New Life Story Seeds # 3

Self-Compassion:  Where Inner Healing Begins

Dear Friends,

The third issue of New Life Story Seeds is dedicated to the following proposition:  "Let's don't beat up on ourselves."  Have you noticed that the climate lately seems to bombard us with direct and subtle exhortations to "do more," "be more," and "work harder, faster, smarter?"  A few weeks ago, while doing some much-needed dejunking, I came across a framed affirmation that said  "I must always be doing the most productive thing at every moment."  I laughed and threw it in the trash, then cringed when I remembered how many years of my life had been given over to that mind-set, either consciously or unconsciously.

The quotation this week comes from Jung, with some juicy questions and more thoughts about self-compassion as the foundation and context for inner healing.  There are some suggestions and journal exercises for practicing self-compassion, and a brief discussion of some outstandingly helpful resources on the subject.  After some reflection, I've decided to add Amazon links for your convenience.  You can click on a link to see what others have said about a book and/or to order the book immediately, if you wish.  I'll be adding more books to the on- line bookstore on the website, but if you don't find what you're looking for, you can always use the search engine at the Amazon site or at <http://www.newlifestories.com/Bookstore.html>.

Wishing you the joy and freedom of self-compassionate stories,

Enjoy life, do Good Work, don't forget to smell the daisies as you go, and keep in touch,

Ellen Moore

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In This Issue:

A Thoughtful Quotation

Juicy Questions

Creating the Context

Rewriting the Story:  Six Steps You Can Take Now

Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

Books and Resources

Gift Ideas

Self-Compassion Break:  Do It For Yourself

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A Thoughtful Quotation

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"Simple things are always the most difficult.  In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one's whole outlook on life.  That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy...  all these are undoubtedly great virtues...

But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea, the very fiend himself-that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved-what then?"

Carl Gustav Jung

Alchemical Studies

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Juicy Questions

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What simple things do you find inordinately difficult?  What difficult things do you find easy?  In what ways do you seek simplicity in your daily life and routines?

Who taught you about compassion?  What was the message?  Who taught you about self-compassion?  How was that message similar to or different from the lessons about compassion?  Who are your role models for compassion and self-compassion?

How often do you take actions that comfort, nourish, strengthen, and relax your body, mind, and spirit?  In other words, how well do you take care of your needs?  In what areas would you like to be more self- caring?  Can you nurture yourself without feeling guilty or self- indulgent? What is the difference between self-compassion and self- indulgence?  Is there such a thing as under-indulgence?

When you're emotionally frazzled or upset, how do you calm and comfort yourself in healthy and positive ways?  How do you reach out comfortably to others for nurturance when in need?  What is on your list of things you can do to nourish yourself?

When you make mistakes, can you put them in perspective and laugh about them?  What have you already forgiven yourself for?  What remains yet to be pardoned?

To what degree have you been you the victim of impossibly high standards held up to you by others?  In what ways are you unnecessarily harsh with yourself?  What impossibly high standards have you set for yourself?  What have they cost you in the past and present?   How can you give yourself permission to ease up those standards in the future?

"Do I detect the smell of burning martyr?" asked John Cleese in a Monty Python sketch.  What effect have the self-appointed martyrs in your life had on you?  To what extent do you find yourself replicating their behavior?

In what ways could self-criticism, self-punishment, and self-denial actually be a form of narcissism?  What can we learn from individuals who are compassionate with everyone but themselves? We're all doing the best we can.  If we had known how to do anything better, we would have.

That being the case, how can you fault yourself for your best efforts?

Have you ever criticized yourself for "poor judgment?"  Have you forgotten that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes?  In what ways have your "mistakes" been essential for your growth and development?  In what ways have your "mistakes" led you to higher levels of functioning or deeper levels of understanding and compassion?  How many of the "mistakes" you've criticized yourself for could be reframed and reinterpreted with self- compassion?

Instead of rose-colored glasses or the blue filters of depression, what if you examined your past experiences and action with the lenses of self-compassion?  What if you rewrote the story of your life from the perspective of self-compassion?

