“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Since I started this retirement journey into mindfulness, I’ve noticed how hard I am on myself. I’m too fat; I’m too scatter-brained; I’m too impatient; I’m too serious. I could come up with about 50 ways I’m inadequate at the drop of a hat! Easily being able to name my inadequacies is nothing new but now, with a mindfulness perspective, I’m more observant – noting when I focus on my inadequacies and how that makes me feel. You might be thinking, as I did initially, that acknowledging my inadequacies would just make me feel that much more inadequate. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’ll share an example that happened recently. I finished putting together an edition of the newsletter for our local community hospital auxiliary. This is a volunteer role that has both positive and negative aspects to it from my point of view. I love writing and editing the newsletter articles. That plays to my strengths. I really don’t like formatting the content into Microsoft Publisher. That plays to my deep sense of inadequacy with anything technical or detailed. A week after the newsletter was sent out, I received feedback from the Auxiliary President that I didn’t include one of her submitted articles. It turns out that when I received her articles, I overlooked one of them because I was immersed in trying to format the other one properly.
In the past, if I received feedback pointing out a mistake, I would stew in it for days. My self-talk might go as follows: “I’m not good enough for this task.” Or “I should never have volunteered for this task.” Or the biggest of them all: “I guess my cover is blown. Everyone now knows I’m stupid.” But this time, I didn’t wallow in the negative feedback. I acknowledged it and noted my disappointment that I had overlooked the missing article. I thought to myself that I’ll start reading messages more carefully and I’ll catalog them immediately. I apologized to the Auxiliary President and offered to put the article in the next newsletter edition. She responded that my solution was fine and not to worry about it.
Compassion for Others
Something else happened at about the same time as my newsletter experience. A close relative was hospitalized for a serious problem and will now have to receive ongoing, indefinite treatment. His wife was very upset and worried. During one phone conversation she shared her feelings of anger at her husband’s physicians, and how she had to make several loud demands in order to get the attention she felt was needed from the doctors to her husband’s needs. As I listened to her, I noted my compassion for her experience. She was suffering as surely as her husband was.
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, (www.self-compassion.org) having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. In order to feel compassion for others, 1) we must notice that they are suffering, 2) we must feel moved by the other person’s suffering so that our heart responds to their pain and we want to help the suffering individual in some way. We don’t judge them harshly. Finally, 3) when we feel compassion for another person (rather than mere pity), it means that we realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.” ( http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/)
We all have times when we face difficulties, fail, or notice something we dislike about ourselves. Why not show the same compassion toward ourselves that we show to others? Below are some tips that I’ve gotten from Dr. Kristen Neff’s research on self-compassion.
- Note when you’re feeling disapproval or judgmental about your own flaws or inadequacies.
- When life isn’t going so well, acknowledge these difficulties as part of life that everyone goes through. Recognize that our suffering is part of being human.
- When times are really tough, show yourself some care and tenderness.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Note where your emotions and thoughts are out of balance.
- Be curious about your emotions and thoughts.
- Consider alternative ways of feeling and thinking.
- Consider the perspective that “Nobody’s Perfect.”
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over again announcing your place
in the family of things.