As I layed in my bed, I felt paralyzed; sadly, it wasn’t the first time I had felt this way. It had been about a month of ignoring my own suffering. I was a prisoner of my own mind, my thoughts, and the stories I created. I have always been told that I had a great imagination; unfortunately, I did not always know how to use it in the most beneficial ways. “What if I do this? What if this happens?” It was as if I was always in time travel; ruminating about the past, or worrying excessively about the future.
Undeniably, the mind is extremely powerful and influential. In fact, if one is not careful in observing their thoughts, they may be at great risk of falling into the deceptions of the mind. Mental illness is so prevailing in today’s society. In any given year, 1 out of every 5 people experiences mental health issues. This number is far greater than ever before and is correlated with our preoccupations with money, image, and popularity.
I could not let go of the thoughts that filled my mind, nor could I decipherer what was real, satya. The quality of my body was in a constant state of rajas; my anxiety was out of control. Then, the pendulum swung faster than the blink of an eye. The tamas energy crowded in. I became unmotivated and unenthusiastic. I was depressed…I was stuck. On top of all this, I was ashamed. This is not far from normal in a society where we are taught that being hard on ourselves and ashamed of everything from our actions to our looks will create results (Neff, 2011). “Aren’t I always supposed to be happy? I must not be a good person if I am feeling this way.“
After picking up the book “Self-Compassion” by Kristen Neff, my perspective began to change. “Am I really allowed to be nice to myself?” Little did I know that this idea of self-compassion is what I needed most in these moments of suffering. Furthermore, it was my lack of self-compassion that entrenched me into such profound suffering – me, amongst many others. “What if” I actually stopped to recognize my suffering and comforted myself in this painful situation?
In the book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff discusses how people in modern society struggle in everyday life, mainly as a result of societal standards, the media, and how people react in instances of perceived failure and inadequacy. ”The goalposts for what counts as “good enough” seem to always remain frustratingly out of reach. We must be smart and fit and fashionable and interesting and successful and sexy. Oh, and spiritual, too. And no matter how well we do, someone else always seems to be doing it better. The result of this line of thinking is sobering: millions of people need to take pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with daily life. Insecurity, anxiety, and depression are incredibly common in our society, and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life (Neff, 2011)
The world is full of suffering from all sorts of causes, but we as humans tend to exasperate this suffering rather than alleviate it. Guilty. This is not intentional, no one wants to suffer; it is simply a result of how modern society has unfolded itself and how human beings have learned to react as a result.
What is Self-Compassion?
Compassion involves the recognition and clear seeing of suffering. It also involves feelings of kindness for people who are suffering, so that the desire to help – to ameliorate suffering – emerges. Finally, compassion involves recognizing our shared human condition, as flawed and fragile as it is. Self-compassion thus, involves the same qualities, extended towards the self (Neff, 2011). Kristen Neff further describes it as “giving yourself the same caring support you’d give to a good friend.”
Self-compassion is not something you are born with; it is something you must practice and cultivate. You make a choice – you choose to love yourself in every moment, no matter what you have done. Accordingly, every body is worthy of compassion (Neff, 2011).
As described in the book, there are 3 components of self-compassion:
Self-kindness means that we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal. Self-kindness requires more than stopping self-judgment. It involves comforting ourselves, responding to suffering and failures as we would to a loved one. We recognize that everyone has times when they blow it, and treat ourselves kindly (Neff, 2011).
“This is really difficult in this right now. How can I care for and comfort myself in this moment?”
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creates and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Einstein
Neff states that when we focus on our shortcomings without taking the bigger human picture into account, our perspective tends to narrow. It is a vicious cycle: the more deficient we feel, the more separate and vulnerable we feel.
Self-compassion honors the fact that all human beings are fallible, that wrong choices and feelings of regret are inevitable, no matter how high and mighty one is. When we are in touch with our common humanity, we remember that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are shared by all (Neff, 2011).
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” – John Kabat-Zinn
The moment we see something about ourselves we don’t like, our attention tends to become completely absorbed by our perceived flaws. In that moment, we don’t have the perspective needed to recognize the suffering caused by our feelings of imperfection, let alone to respond with compassion. We need to stop for a breath or two and acknowledge that we’re having a hard time, and that our pain is deserving of kind, caring response (Neff, 2011).
Self- Compassion and Ahimsa
“The Buddhists talk a lot about the importance of compassion, but I had never considered that having compassion for yourself might be as important as having compassion for others.” Ahimsa.
Pantanjali’s ‘Eight Limbs’ is a path and practice intended to help us move beyond the “ego personality” to an authentic and integrated “self.” The first limb of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras is Yama, which translates to “restraint.” The first sub-limb of these restraints is Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the principle act of nonviolence towards all living things, including ourselves. In the book The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele there are 4 practices that need to be engaged as part of an ahimsa practice: courage, balance, empowerment, and self-love. The yogi must work to restrain her or himself from any thought-word-deed that would be harmful to the self, or to another.
It may feel like a task so far out of reach, while the inner critic speaks so loud and so habitually. The first step is to observe and to not get caught up in these self-defeating messages, as discussed in the mindfulness component of self-compassion. When one is present enough to observe their thoughts, then they have the choice to engage in the negative self-talk or to let it go.
Instead of engaging in self-critical thoughts, we practice acceptance, love, and non-violence. We see ourselves as one of all the imperfect humans sharing an imperfect experience.
How I’ve Cultivated Self-Compassion in My Yoga Practice
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise L. Hay
Self-compassion does not happen over night. Meditation has become a regular part of my practice, becoming more in tune with my body and how I am feeling in each moment. As I recognized and embraced my suffering, I stopped beating myself up for not making it to the most intense and vigorous hot classes everyday. Rather, I began to open up my horizons to more grounding classes i.e. Yin and Restorative. When I was having a difficult time I repeated the mantra “this too shall pass.” Life is in constant flux. One may say time heals everything, but I say presence and patience is the greatest healer. Consequently, I have learned (although it may be hard to embrace) that life will never be flawless; how can we expect a flawless life as imperfect beings? We must then find the beauty in each situation of suffering. If I kept having the mindset that my life would someday be perfect, I would never be fulfilled. Given all this, it is only the beginning of my journey.
“Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply pat of being alive” – Sharon Salzberg
We often cling to our narrow vision on how things should be, creating expectations and attachments to outcomes. And so, when things do not go as planned, we put ourselves at blame (Neff, 2011).
The whole idea of self-compassion is to be able to really live in the present moment and feel, rather than think. Whatever feelings, emotions, or thoughts arise, we embrace them with compassion. We are fascinated, without judgment. It is no disbelief that we live in a world where there is so much suffering. We cannot control all the circumstance that we face, but what we can control how we react to them. We are imperfect beings; life is full of obstacles and mistakes – this is all part of the shared human experience. Embrace it.
Lauren has lived in Kingston for her entire life. At the age of 22, Lauren graduated with an Honors Bachelor of Business Administration Degree, as well as completed her initial 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training at Janati yoga. Lauren is very passionate about yoga; when she is not on her mat, Lauren enjoys spending time with her family, cuddling her Golden Retriever dog Charlie, and spending time outdoors in the nature, particularly going for walks and hiking.”