For twenty-five years my morning ritual has held fast. I sit in meditation. The commitment has not wavered though focus and technique have varied. If meditation success is measured via reduced thoughts, longer periods of quiet mind, this practice has been utter failure. But improvement has been vast if favorable outcome points to a snowballing ability to witness what is happening moment by moment. And that spills off the cushion in so many ways, some of them less than pleasant. Gone are the days of unconscious, less than optimal behavior. I have the skilled privilege of watching myself f–k up. Like using the F word in a newsletter. Really? Yup. Because labeling behavior as f—king up is exactly what I want to talk about.
“Research proves that trading self-criticism for self-compassion is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.” Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
Regular readers know I’ve been deep in relationship with my own challenged body. Please know I’ve come a long way and am living with great hope and less pain, continuing to be amazed and grateful for all of the learning being delivered right at my doorstep, or my spine-step so to speak. It feels like a miracle. One way this challenge manifests is sharp, unpredictable pain in the first hour of my day. I joke that I’m living with TSD instead of PTSD and look forward to entering the “post” phase. I am not one who believes in the trite new age-y “everything happens for a reason”. Spare me. But I do know we have the opportunity to search for meaning in whatever shows up on that doorstep.
The intersection of this daily harrowing experience with this long-standing meditation practice has not been lost on me and has been incredibly rich. So in the morning I sit at the edge of the bed, hands on my heart, and tap into a meditation technique designed to build skill in self-compassion. I acknowledge right off that this is a moment of suffering. I don’t beg for it to be different, I don’t rage at it, I refrain from despair. I just get that it hurts…in all ways, not just physically. And then I soberly remember that all beings suffer. I think of the immigrants on feeble boats in choppy seas, of families blown apart by the latest gun massacre, of the bent old man leaning hard on his cane yesterday. This is always part of the human experience. We are not guaranteed pain free existence. This moment of remembrance is so utterly poignant and leads me to renewed awareness of my connection with all beings. And then I call up kindness, love directed inward, toward me. This is not a moment that I have f—ked up. This is a moment that calls for support, warm-hearted caring I would easily extend to anyone. And I give it to myself and recognize that this simple act, this moment of acceptance, nourishes the self-compassion seedling, strengthens its roots. These are the 4 elements of the technique.
Research shows that “self-compassionate people are much less likely to be anxious, depressed, and stressed out…than those who are self-critical. They’re also more optimistic and satisfied with their lives, and better able to cope effectively with adversity.” Not because they are Pollyanna, blissed-out, positive affirmation types. But because they are willing to be with the hard stuff, muck around in it, fully feel it. I am learning so much from this unpleasant experience on the physical plane—that is another newsletter. Here’s the gist of the repeating news line: the physical gateway will always deliver us to the heart, if we breathe and wonder and imagine and allow. We just have to be willing to be with the fullness of our experience…and it is simply not all pleasant.
Yours in communion on this one…bella