Again I caught myself this morning thinking “you should have these posts written earlier, ready to go.” But first there was meditation, a half cup of coffee and the writing of morning pages, and then there were dogs to be walked and I wanted to get to the Farmer’s Market before all the strawberries were gone. I let go of the should, gently set it down on top of the pile of mail I still haven’t looked at, certain that my dear friend and teacher Laurie Wagner, of all people, knows the importance of going on a long walk, taking a pause, focusing on the moment as it is, as it arises, and would completely understand how a strawberry is so much more than a piece of fruit.
Laurie Wagner is the creator of 27 Powers, “a writing teacher + coach, author of 7 books, mixed-media artist, fervent collage-maker, mother of two, and a one-time amateur racquetball champion.” I’ve written about Laurie before, saying in that post that “Laurie’s energy is radiant, vibrant and raw, lighting up and electrifying the space, however virtual it might be. She is at once your favorite grade school teacher, most popular camp counselor, beloved childhood friend (the one who climbed trees and loved books), best girlfriend, and precious mother.” She’s recently dubbed herself “Tender Truth Serum, In Human Form” and I couldn’t agree more.
I get to finally meet Laurie in person in September, get to hang out with her three different times over the course of three months. I’ve been having dreams about it, and in each one, I am talking to someone else in a crowded room, turn to see her for the first time and burst into tears. When I imagine meeting her, there is a sense of intense joy, but also an odd mix of relief and sadness, as if there’s a part of me saying “where have you been? I’ve been waiting, looking for so long.” It’s enough to almost make me believe in reincarnation, like she was my guru, my beloved, or my mother in a past life and I’ve been searching for her ever since.
As a teacher, Laurie has a particular kind of magic, power, love. It makes me think of what Thich Nhat Hanh said, that “you must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Laurie’s teaching loves you in just this way. When I find myself in a moment of not knowing what to say, or being afraid to say what I know is true, all I have to do is imagine Laurie, touch in to her energy, and I am brave, free to write what is wild and raw and beautiful. I’m so happy to share her answers to my self-compassion questions with you today, so happy for you to meet her if you hadn’t already.
image by andrea scher
1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?
Because I am imperfect, because I am flawed, I allow myself to make mistakes. I will bumble things and the wrong words will come out of my mouth. I will hurt you and I will hurt myself. But because my heart is good, I’ll know that I never meant to. And it’s this “never meant to” that enables me to forgive myself and to forgive you too. I believe in the words, “ I’m sorry.” What else is there to say?
My husband and I had a therapist who told us that the only two words couples need to say to one another are, “I’m sorry.” So my husband and I made these little badges that said, “I’m sorry.” Whenever we failed each other – which was daily – we held these badges out to the other. We didn’t mean to hurt each other, but we knew we would. This is how we found compassion for each other and our marriage.
image from laurie’s website
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’ve always been incredibly hard on myself. My Father was hard on himself. We looked so valiant, so full of humility – but it wasn’t for either of us. Sure we both had a desire to learn and to grow, but I think we were just as afraid that we needed to be perfect so we wouldn’t get creamed by people. My desire to be perfect has a lot of FUCK YOU in it – as in “FUCK YOU – now you can’t touch me.” Anyone with an alcoholic parent will understand this.
Someone once said of me that I was the most tender, tough person they knew. I think that’s true of me and age has helped me to become even a little more tender. There’s just so much each day that I can’t control and that I have to shake my head at. It’s getting easier to let go because holding on – trying to get a perfect dinner on, AND get to the gym, AND meet a friend, AND edit those papers, AND be a good mommy is more and more impossible. Self-compassion for me might be emailing every appointment I have over a week and canceling everything. It helps that I surround myself with wonderful people – people who are on the self forgiving path – people who love me – who don’t want to see me cream myself because they know that that doesn’t bring the best out of me, or you, or anyone.
image by andrea scher
3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?
Recently I fell into the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes. It had been a rough spell in my life and one thing I know about myself is that I tend to reach for immediate gratification when I’m stressed. Coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, shopping. Not in excess, but those are my go-to’s. Sure, I’ll take a bath, or sometimes lie down, but I know myself. The cigarette thing was ugly and I knew it had to come to an end. So I blogged about it. I outed myself instead of holding it inside like some cherished, slimy secret that I was going to feel lousy about. Outing it allowed me to come clean – not in a punishing way – but with compassion and understanding for myself. A lot of people wrote to me about their own tendencies to do something similar. We’re all in the same boat, just different details. I’m not a bad person for smoking, it’s just a bad habit.
Last week in my writing class I inadvertently hurt a student’s feelings. She began crying, got up from the table, slammed a door and wrote an entire piece about how mad she was. As she read her piece my little tin heart was beating so loud. I was scared. I’d F’d Up – the part of me that wanted to be the best teacher in the world was very uncomfortable. It would be clear that I wasn’t perfect. After she read, I simply apologized in front of the whole class and hugged her. What else could I do? I’m not perfect. But my heart is good. I make mistakes. I learn. What more might I do?
image by andrea scher
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?
Self-compassion is something that I get to practice multiple times a day. Every morning when I wake up, I place my hand on my heart and I say, “help me.”
I’m sure you can see, kind and gentle reader, why I am looking so forward to sitting in one of these chairs at 27 Powers. I’m not entirely sure I won’t burst into flames (immediately after bursting into tears), but I’m so willing to risk it. To find out more about Laurie, to connect with her:
Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Judy Clement Wall.
P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.
P.S.S. Special thanks to Andrea Scher for allowing me to share some of the amazing pictures she’s taken of Laurie.