"Tried and found innocent," said Alan Bennett of his fictional characters.  We tend to find what we look for, so what happens when you search yourself for evidence of innocence?  If it is true that all behavior has a positive intent, what happens when you revisit your past actions to get back in touch with those positive intentions?  Can you forgive yourself for not being consistently self-compassionate?

What would your life be like if you lived with fearless self- compassion?

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Creating the Context

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Psychiatrist Theodore Isaac Rubin writes of a time when he experienced personal failure, hurt pride, and depression.  He became aware that he was beating himself unmercifully, and that the source of his distress came from a false, perfectionistic image of himself.  He goes on to describe the torments of that period of his life.  "Despite myself," he writes, "I had no mercy for that somewhat confused child I had been and still obviously harbored within myself, and I had even less compassion for the young man I had become."  He describes how the compassion of his wife and his analyst were finally able to break through to him and obtain victory over his self-loathing.  "I decided-not with my head, but with my entire being, all my feelings-that I would 'leave it all be,' that I would simply let go, relax, stop berating myself, stop attempting to be in charge, to put it together-simply to let it go-to let be what would be."  Although he didn't realize it at the time, that decision formed the beginnings of a compassionate way of life as he began to accept all the parts of his life, even the problems, limitations, and failures.

In his book, "Compassion and Self-Hate:  An Alternative to Despair", Rubin enumerates the cost of both direct and indirect forms of self- hatred:  depression, drug abuse, suicide, perfectionism, illusions, impossible standards, boredom, self-criticism, stress and tension, lack of spontaneity, despair. "Despair is directly proportional to energy and substance used in the service of self-hate. Emotional well-being and relative freedom from destructive inner turmoil are directly proportional  to energy and substance used in the service of compassion," concludes Dr. Rubin.

It is a truism to say that we can't love others or treat them any better than we take care of ourselves.  So much unkindness directed toward others is merely self-hatred projected outward.  Self-compassion is the basis for acceptance and inner healing.  It is easy to say that we need to live our lives in a self-compassionate way, but how is that to be done?

We may like to think that the solutions to our problems can be solved by direct action, but most of the work of rewriting our lives may need to be done "beneath the surface."  We must work with context, with the relationship with ourselves before we can hope for significant results in our efforts to change anything in the outer world.  Direct action may not always be what we need, and we must face the fact that many of our difficulties in life may simply be a reflection of a troubled relationship with ourselves.

Ultimately, practicing self-compassion requires that we face, accept, acknowledge, respect, honor, and integrate those dark places within ourselves, the flaws and shortcomings, the parts of ourselves we choose to hide, ignore, deny, resist.  "The disowned wolves of our dark inner forests are baying for recognition," wrote Gay Hendricks in "Learning to Love Yourself". "Bow to them and watch their ferocity dissolve."  We must surrender to our deepest longings, descend to the darkest, most discomfiting places within, and allow ourselves to be utterly lost and confused. "You do not do the work of changing," says poet David Whyte.  "You feed and nourish your longing in whatever way you can and then the longing does the work."  This is working beneath the surface, working with the deepest parts of ourselves.

Of course, "experts" in the art of non-compassion for the self can take things to a new level with recriminations over the lack of self- compassion.  So, don't forget it's all right not to be totally self- compassionate.  This is a process, and we're all "getting there" at our own speed.

And this is a process that births and restores our creative fires.  In the process of "owning" all parts of ourselves-the beautiful and the ugly, the wanted and the unwanted, the acknowledged and the shameful, the light and the dark-we bring all parts of ourselves together, we integrate, we become whole, we become self-compassionate.  When we "kiss the inner frog," we ourselves become what we thought we were seeking "out there."

It is as if our wholeness is "stalking" us, calling to us, whispering to us to stop resisting its summons. "The Hound of Heaven" pursues us and nothing satisfies our soul until we allow all the scattered pieces of ourselves to reunite.  When we are young, we please our senses and our greed and our outer needs, but what lasts for us is what pleases our souls.  For many of us, what pleases our souls is creative work- writing, painting, planting, teaching, healing-and the friends of our soul are not necessarily the ones we would have chosen in early adulthood.  To become whole, we must first descend into the fear and pain and uncertainty in order to become who we truly are.

