Category Archives: Kristin Neff

Day of Rest: Self-Compassion

snowwillows

A truce can be called in your inner war. Peace is possible. Your old habits of self-criticism don’t need to rule you forever. What you need to do is listen to the voice that’s already there, even if a bit hidden — your wise, compassionate self. ~Kristin Neff

The theme for the first week of Feast was self-compassion. If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know this is one of my favorite topics. It started when I went to a new doctor almost two years ago. I’d had crushing, constant fatigue for almost three years and my longtime doctor had tried every test and treatment she could think of, finally suggesting maybe it was time to try a holistic approach, and admitting that was outside her expertise. I found an integrative practitioner who was also certified in internal medicine and made an appointment. After an hour long conversation with this new doctor, one in which I revealed I had an eating disorder, she told me I was obese, tried to put me on a diet that would restrict my calories, not allowing any dairy or gluten or sugar, and recommended I do more cardio. She hadn’t run any sort of tests to rule out an underlying cause and it was clear to me that this was her prescription for every patient, no matter what their issue.

The visit broke my heart a little. I went in with so much hope, and was so honest with her about everything, only to have her offer me the same old story. I was looking for an expert, someone who could fix me, ease my suffering, make me feel better. What she offered was an option I could have found in just about any women’s magazine, in any gym or weight loss program. As a women in this culture, I am constantly bombarded by the message that if I just lost weight, I’d be happy. If I just ate less and moved more, I’d be healthy. If I just got myself into the “normal” range on the BMI chart, I’d be okay.

Even back then, something deep in me knew that was bullshit. The cake is a lie. The afternoon of that appointment, I left for a retreat at Shambhala Meditation Center with Susan Piver. I spent the weekend contemplating my situation, attempting to answer the central question: “how do I heal myself?” With Susan’s support, the magic of the space, the specific practices we did together that weekend, and the community of people in attendance, I came to an answer: self-compassion.

If we think our job here on earth is to fix ourselves, we will keep looking for the broken places. If we believe our job is to be kind, we will keep lavishing love on ourselves. ~Geneen Roth

pinksnowmoon02Self-compassion is the ground of everything. As Rachel says, “Before we can address whatever unrest, misalignment, or longing that has shown up in our life, we must first bring to life a compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.” If we aren’t already practicing self-compassion, this is where we must start, and where we may find ourselves returning over and over again.

Building a foundation of self-compassion is hard work. I’ve been practicing and studying for almost two years, and I am still such a beginner. I retook Kristen Neff’s self-compassion test again this week, and even though my score had gone up almost a full point, I still fall into the low self-compassion range. One example of how much I’ve changed though is that when I started this process, a result like that would have triggered self-aggression, judgement and criticism. I would have smashed myself to bits for not being better at this, not scoring higher, not evolving faster. Now, I simply notice, work to maintain my curiosity and sense of humor. I might feel disappointed or sad, but I’m not going to make things worse by beating myself up for it.

I did make myself giggle because before I took the test I had to pee, but it was late and I felt like I needed to hurry up and finish, so my first and habitual instinct was to hold it, to wait until I was done with the self-test. Do you see, kind and gentle reader, just how ridiculous that is? I was going to make myself suffer in order to rush my way through a test that would measure my self-compassion. I still have so much to learn. But, as Kristin says,

It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime, but at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself.

pinksnowmoonThis same message is repeated over and over again in my Buddhist studies. Pema Chödrön often talks about how meditation practice is simply the act of befriending yourself. She also says,

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.

In a talk given through the Daily Dharma Gathering about “How to Love Yourself,” Lodro Rinzler talked about the same, saying,

It’s okay to actually look at yourself. It’s okay to become familiar with who you are. And who you are is basically good — whole and kind and strong.

Spending the week contemplating self-compassion, the way I practice it, I noticed how much kinder I am to myself, how far I’ve come, the willingness I have to be gentle and kind and patient — to nourish myself. I also noticed the places where I still have work to do. One thing I realized this week that surprised me is how much I still use self-aggression as a way to motivate myself, a way to make sure “shit gets done.” What’s so silly about that is most of the stuff I’m trying to get done involves helping other people, attempting to ease suffering — but in my approach I’m generating suffering, and that math doesn’t work.

For some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love. ~Geneen Roth

May we all be kind to ourselves today. May we rest if we are tired. May we eat if we are hungry, and savor what we eat. May we ask for help if we need it. May we tell someone we love them, even if the person we tell is ourselves. May we open ourselves to joy. May we allow ourselves to take up space. May we be nourished, both cherished and well-fed. May we notice where we are suffering and lavish that hurt with love.

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.

Day of Rest

Sundays are for remembering how much I love the world – this world, with all its sorrows & impossible acts of kindness. May your Sunday offer what renews your own connection to your soul-awareness, may it offer you a chance to fall in love, again, with your life. ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer

For those of you “new here,” let me explain: Day of Rest posts are intended to support my effort to cultivate rest in my life, (I’m not very good at it — taking care of myself, slowing down, resting). In my effort to be better at this, I’m keeping a sabbath day in my life, a day of prayer and rest, of presence and mindfulness, ease and love, and on these days I’d like to offer you, kind and gentle readers, something that might help you in that same pursuit.

I am having a slow and lazy Sunday. I meditated and wrote first thing this morning. After a long walk with Eric and the dogs, I went to yoga, a class taught by my friend, one of my favorite teachers. I was shocked when I signed in to see I hadn’t been there in three months. I fell asleep during shavasana, so when I came home, I took a nap — for 2.5 hours! I was hungry then, so I ate some watermelon. When it is in season, I can’t get enough of it, so crisp and wet and sweet. I had some lunch and a big glass of cold water, and then came here to write a post, back in my bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon.

Since beginning work on my Self-Compassion Saturday project, the Universe has been bombarding me with messages about self-compassion, helping me to focus on this important concept, this essential practice. Everywhere I look, people are talking about it, sharing links, books and articles and quotes and podcasts. Here are a few I’d like to share with you today, on this day of rest:

It’s that last one that really got me thinking. You see, right now I am reading Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, or at least I am trying to read it. I don’t seem to have time to read lately, and there are a lot of things I want to be reading. Then I realized this morning I did have time, but one thing needed to change to make space, so I made the pronouncement to Eric: I am not watching TV this week, (he’ll keep me honest). This has happened before. We once went for a full year without, and haven’t had cable TV for many years. I watch less than average, but it is still an hour or two in my day that I can free up for reading. It’s the thing I decided to do, both to rest and to practice self-compassion.

Do you have something in your life that is mucking up the works? Something you could let go of for awhile? Give yourself some space, show yourself some kindness — I am wishing you that freedom, today and always.