8-20-23 Self-Compassion


 “Love and tolerance of others [and ourselves] is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone…” p. 84, Alcoholics Anonymous

In my addiction I was ignorant, not stupid. I did not know how to begin healing. Today, as I learn ways to work with my difficulties, I am no longer in ignorance, but I may occasionally do the wrong thing out of fear and selfishness. That is a wrong choice I make; it is not who I am. I do that less often and for a shorter time these days, but I am human and it still happens. Instead of continuing on an unhealthy path, or demeaning myself for being imperfect, I learn from my digressions and do not denigrate myself. I learn, and bring myself back to what I know is healthy. More and more, I choose the way of compassion and dignity—I don’t act from fear. I am able to hold and relate to my fears and missteps with a feeling of loving-kindness, just as a parent should with a child.

Early recovery from a substance or behavior is a confusing time. When trying to let go of harmful, established behaviors, we need guidance from others with more experience. We may find them in a group or meeting, or they may be a counselor. As our minds and hearts slowly begin clearing, we are able to replace the behaviors that cause suffering with new ones of caring for ourselves, connecting with others and having a more joyful and humorous outlook. Once we are on this healing path, we need to continue to stay connected with our practices and community. Engaging new behaviors takes time and effort. At first, our spiritual practices are somewhat separate from our “everyday life.” Soon, however, our habits of going to meetings, prayer, meditation and spiritual practices shift from something we indulge in occasionally so we can keep our heads above water to who we are, what we have become. We find contentment, compassion instead of judgment, and new meaning in life.

“Self-compassion is seeing your most tender wounds without judgment. Showing compassion to yourself is being willing to see/feel the reality of your pain without covering it up or trying to ‘fix’ it. Once this level of self-love occurs, a door opens to the understanding of why the pain is there.” —Pema Chödron

We engage an awareness of what is going on inside us, as opposed to being mindlessly engrossed in (and ill-affected by) self-bashing. Disrespecting ourselves gives us permission to not be responsible, and to not engage in the world as whole and honorable people. So we strive to neither deny our feelings nor be overwhelmed by them. We can include them in our thought process, and maintain a healthy space—an awareness without negative judgement—between our emotions and our spiritual self. 

We may know logically that a healthy sense of self and an awareness of our interconnection with the world are sound propositions, but struggle to bring them into our lives. How do we truly begin to feel and maintain a positive sense of engagement in a reality that’s so much bigger than our own little world? 

We can start by respecting ourselves in very simple ways. We make our beds, clean up our rooms, do our morning prayers and meditation, and wash the dishes. We take care of ourselves and our things in a reasonable manner. We do these things EVERY DAY, because we are alive every day, and because it feels right. We actively help out wherever we can, asking how we may be useful. We do things in a timely fashion, instead of putting them off. We begin acting our way into right thinking. It takes time and discipline to follow through on these things, but they will be the cornerstone of a full and good life. Thus self-respect grows, and we come to appreciate that previously foreign feeling of being responsible.

So much of our work in recovery is about surrendering, and becoming “right-sized.” When we are confident and content with ourselves, we do not need to fight—and we do not let others demean or disrespect that. We can be wise enough to let go of what we need to, address with kindness what we should, and avoid what is unhealthy. When we need to stand up for ourselves, we do. Acting with this kind of integrity may upset others or cause some temporary discord, especially if it’s behavior they haven’t seen from us before. Compassion in this sense is bravery—it’s feeling some fear and stepping into and through it. Compassion is not enabling bad behavior from others or ourselves.

Conversely, we also need to address any overabundance of ego. When we are “at war” with ourselves, we do not honor our decency, worthiness and humanness. We avoid our own authenticity. If we believe we need to force or manipulate others to get our needs met, we are missing our spiritual connection. We who force our way in life may take advantage of those with self-doubt, and cause harm in the process. This ego aspect may feel like power, but it is a false sense of self and is actually empty. Engaging it is a downward spiritual spiral. Even when those of us with a large ego begin to see that what we’re doing is harmful, it can nonetheless be difficult to let go of that intoxicating sense of power. Compassion allows us an honest look at ourselves; how we define or view ourselves, and the actions we take to support that false image through manipulating others and grasping. With compassionate self-examination, a willingness to continue opening up and loving-kindness towards self and others is possible. 

Mindfulness-Awareness meditation places us naturally in a more open, stable mental state. The more we practice mindfulness-awareness—on and off the cushion—the better we are able to work with others and ourselves. Our awareness and courage expand, and we find we’re thinking and acting differently. We find we have the courage to know ourselves more fully, and to choose a better way. We don’t compare ourselves with others; we feel our own uniqueness and are satisfied with who we are, all the while still engaging in growing and learning. We begin feeling what is right and what is wrong, and we have the courage to act properly.

Our old ideas and patterns—thinking too highly or too unkindly of ourselves—can be obstacles to true self-love and care. We will doubt ourselves sometimes, feel fear sometimes. That is OK…we’re human. But we all have Basic Goodness, no matter how far down the scale we’ve gone. Acting “as if” we deserve our own love and kindness can be helpful until we realize we really do. When we recognize we’re too far out of balance, we turn back to the tools we’ve been working with in order to restore our equilibrium. We can also share our fears and mis-steps with a caring community of friends or in a program we attend, and trust that we will receive their aid and good advice. 

Self-compassion gives us the means to choose Life, over a mere unsatisfactory existence. When we begin engaging in the world with a sense of richness, compassion, honesty and humor, new worlds open up for us, we grow, and we help others to grow.

Be brave, make mistakes, be compassionate and forgiving, with yourself and others.
Know that YOU are your best teacher, so pay attention.

How do you fill your bucket? One drop at a time
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step
The great arises out of small things that are honored and cared for
May you be well. May you be happy. May you find peace.