Self-compassion

It’s easy to feel like I’m failing these days.  Generally I’m a very happy person and can appreciate a moment or a day or my life in general.  I can easily take the backpack of expectations and obligations off my shoulders, set it down on the sidewalk and take a long nap in the sun — in other words, I can cut myself a break.

But in our modern American working culture, those of us trying to be fully present, grow as human beings and make a difference in the world have a constant laundry list of things we’re juggling and trying to do “right.”

Here’s what I’m trying to do on an average day like today:

  • Be a stand-out worker for my employer, completing projects well and on time
  • Be a great wife to my husband, loving and supportive
  • Keep a house that is clean and neat and an outdoor landscape that is presentable (so as to not enrage our neighbors)
  • Take care of my body by eating right every day and exercising most days (working on this one lol but regardless of my success, it’s a constant thought and indeed something I’m trying to do right always)
  • Take care of two adopted dogs, making sure they get exercise, get fed, get outside when they need to, stay up to date with their veterinarian and have overall wellbeing
  • Continually open my heart and soul to God, my Maker, my Savior — living like he’s real by actually praying/talking to him, reading his story and other writings that will help me grow in him
  • Actively participate in church community, learning from people who are more mature in spirit than me, reaching out to new people, focusing on nurturing other people’s needs as well as just having fun
  • Grow in awareness of where my food comes from and what’s in it, move from unhealthy processed foods to whole foods purchased from farmers (or grow it ourselves at home) and prepared lovingly at home
  • Protect the earth for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren by recycling and buying eco-friendly products as much as possible
  • Practice financial health by eliminating debt and living on less than we earn, putting away savings for emergencies, saving money for retirement (bleh, I loathe the new concept of self-sufficiency as an elderly person, but that’s another post) and spending money with purpose, as well as paying all bills on time and maintaining a good credit score which further saves money
  • Caring for poor people in our locale and in the world, both financially as well as relationally
  • Challenge my mind by reading the news, articles, books, etc., broadening my intellectual horizons and always learning
  • Be a good friend to all the special people I’ve grown close with in my life, keeping in touch, remembering the details of their lives and our shared lives (I have a horrible memory but this is part of being a good friend)
  • Stay informed of local, state, national and even international politics and current events, speaking up for what I believe is right in the world of policy-making, voting in elections and having some clue as to who the candidates are and what the issues are
  • Keeping my body healthy by going for regular check-ups with my doctor and other specialists as needed
  • Keeping my teeth healthy by going to the dentist regularly, brushing and flossing
  • Keeping my spine and nervous system healthy by going to the chiropractor regularly, having adjustments, using good posture (not important to everyone but very important to me)
  • Keeping my hair looking decent by getting haircuts every so often, and washing and styling everyday
  • This is not so much for me, but some people continually maintain the whiteness of their teeth or the bronze sheen of their tan, taking time, money and effort…

Have I made my point?  (And this is a list without having any kids yet!  It will probably double.)  My point is that there is an endless list of things about ourselves — our bodies, minds, spirits, habits, relationships, etc. — that we constantly think about and constantly maintain.  It is absolutely overwhelming and surely this must be a modern phenomenon?  When in times past people thought more about… oh, survival?… rather than DVR-ing their favorite TV shows, the list of concerns was maybe not so long.

I just wanted to call attention to the extremely demanding list of expectations we put on ourselves, constantly, 24/7.  If we feel like failures, it’s because we are — failures at an impossible task of maintaining everything imaginable.  Perhaps the FAIL belongs to the impossible task itself, rather than our not-doing.  Perhaps the fail belongs to culture, that faceless force.

In response to this, I have one word: self-compassion (or is that two?).  Self-compassion is feeling caring and forgiving toward oneself.  I’ve encountered this concept in two ways.

One: Martha Beck wrote about it in an article once, and I wish I could find that for you now but a 20-second Google search is not yielding it, heh.  She basically took readers through a little exercise where they closed their eyes and imagined a little child in the corner crying.  Here’s where I forget the details, but she ended with this: “The little child lifts her head, and she is you.  You are the child.”  At this point in the story you are feeling immense compassion for the vulnerable child.  Anyway, that was one way to understand self-compassion.

The second way I encountered this concept was directly, in a time of prayer during college.  I remember being totally overwhelmed with the workload of life and feelings of inadequacy.  And I didn’t hear anything audible but it suddenly dawned on me that God saw everything I was doing, he saw every little detail of my life that I was trying to take care of.  He saw how hard I was trying.  And he was not disappointed in me in any area.  No, he knew me and he loved me.  He did not see the unfulfilled list — he just saw me, and with great love.  That little revelation brought some tears of relief — some sense of self-compassion and freedom.  He sees me!

Now I’m not at all to the point of teary frustration at this point in my life, but I just wanted to bring up the topic.  When you think about it, it’s truly amazing how many things we fragile, imperfect people are trying to do so right and so perfectly.

Let us see ourselves through God’s eyes of generous, lavish, kindhearted, freeing love.

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One thought on “Self-compassion

  1. Good words, Jenny! I recently wrote down a list of things I have to do just to get out of the house with two kids for an outing–15 things! From shoes to diapers to car keys, it’s exhausting. And very easy to feel like a failure. Yet how can we refuse to have compassion on ourselves it if God Himself has compassion on us? Part of me wonders if this is a factor of our overly-busy 21st century lives, or just the nature of being human. (I am also a big Martha Beck fan, btw, and I really like the idea of that exercise you mention.)

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