Let us give ourselves credit for doing difficult and important work. We've been working hard, haven't we?  As poet e.e. cummings wrote:  "to be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

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Rewriting the Story:  Six Steps You Can Take Now

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1.  Think of a small incident in which you still have lingering negative judgments about yourself (such as, "I acted stupidly," "I shouldn't have done that," "I cringe when I remember..."). Briefly tell the "story" you tell yourself  (and others) about the incident. Underline or circle the negative judgments and self-criticisms. Visualize the incident and re-experience some of the feelings you had at the time or later.  Awareness is the first key to this work.

2.  Ask yourself if you are willing to accept alternative stories and fresh interpretations of old material.  Write a few of those different stories, including one that is as objective as you can make it ("Just the facts, ma'am"), and some that are wild and silly.

3.  Examine the evidence, flush it all out into the open (preferably on paper), list the negative judgments, "talk back" to that "committee" in

your mind, and (if necessary) get a quick reality check from someone you respect.  Remember that you are much more than your stories.

4.  Rewrite the story as you intended it to happen.  Search for your own innocence and positive intentions in the matter.  (Even if you lashed out at someone, isn't it possible that your intention was to discharge painful emotions in order to feel better?)  What did you wish had happened?  If you had it to do all over again, how would you have acted?  What would you have said or done afterward?  What amends would you have made to others and/or to yourself?  What amends can you make now, either actually or symbolically?

5.   Write the compassionate story, reframing and reinterpreting those negative judgments you made about yourself.  Recall your essential innocence.  Trace the behavior back to its sources.  Instead of "I acted stupidly," try "I was young, inexperienced, overwhelmed, misinformed, terrified, etc.  If you have difficulty writing a compassionate story, try visualizing your actions from the viewpoint of one or more wisdom figures--perhaps a wise and loving spiritual being (if you're oriented in that direction) that sees the beauty and goodness in your heart and has the power to explain and forgive your behavior.  Don't forget to build new, positive possibilities into the new story, and leave some doors open for yourself.  Forgive the frightened child you once were.  Let go of the shame and self- belittling talk.  Remember that self-forgiveness is not about being irresponsible. Paradoxically, once you accept your innocence and release self-blame, you will be able to take more responsibility for yourself in a reasonable way.  You may also want to ask for help with this stage of the work with a professional you trust and respect.

6.  You might want to end with a small, private ritual in which you let go of the incident.  How will you now use this information to increase your empathy and compassion for yourself and for others in similar circumstances?  If someone came to you with these same feelings and negative self-judgments, how would you react out of your fund of wisdom, experience, and compassion?  With compassion for yourself, you are now free to act compassionately with others.

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Apropos of Absolutely Nothing

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Why I like the seasons:  They're dependable--you can count on them coming every year; there are only four, so it's easy to keep track of them; they provide fodder for 87.6% of the world's small-talk; and besides, where would Vivaldi have been without them?

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Books and Resources

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My favorite resources for developing self-compassion:

"Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times" or <http://www.soundstrue.com/>, taught by Pema Chodron, director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Lojong, or "mind training," is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice designed to open hearts to the experience of life as it is, and awaken realization of kinship with all beings.  The training includes simple, straight-forward techniques for cultivating tenderness and compassion, using every-day experiences as opportunities to awaken spiritual truths.  Such practice tends to bring up uncomfortable ideas and emotions.  Unwanted feelings are, in fact, welcomed as the indispensable raw materials of lojong training. "Awakening Compassion" is a six-tape set recorded live in Pema Chodron's teaching retreats.  Her voice is deeply compassionate and comforting, and her style is down-to-earth, warm, relaxed, and open, as she demonstrates how to use painful emotions as tools to transform difficult situations.  "Awakening Compassion" is offered by Sounds True, a Boulder, Colorado company that offers high-quality audio and video tapes of  a wide range of the world's spiritual wisdom.  Over 400 titles offered.  They are currently offering a free CD (or tape) sampler of their best-selling tapes and CD's.  They also have some unusual spiritual and sacred music.  Their free catalogs are so beautiful and informative, you won't want to throw them away.  (Call 1-800-333-9185 or order from the web).

