Service from Compassion

“Simple things are always the most difficult.  In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.  That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy…  all these are undoubtedly great virtues…  But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea, the very fiend himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then?”  Carl Gustav Jung

What simple things do you find inordinately difficult?  What difficult things do you find easy?  In what ways do you seek simplicity in your daily life and routines?

Who taught you about compassion?  What was the message?  Who taught you about self-compassion?  How was that message similar to or different from the lessons about compassion?  Who are your role models for compassion and self-compassion?

How often do you take actions that comfort, nourish, strengthen, and relax your body, mind, and spirit?  In other words, how well do you take care of your needs?  In what areas would you like to be more self-caring?  Can you nurture yourself without feeling guilty or self-indulgent? What is the difference between self-compassion and self- indulgence?  Is there such a thing as under-indulgence?

When you’re emotionally frazzled or upset, how do you calm and comfort yourself in healthy and positive ways?  How do you reach out comfortably to others for nurturance when in need?  What is on your list of things you can do to nourish yourself?

When you make mistakes, can you put them in perspective and laugh about them?  What have you already forgiven yourself for?  What remains yet to be pardoned?

To what degree have you been you the victim of impossibly high standards held up to you by others?  In what ways are you unnecessarily harsh with yourself?  What impossibly high standards have you set for yourself?  What have they cost you in the past and present?   How can you give yourself permission to ease up those standards in the future?

“Do I detect the smell of burning martyr?” asked John Cleese in a Monty Python sketch.  What effect have the self-appointed martyrs in your life had on you?  To what extent do you find yourself replicating their behavior?

In what ways could self-criticism, self-punishment, and self-denial actually be a form of narcissism?  What can we learn from individuals who are compassionate with everyone but themselves?  We’re all doing the best we can.  If we had known how to do anything better, we would have.

That being the case, how can you fault yourself for your best efforts?

Have you ever criticized yourself for “poor judgment?”  Have you forgotten that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes?  In what ways have your “mistakes” been essential for your growth and development?  In what ways have your “mistakes” led you to higher levels of functioning or deeper levels of understanding and compassion?  How many of the “mistakes” you’ve criticized yourself for could be reframed and reinterpreted with self-compassion?

Instead of rose-colored glasses or the blue filters of depression, what if you examined your past experiences and action with the lenses of self-compassion?  What if you rewrote the story of your life from the perspective of self-compassion?

“Tried and found innocent,” said Alan Bennett of his fictional characters.  We tend to find what we look for, so what happens when you search yourself for evidence of innocence?  If it is true that all behavior has a positive intent, what happens when you revisit your past actions to get back in touch with those positive intentions?  Can you forgive yourself for not being consistently self-compassionate?

What would your life be like if you lived with fearless self- compassion?

In his book, “Compassion and Self-Hate:  An Alternative to Despair“, Rubin enumerates the cost of both direct and indirect forms of self-hatred:  depression, drug abuse, suicide, perfectionism, illusions, impossible standards, boredom, self-criticism, stress and tension, lack of spontaneity, despair. “Despair is directly proportional to energy and substance used in the service of self-hate. Emotional well-being and relative freedom from destructive inner turmoil are directly proportional  to energy and substance used in the service of compassion,” concludes Dr. Rubin.

It is a truism to say that we can’t love others or treat them any better than we take care of ourselves.  So much unkindness directed toward others is merely self-hatred projected outward.  Self-compassion is the basis for acceptance and inner healing.  It is easy to say that we need to live our lives in a self-compassionate way, but how is that to be done?

We may like to think that the solutions to our problems can be solved by direct action, but most of the work of rewriting our lives may need to be done “beneath the surface.”  We must work with context, with the relationship with ourselves before we can hope for significant results in our efforts to change anything in the outer world.  Direct action may not always be what we need, and we must face the fact that many of our difficulties in life may simply be a reflection of a troubled relationship with ourselves.

Ultimately, practicing self-compassion requires that we face, accept, acknowledge, respect, honor, and integrate those dark places within ourselves, the flaws and shortcomings, the parts of ourselves we choose to hide, ignore, deny, resist.  “The disowned wolves of our dark inner forests are baying for recognition,” wrote Gay Hendricks in “Learning to Love Yourself“. “Bow to them and watch their ferocity dissolve.”  We must surrender to our deepest longings, descend to the darkest, most discomfiting places within, and allow ourselves to be utterly lost and confused. “You do not do the work of changing,” says poet David Whyte.  “You feed and nourish your longing in whatever way you can and then the longing does the work.”  This is working beneath the surface, working with the deepest parts of ourselves.

Of course, “experts” in the art of non-compassion for the self can take things to a new level with recriminations over the lack of self-compassion.  So, don’t forget it’s all right not to be totally self-compassionate.  This is a process, and we’re all “getting there” at our own speed.

And this is a process that births and restores our creative fires.  In the process of “owning” all parts of ourselves — the beautiful and the ugly, the wanted and the unwanted, the acknowledged and the shameful, the light and the dark — we bring all parts of ourselves together, we integrate, we become whole, we become self-compassionate.  When we “kiss the inner frog,” we ourselves become what we thought we were seeking “out there.”

It is as if our wholeness is “stalking” us, calling to us, whispering to us to stop resisting its summons. “The Hound of Heaven” pursues us and nothing satisfies our soul until we allow all the scattered pieces of ourselves to reunite.  When we are young, we please our senses and our greed and our outer needs, but what lasts for us is what pleases our souls.  For many of us, what pleases our souls is creative work — writing, painting, planting, teaching, healing — and the friends of our soul are not necessarily the ones we would have chosen in early adulthood.  To become whole, we must first descend into the fear and pain and uncertainty in order to become who we truly are.

Let us give ourselves credit for doing difficult and important work. We’ve been working hard, haven’t we?  As poet E. E. Cummings wrote:  “to be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

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