Thursday, February 26, 2009

I am forever telling people (including myself) to be a little friendlier to themselves in times of stress.

What does that mean? When I say friendliness, kindness or compassion, I am not talking about some vague, spiritual shouldism of how to behave. I mean our innate, natural human response to any being in pain (yelping puppy, crying child), the organic heart-sense we offer freely to anyone who needs it, except, usually, us!

We don’t have to invent kindness, learn it, or even think about it much. All we really need is get out of our own way. With a little intention, practice, and an adjustment in our field of vision, we can include ourselves in our own natural circles of kindness.

How it works:
When we begin to have awareness of how we cause ourselves problems – through ways we act or think, or beliefs we hold – many of us come down hard on ourselves. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t do that or think that or feel that. We object to whatever we have noticed. This awareness is tender, a hidden part of ourselves we are just beginning to communicate with. A harsh response is only going to send our awareness scurrying away. It won’t heal the pain, and it won’t “cure” the behavior (thought pattern, feeling…). If we are trying to understand something about ourselves, we won’t get there through being mean.
If we berate ourselves, we resort to mindlessness to manage the pain and fear of berating ourselves, and we don’t get any further with our investigation. We become our own least cooperative witness.
True mindfulness – the path to developing deeper relationships with ourselves and others, healing our pain and enjoying our lives – requires us to meld awareness with compassion. Otherwise we are just grimly staring ourselves down.

What to do?
  • Take a step back from what you discover about yourself. Let it be simply information. You are not your thoughts, you are not your behavior.
  • Meet everything about yourself with kindness, and a friendly curiosity. Ask yourself, “How does this work?” rather than “Why the heck did I do that?”
  • Consider how you would speak to a friend having a hard time, or a small child who fell and skinned her knee: There, there, it will be okay. Let this be your mantra.
  • Set your intention to befriend yourself no matter what. Befriend even the harsh voice that says you’re not doing it right, you’re supposed to befriend yourself, you idiot! That voice really needs love!
Why bother?
If we keep berating ourselves for our feelings and thoughts, we will keep hiding from ourselves. Hiding increases our feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. It is unnecessary to suffer this way. If we show ourselves kindness, we blossom. Connecting with ourselves connects us to the world at large, which could use more kindness and connection.

As we go, so goes the world.

When we stop judging ourselves, even for a moment, the possibility of happiness arises. Our hearts begin to open. Acceptance of ourselves, as we find ourselves to be in each moment, is the kindest gift we can bring. It is all we want, after all, and all we really, truly need.