Keeping Our Options Open
A challenging, lesser-known reason that we are unable to quickly adopt a self-compassion practice is our desire to keep our options open. One problem people have with living in the present is that they must accept their experience for what it is. Most people prefer to fantasize about what it could be. This mentality leads to inaction. Inaction provokes feelings of anxiety, fears of disappointment, and self-criticism.
The longer we think about possible ways to react, the more difficult it is to decide on an action, hence the anxiety. The stakes also seem higher, and the choices seem more voluminous. As our choices move towards the ideal, our expectations rise. When no action takes place and these expectations are not met, we feel disappointment. This disappointment quickly turns into self-criticism, and suddenly we begin to feel the burden of having too many options.
This is what they call an old fashioned set up. We create a fantasy reality. We compel ourselves to live up to this reality, forgetting that we are all too human only to harshly criticize ourselves, when our realities do not live up to our fantasies. This is a punishing process that makes us forget the relationship we actually want to have with the world, one of empowerment and meaning.
To get back to creating a life of meaning and self-agency, we must let go of our tendency to idealize and move towards our capacity to realize with self-compassion. If we have core values and deeply meaningful goals, we are already moving towards our preferred reality.
Trying to control the process is where we get it wrong. We do not need better options. The ones we have are fine. We must let the process unfold, and allow our reality to be sufficient to achieve our goals. This faith leads to opportunities to use our skills, which leads to vindication of these skills, which leads to empowerment. When we follow this process, viable options in keeping with self-compassionate methods and goals will present themselves naturally.
Junie’s Journey Back From the High Dive
I once worked with a little girl named Junie. Junie was short for Juniper. She was about 13 years old, and tall for her age like the tree for which she was named. She would show up to my office about 10 minutes late every week even though she only lived 2 blocks away. She began each meeting with an agenda: a practice unevenly supported by her home and school environment, so she left carefully placed reminders that we should heed a process clearly designed to meet her needs.
Junie loved options. Decisions she hated, but she loved options. Motivated by a desire to one day become a teacher, she would position herself in front of me with the white board, and she would write down her options one by one. She underlined those she deemed most worthy of emphasis. Despite all of this chutzpah, she would collapse onto her chair after these pow wows no closer to the answers she sought, filled with disappointment and self-criticism.
We tried all kinds of things to help Junie become more self-compassionate, more capacitated, and more fulfilled. Then, one day we stumbled upon the metaphor of diving. We looked at each one of Junie’s agenda items as slowly elevating the height of the diving board. Junie hated heights, but loved jumping, so this metaphor was a natural fit. She understood that the most compassionate thing to do was to jump off the regular sized diving boards, and to see what became of that. The high dive was not an option.
In no time, Junie was making decisions at school, which filled her with a sense of empowerment and fulfillment. The kindness she sought through options she was finding in self-compassion. Teachers referred to her as their overnight success, but Junie knew better. She called herself “the longest night ever success,” in compassionate tribute to her months of hard work.
I am told that she is still an avid white-boarder, but she uses the white board now to highlight her successes and plan her well-earned rewards.
Like Junie, may your current reality be enough. May your actions be guided by self-compassion, and the understanding that they need not be ideal to be helpful. May you operate with simplicity in the here and now, and may this action be rewarded with great success and kindness.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 89. In the Books.