Excitement Then Malaise
In practicing self-compassion, you will have days where you feel exceptionally buoyed by your self-compassion practice, and days in which you feel that not much has changed. This experience reminds me of squirrels burying chestnuts deep into the trees for later consumption. It must feel really good to provide that initial stack of chestnuts. To look upon a tree once barren, now burgeoning with life-giving resources. Perhaps by the 50th day of this work, the squirrel’s contributions seem less important. The tree already appears full. How much of a difference does a few more chestnuts really make? I believe the answer will be a big difference once this squirrel is down to his/her last couple chestnuts.
Like the squirrel, we wonder if good enough is not simply good enough. We try a little bit of this self-compassion stuff, and it helps, but (at least for the moment) it ceases to create the kind of fireworks it did when we began. This lulls us into a kind of passivity. We take our self-compassion practice for granted until we are faced with suffering. Then, we criticize the self-compassion practice for not being adequate to the suffering, when, in fact, it is our self-compassion practice that has let us down.
Peaks and Valleys
As human beings in an ever-changing world, we cannot help but pull our crystal balls out and begin to predict the future from what little information we have at hand. In terms of self-compassion, we tend to underestimate its efficacy based on its simplicity and its inability to get us big results every time we use it.
We are mistaken. Like all skills, self-compassion has its peaks and valleys. You learn to take care of yourself a little better and have some epiphanies about what you need in your life. Then, you begin to garner results that are simply good enough to encounter and not be beaten by the suffering that knocks on your door today and tomorrow. We find our self in a valley, and start to believe that this self-compassion stuff has reached its full potential. If there is one thing you should predict with your crystal ball, it is that if you are experiencing valleys then peaks are surely around the corner.
A useful understanding of self-compassion actually comes from one of my favorite boxing coaches. While I was working tediously but with great effort on basic skills, I grew frustrated with my practice, and began to believe that my skills would never evolve. Anthony said, “Jeff, you have to be patient. You will never see a steady growth of skills. Boxing is not like that. Your skills will seem to have plateaued, and then all of a sudden you will be much better. It will feel like a miracle, but the getting better is actually happening right now. You are just too close to see it.” Our self-compassion practice works the same way. The more time you put into it, the greater your ability will be to know your core values, to access self-compassion to endure suffering, and to evolve in all ways.
This last piece gets away from people. Self-compassion is not just about surviving. It is about evolving. It is about deepening your experience. Setting yourself free, so that you can see yourself in all of your glory. Having the entirety of your experience and your deepest wishes and desires in front of you, so you can know with assurance what you need to pursue and how you need to live to have the most meaningful life you can. Yes, yes, you will have epiphanies now, and you may grow considerably, but unlike other activities, your wisdom, awareness, and capacity to live a full life will actually increase with age. I hope that just flew off your page and into your coffee. The longer you practice self-compassion, the better your life will get, especially as you age.
People spend far too much time fantasizing about this ideal age, somewhere in our late teens or early twenties. This is a brutal mind melt that either pressures you at that age to live life to its extreme with great abandon, or to grieve its loss at every age since. There is nothing wrong with this age. It can be a delight, but I would rather read the story told by someone of twice, three times, or better yet four times this age. Our true beauty and grace lie in the unabashed, raw, truly understood maps of our genuine experience.
Commercials may try to persuade us of the opposite, but some part of us knows. The part that recognizes wisdom, and knows that we are most captivated by individuals whose stories are enriched by time and experience. The part that wants lasting well-being. Most of us are excited by the sexiness of an action movie, but this quickly fades. The movies we talk about with lasting interest and well-being have depth and offer a profound wisdom about the human experience, suffering, hope, or gratitude- all of which we can develop more of over time.
Keep Showing Up. The Best Has Yet To Come.
Recognize that as much as you know about your story, there is still so much you have yet to tell. If you lived a thousand years, you would probably have to spend each minute in strict meditation to have truly understood all of you. Move out of your comfort zone away from the labels people have given you over time that you find comforting, and use as shorthand to describe yourself to others. Invest in a self-compassion practice that increases your awareness of who you are, what you want, and what meaning you can derive from the world every day. You have long been inspired by others. It is time to be inspired by yourself, and let others be inspired by you.
Commit fully to your self-compassion practice. Do not settle for yet another skill that you can pull out when it suits you or show off to your friends. Explore its full potential, and unleash your own. Allow it to take you into the deepest parts of yourself, and uncover mysteries you did not know existed. Let it carve your core values out until they are so indelibly marked on your being that others respond to you with sincere appreciation before you even have to tell them to do so. Keep showing up. The best has yet to come.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 81. In the Books.