Coach’s Challenge for 3/7/11 “Self-Compassion”
Good day, team.
This week’s challenge sprouted from an article I read last week in the New York Times, “Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges,” by Tara Parker-Pope.
She opens the article with the question, “Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?” She goes to say how research shows that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health.
This same idea became apparent to me years ago when I attended a weekend meditation retreat with Sylvia Boorstein, a wonderful meditation teacher who was focusing that day on “metta.”
In Buddhist philosophy, metta is often translated as “compassion” or “loving kindness.” The great meditation teacher Henepola Gunaratana maha tera has called it “loving friendliness.” This attitude focuses on friendliness, compassion and concern for the wellness of others. Metta is not something everyone has automatically. It is an aspect of thought that must be developed through meditation.
Within minutes of sitting with Sylvia, it became apparent that she had a different take on how we could develop metta in regards to others. What she really wanted us to do was first create it for ourselves. I remember her saying, “You can sit on your backside for years trying to cultivate more compassion for others, but if you don’t experience it toward yourself, you will continue to fail.” This idea was surprising to me. I had not thought about the importance of creating loving kindness toward myself. In fact, I often regarded myself as a familiar stranger, and, more often than not, I experienced a lot of judgment and blame toward myself.
During the retreat, we did a number of meditative exercises that created a lovely state of inner love and peace that I had rarely experienced. The more my meditation focused on self-compassion, the more I was able to be compassionate toward others. It was like learning how to exercise a muscle that hadn’t been used before. Once it became stronger, my ability to use it not just for myself but for others was the beginning of feeling a greater state of compassion for all living beings.
However, when I first practiced metta meditation toward myself, it felt a little selfish. It seemed too self-indulgent. It wasn’t until I experienced a major health scare years later that I realized the importance of allowing myself to drop down into that incredible well of love that existed within me. I learned to appreciate how much it could truly heal me from the inside out. By allowing myself to love myself, I was able to experience that state of love and compassion on a daily basis, and in turn, it was much more accessible to me for giving to others.
In her article, Parker-Pope references several research studies on self-compassion with interesting results. Most doctors and self-help books suggest that developing more willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health. However, new research shows that creating self-discipline as a result of self-criticism only leads people further into a state of anxiety and depression. People who score high on tests related to self-compassion have less depression and anxiety. These people tend to be happier and more optimistic.
However, self-criticism resulting in various disciplines for self-improvement is deeply rooted in American culture, so it can be a challenging habit to break.
In the book “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind” Dr. Kristin Neff writes, “Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation. The reason you won’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”
Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School writes, “Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan. Most plans revolve around self-discipline, self-deprivation and neglect.”
This quote reminds me of all the times I’ve told myself I couldn’t eat something and within days found myself stuffing my mouth with that very thing. Then the amount of guilt and self-recrimination I experienced afterward took days to recover from and left me with a profound feeling of failure.
This week, try giving yourself a break from all the internal thoughts and feelings of judgment, blame and self-hatred. How about spending some quiet time thinking of all the good things you did this past week for others? How about taking a compassion break just like you would a coffee break? Spend a moment or two saying to yourself, “I’m going to be kind to myself in this moment.”
Try patting yourself on the back for something you’ve done well this week or for having a good conversation with someone. Free your mind from the inner voice that says, “You made of fool of yourself” or “You could have done a much better job” or “That was a stupid thing to say.” Don’t hold onto those thoughts and allow them to rule your state of mind. Instead, tell yourself, “I am not inadequate but actually just as I am: human, loving and kind.”
You might just find that you feel better about yourself as well as others.
Have a good week!
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