Monday, October 12, 2015

The Art of Self Compassion

One day the sun admitted,
I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
The infinite Incandescence
That has cast my brilliant image!

I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!

Hafiz • My Brilliant Image • translation by Daniel Ladinsky

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had some agonizing experiences with self-judgment.  Sometimes it can feel like an underlying anxious mood that permeates your efforts to begin or complete a project.  Other times it might cause you to explode in an inner tirade of self-criticism, harsh and berating.  It might also hang around, as you chew on your past actions, replaying the scenes with self-effacing commentaries as you cringe with regret. 

While this might be considered a natural fall-out of being human, the tendency to be hard on yourself can easily become habitual, creating an inner atmosphere of disappointment, anger, even self-loathing resulting in the sense of being your own worst enemy. 

There’s a story about the Dali Lama being asked about this phenomenon of Self-Hatred.  He was so confused by the word that he asked for clarification.  When he finally understood what it meant, he replied, ”But, no. This is wrong. The way to relate to oneself is with self-compassion and love. You as much as anyone else in the universe are deserving of your love.”

Sounds so simple, yet why is it so difficult to follow this wise man’s advice?  One explanation has to do with the tendency to associate self-compassion with being selfish and self-indulgent as well as considering yourself to be undeserving.  The other explanation: not knowing how to go about it.  How does one “do” self-compassion?

Here are some truths about Self-Compassion that can help.  It is neither selfish nor self-indulgent.  It does not lead to narcissism or disregard for others.  And it is unconditional, independent of your deserving.   Further good news:  it is part of your true nature, one of the soul-qualities of your Authentic Self.  It is not something you need to create from scratch.

Yet it still requires practice to gain access to Self-Compassion on a regular, healthy basis.  More on this in my next blog post:  Essential Practices for Self-Compassion.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Easy Practices for Befriending Your Soul

4.  Mini Vacations:  when was the last time you went on a real vacation — one that didn’t require mega amounts of planning, packing, rushing, waiting, and stressing?  And if it was indeed one of those rare and wonderful experiences that refreshed and revitalized you, did the benefits seem to evaporate as soon as you returned to work and the fast-paced demands that awaited you?

What if you could weave the restorative effects of a great vacation into your daily life without the effort and the need to schedule a huge block of time for it?

Webster defines vacation as “freedom from any activity; rest; respite; intermission; a freedom from work, study, etc.; a time of recreation.”

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell said “You must have a place to which you can go in your heart, your mind, or your house, almost every day, where you do not know what you owe anyone or what anyone owes you.  You must have a place to go to where you do not know what your work is or who you work for.” 

And from poet, philosopher John O’Donohue, “There is a center to you that is sure and clear and free.  You must visit that place as often as possible.” 

The Soul of you loves freedom, time and space away from all the busyness, the roles, the obligations, pressures and expectations.  Time to reflect, to rest and take in the nourishment, beauty and wonder of life.  Time to simply be. 

Try this:  Take a mini vacation — a short break in the midst of all the busyness —that nourishes the soul.
Gaze out a window as far as your eyes can see.  Changing focus from close up to far away can instantly release tension.  Take a long deep breath and slow exhale.  Scan the scene with soft focus then find an object of nature — a tree, grass, a cloud formation, water — and rest your eyes on it for several seconds.  You’d be surprised how long this can seem. 

Other possibilities: 

  •  Take a short walk; breathe the fresh air; notice sights, smells, sounds.
  •  Have an afternoon snack, slowing down to fully enjoy it.
  •  Make freeform doodles on a scrap of paper.
  •  Write the opening line of a suspense novel, a poem, or a song. 

Some revitalizing aspects of vacations are:  a change of scenery; slowing down; relaxing; letting go of effortful thinking; playing; and receiving the nourishment of life.   All of this can occur within a short timeframe.  With practice, you can learn the art of taking short breaks — mini vacations — that nourish your soul.   

Have fun creating your own favorite mini vacations — and please let me know what you discover. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Befriending the Soul of Who You Are

Ever found yourself so swept up in the pressures of everyday living that you lost touch with your own inner world? Like most people in our increasingly complex outer world of multiple roles, information overload and the responsibilities of work, family and financial obligations, you’ve probably learned to override your deeper needs and put yourself last. Though you may sense it’s a good idea to slow down on occasion to reflect on life and attend to the soul of yourself, you may also feel there’s little opportunity in your busy already filled life to take that time. The fast paced rhythm of modern life keeps grabbing your attention away from the subtler, quieter voice of your inner world.

This blog is dedicated to the Soul of who you are that longs for the freedom to enjoy your life. It’s also dedicated to the conscientious one that you are who strives to meet the demands and responsibilities of life — who wishes there were more time to do it all, and who — given the encouragement, opportunity and guidance — is interested in attending to and drawing from the rich inner resources of who you are.

Simple, Everyday Practices for Befriending the Soul of Who You Are

1. Inner Slowing Down with Focused Attention: The pace of the outer world in today's society is fast and frenzied. The natural tendency for most people is to match that rhythm both outwardly and inwardly without noticing. Before you know it you’re speeding along with everyone else, feeling stressed, pressured and revved up. But did you know it’s possible to slow down on the inside and still keep an effective pace with the outside? Great athletes are good at this. A downhill skier, snowboarder or speed skater can move with incredible speed while maintaining an inner calm along with steady, focused attention.

Try this: while commuting on the freeway or working on a project or attending a high powered meeting — take a long slow breath and imagine a soothing balm spreading through you. Keep a soft, focused attention on your task at hand as you consciously slow yourself down on the inside. This will actually improve your productivity, others will perceive you as present and attentive — and you will feel less stressed and more calm inside.

2. Noticing the Beauty of Nature: No spare time in your already packed schedule? Not a problem — this practice takes very little time and often none at all. Since nature is all around, all you need to do is practice the art of noticing.

Try this: Walking from your car on your way to a meeting, pick something out in your natural surroundings and pay attention to it — a tree or branch of a tree, the sweeping lines of its particular design; the ground under your feet; even on the pavement there can be pebbles, leaves, grass growing through the cracks, a tiny flower; look up at the sky; notice the shapes of clouds; feel the air, breezes, fragrances, temperature. Breathe in the nourishment, take note of the beauty, feel the vitality of being alive.

3. Conscious Eating: Do you sometimes skip meals? Eat on the run, at your desk or in your car? If and when you do sit down for a meal, do you add in another activity — reading, going over a report, watching TV, or discussing business with an associate?

Try this: have a meal, sitting down in silence without any other added activity. You can do this alone or with willing others. It’s an ideal way to practice “inner slowing down.” Take a long slow breath before beginning. Reflect with gratitude on all that went into the preparation of the meal. Then savor each bite, noticing textures, flavors, the sensation of swallowing, feeling the nourishment, the calming and the energizing effects of the food. Believe it or not, this can be done in a very short time. Like the other practices, it’s a matter of shifting the focus of your attention and cultivating awareness of your inner world.