"Compassion and Self-Hate:  An Alternative to Despair", by Theodore Isaac Rubin -A wise and wonderful book that just might change your life.  Read it over and over.  Check out Rubin's other books at Amazon.com, too, and take a sigh of relief.

"Learning to Love Yourself:  A Guide to Becoming Centered", by Gay Hendricks - a concentrated and liberating little book you'll want to own so you can mark it up to your heart's content.

"The Learning to Love Yourself Workbook", by Gay Hendricks - A practical tool for rewriting your relationship with yourself.

"Embracing Your Inner Critic:  Turning self-criticism into a Creative Asset", by Hal and Sidra Stone. This mind-blowing book discusses "voice therapy" and explains how the inner critic thinks it is protecting us, and doesn't realize it is actually sabotaging us.  Teaches how to minimize the "critic attacks," and shows how to enlist the critic as a strong ally.

Don't forget the poetry of David Whyte.  There are several collections of his poetry at Amazon, and also check out the link for "the poetry of self- compassion."

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Gift Ideas

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The books and tapes mentioned in this issue of New Life Story Seeds would make excellent gifts, both for yourself and for those you care about.  The Pema Chodron tapes are also perfect for commuters or those making long trips.  Arrive at your destination calm and smiling!  A theme-oriented gift might include two or more self-compassion resources.

If you find yourself with more time and energy than money, you might think about a putting together a "compassion gift box" or basket.

For kids, think about inexpensive art supplies; colorful scrap paper from your local printer; wallpaper sample books for crafts projects; glue, scissors, and thrift-store books to make collage books (paste over the outdated printed material) together.  Add crayons or colored pens and pencils for journaling and scrapbooking supplies.  How about a kit of a blank book, some stickers and stamping supplies?  And why not teach kids how to carve their own stamps out of raw potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, or use leaves, stones, feathers and twigs for printing?  The possibilities are endless! You could take some sheets of blank paper and write your own prompts or quotations for writing or drawing.  Let younger kids dictate stories so you can write and they can illustrate. Don't forget supplies for cooking-oriented projects for kids (you supervise, they mix, and all can eat together). Kitchen clay mix (salt and flour) also makes a great gift for kids.

For friends and for those you love, what about the gift of time and service?  You could make redeemable coupons for free baby-sitting, house-cleaning, pet care, home-cooked meals, chauffeuring, or use your imagination to tailor gifts to your giftee's needs.  You might also use your writing talents to write a heart-felt tribute or poem, or tell people how much they mean to you.  Don't you know a lot of adults who would love to get one of the kids' gifts mentioned above?

And don't forget to give yourself the gift of self-compassion!  Think.

What do you really need and want?  Why not allow yourself to experience at least a portion of what your soul craves, even symbolically?  A book you've had your eye on for ages?  A small box of rich chocolates?  A romantic, candlelight dinner for one or two or more?  A fine brandy?  A bottle of sparkling apple juice?  Renting or buying a classic film?  A gorgeous new journal or an elegant fountain pen?  Free time?  Rest?  A few naps?  Dancing?  Time with friends? Ecstatic music?  Solitude?  Teach others to treat you well by setting a good example for them!

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Self-Compassion Break:  Do It For Yourself

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A few quick, self-compassionate things you can do for yourself right now:

Give yourself a break, some quiet time, a nap, a snack, a healthy meal, some time to write in your journal.

Stretch, bend, take a short ramble down the hall or to the woods, walk outside to feel the weather and smell the air

Reach out to someone else with conversation, laughter, a hug, a smile, a cup of coffee, an appreciation, a well-deserved compliment.

Give yourself some credit for how far you've already come.

Allow yourself to enjoy something pleasant or beautiful-a book, a leaf, a flower, the sky, a favorite piece of music, the colors and spaces in your environment.

Take a few deep breaths.

Cut yourself some slack.  You'd do it for someone else-now do it for yourself.

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Copyright Ellen Moore, Ph.D. 1999

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