Life is a journey that takes us down a winding road of constant change. Each day is filled with many opportunities that can allow us to take a step further in the transformation process towards becoming our best selves. We might be presented with an opportunity to react differently when yet another person in our life rubs us the wrong way; or we may find ourselves wanting to walk away from a particular situation but are not sure if we can. We may even find ourselves stuck in a rut that we can never seem to get out of – on a treadmill that never seems to stop. There are times when we make the same choices over and over again because we don't know how to choose otherwise, so that rather than moving us forward, the paths we walk may take us in a seemingly never-ending circle where our actions and choices lead us nowhere but to where we've already been – just like the Israelites in the Sinai desert after their flight from Egypt. It is during these moments that awareness can be the first step to change.
Awareness is the opposite of being on auto-pilot, which is how we often live our lives; we do without realising we are doing! When we practice awareness we observe ourselves, noticing our reactions, actions, and choices as if we were a detached viewer. Awareness is the first step to change because we can't make a change unless we are aware that one needs to be made in the first place. Awareness opens our eyes to begin to understand why we are doing what we are doing. Once we have that awareness it becomes difficult not to change because we see the truth behind our behaviours. And we also begin to see that just as we are responsible for our behaviours so we are responsible for any changes that we want to happen.
Awareness brings freedom. We see that we don’t have to remain stuck in repetitive ways of behaving, that we have a choice. Whether we are aware of them or not, our behaviours and choices are always ours to make. Awareness takes away limits we perceive as placed on us by our past, or by the present. We see that the past and present do not have to dictate our future. Awareness frees us to make new choices, and take new actions. It is through awareness that we can continue to consciously grow and change.
“What do you see when you stand in front of a mirror?”
“I don’t stand in front of a mirror because I hate what I see when I do. I can’t stand myself, and it makes me feel sick to look at my reflection – anywhere, not just in a mirror.”
This conversation happened recently and it is extreme, but many, many of us, in more subtle ways, say the same thing to ourselves – almost daily.
One of the greatest struggles in life is to accept, embrace and love ourselves, with all our imperfections; To allow ourselves to vulnerable, and admit honestly, who we are, how we feel and what we need to live well.
We find it easier to focus on what we aren’t, rather than credit ourselves for everything we are. We struggle with the fact that not everyone will love us and agree with us all the time; we take it personally rather than accepting it, being okay with it.
We tend to judge and evaluate ourselves – constantly – and out of this comes judging and evaluating others. If we can stop labeling ourselves as “good” or “bad” and simply accept ourselves as we are with an open heart – unconditionally – we would begin to see a transformation in our relationships with others as well as our relationship with ourself. It seems that there is no one we treat as badly as ourselves – do you treat yourself with kindness, caring, compassion?
Self-compassion can change your life. Kristin Neff, the first scientist to make a study of self-compassion says she was going through a really difficult time following a marriage break down and was filled with self-loathing and shame, before she discovered self-compassion. She had never considered that having compassion for yourself would be as important as having compassion for others. She learned, as we all need to, that continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others means you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to separation and isolation.
Being nice to yourself, having compassion for yourself, when you mess up or are going through a hard time is okay. Being self-compassionate will not lead to selfishness – it, in fact, leads to the opposite.
Let’s face it, self-criticism is socially acceptable, even encouraged, but it is not at all helpful – it just makes things worse. You cannot make a better person of yourself through beating yourself up all the time. Instead you’ll find you feel more insecure and inadequate and you’ll then take this frustration out on those close to you – and possibly those who aren’t! And… what often happens is that we won’t own up to many things – even to ourself – because we are so afraid of the self-hate that might follow if we admit the truth.
When we live in this place of self-criticism we look for all our needs to be met from outside – usually from a relationship we are in. All of us desire what we call the 5 A’s: Attention, Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation and Allowing (to be ourselves)- but when we don’t have self-compassion we are unable to provide any of these to ourself, instead we look for them in the people we are close to – and it doesn’t work.
Self-compassion not only allows us to provide some of the 5 A’s to ourselves, it involves wanting the best for ourselves – health and well-being – and leads to proactive behaviour to better our situation rather than passively accepting whatever comes to us. Self-compassion means not condemning ourselves for mistakes and failures; it encourages us to use the experience of suffering in those moments to soften our heart. Self-compassion allows us to let go of unrealistic expectations of perfection that make us so dissatisfied, and opens the door to real and lasting satisfaction.
Why not give it a try? If you'd like to listen to a free Mindfulness Meditation ‘Self-Compassion’ contact me and I will email it to you.
When you’ve done that, or even if you don't, go to www.selfcompassion.net and complete the Self-Compassion Questionnaire. If you like, share below; let me know how you go.