huber. Cheri starts with “There’s Nothing Wrong with You” and takes us on a journey to discovering absolutely everything that is right with us, which happens to be everything we are.
Like many of you, some of the go-to practices I use include yoga, meditation, dance, hot baths, hot sex, and hot tea. But here are a few favorite practices that aren’t so obvious:
Recording and listening: This is a practice I learned from Cheri Huber. Basically, you know how Squawky Polly is always yammering in your head about what you could’ve done better or how you should be or “what’s da matter with you?” Well, recording/listening (R/L) is the antidote to that. R/L is turning on a recorder and saying all the things we wish our best friend/lover/mother would have said to us. It’s our own voice using the words we know we love offering us the compassion and wisdom that exists always, always, always within us when we quiet enough to hear it. Because it is such an awesome tool, I’m hoping Jill might let me share a link to Cheri’s book, which outlines this practice.
Sending notes to strangers: It sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the biggest and fastest ways to offer myself compassion is to write a note to a stranger. I’ve launched several small projects in which I’ve asked folks to tell me if there are people in their lives who are going through a hard time and need a little kindness. I swear to you, as soon as I pick up the pen to write to these folks, I’m writing to myself. Yep, it is that crazy cosmic thing that happens when I just feel utterly connected energetically. So I am writing to someone’s mom who is depressed and hopeless because she broke her hip again. And while I am writing to her, I am absorbing all that love and compassion into my own bones. I feel it. Can’t explain it, but I know it.
Wearing clothes that make me feel like the me who wants out. Some folks might thing that clothing is kinda silly and shallow. But for me, it is a straight shot to self-compassion. There’s a part of me who wants to be alive and expressive in a certain way. Offering her the chance to wear artful clothes is like opening a portal to possibility and joy. It’s like one of my all-time favorite poems by Kaylin Haught, full of “yes, yes, yes.” For you it may not be clothing, but maybe it is the art on your walls or the music you listen to or your flower garden. It’s that invitation.
Allowing poetry to sooth and thrill. Speaking of poems (“yes, yes, yes”), learning poems by heart and living with poetry in my life are like insta-compassion. Poetry links my crazy bouncing ball of a spirit to all the other humans out there who are experiencing bliss or grief or confusion or depression. One poem I’ve learned by heart to say to myself whenever I am lost and sad is this Hafiz poem.
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?
For me, the answer to this question is buried within the question itself! In my own life, a lack of self-compassion often comes in the form of looking for what’s missing or what’s wrong. It slips in like this, “You need to earn more money. You need to lose a few pounds. You need to be more generous.” So at the risk of being confoundedly meta — I’d have to say that what I most need to learn and practice, moment by moment by moment is turning my attention away from any question of “what’s missing” and replace it with a focus on “what is.” The recording and listening practice I mentioned above is one of the best ways to do this: simply underscoring all the things I’m grateful for about myself and all the things I love about my life can usher in profound feelings of compassion.
This journey of self-compassion is most definitely a lifelong adventure. I feel INCREDIBLY lucky to be able to explore this with you, Jill, and with all these other amazing women writers, teachers, and artists.
P.S. Here’s a little story about self-compassion and this piece of writing. Ole Squawky Polly mind wants to tell me that this isn’t good enough. That I missed the mark. It wants me to feel bad about something. But what I know is that I tried my best to be present and to write what wanted to be written. I showed up, let life live through me, and now it is done. Self-compassion is turning away from that squawk-squawk and simply seeing what the next moment holds, which is … lunch. No reviews, no regrets, no what-ifs. Ahhhh.
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Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Me. Yup, you heard that right — it’s my turn.