Welcome Great Loss
Self-Compassion is never more necessary than following a great loss. When we arrive at defeat, both our internal and external critics regale in their opportunity to stick it to us for thinking that we could achieve something great. Our worst fears are reinforced, and we begin to bend to the will of pessimism and futility. All of these things are natural, and contrary to popular belief we do not have to fight them.
In fact, if you fight these forces, you will only diminish your internal resources leaving yourself even more vulnerable to their attacks. A great martial artist once said, “Do not be strong like a branch because great force will break you. Instead, be flexible like a reed that bends and adapts to great force, and remains unhindered in its journey.”
Like the reed, we must acknowledge the fall out from a great loss. We must bear witness to our experience. We must not criticize our self for having critics. Instead, we must call on self-compassion to acknowledge that we have come by it naturally, keenly observe it like an interested child, and watch it pass. Only then, will we have the space to bring kindness to our experience.
It Will Pass
It will pass. As loss creates opportunity for criticism, time opens the door to allow criticism to pass. Once this criticism passes, your self-compassion practice will allow you the opportunity to see that you can endure hardship, and it will also offer you the opportunity to learn. A great life is not defined by wins and losses, but rather by interesting experience, and a self that is always growing. You cannot grow from success alone. That would be like watering a plant without allowing it to brave, and get life from the warm but dangerous sun.
Of course, it is only natural to want to avoid great loss, but do you know who is able to avoid great loss entirely? That is right. People who do not seek to achieve great things! I believe we have invented a robust word for this possibility: Pass. Can you honestly say that you want the best part of your story to be written about now, and to have the rest of your life cut from the final take because it is too boring to include in the final telling?
If there is even a speck of self-love burrowed beneath layers of self-contempt, do everything you can to decipher your values and try to live an inspiring life in pursuit of them. The time to act is now. If you have more self-love, then you have even more reason to strive towards this life.
Think of it this way. Not pursuing our goals causes us anxiety. Pursuing our goals sets us at ease, and makes room for meaningfulness. Yes, yes, pursuing our goals also creates opportunities for loss, but so does not pursuing our goals. In fact, that life is mostly loss. At least in a goal-directed world, you have the opportunity to succeed. While you digest this, let’s look at Dorothy’s story.
Dorothy was an eleven-year-old girl with broad shoulders, a strong gaze, and eyes that narrowed, when she was angry. She was the daughter of a single father, who knew nothing of raising a daughter, so he raised Dorothy, as he would a son. This seemed to suit Dorothy, as she preferred to rough house with the boys rather than socialize with the girls. In fact, Dorothy would often get the best of the boys with whom she tussled. Seeing this as an emerging strength, Dorothy’s father enrolled her in wrestling, when she was just eight-years-old.
By Dorothy’s ninth birthday, she became famous for being undefeated for her age and weight class in her state. By Dorothy’s tenth birthday, she drew acclaim for her success country-wide. Around Dorothy’s eleventh birthday, she lost a big wrestling match in another state. She was crushed. When she came back to school, the boys taunted her for failing to live up to her attempts to be like them, and the girls spurned her for failing to demonstrate that she was better than them. Dorothy locked herself in her room. After a week of this behavior, Dorothy’s father was so worried that he bribed her with mixed martial arts tickets to go talk to someone.
Dorothy was a hard nut to crack. She gave one-word answers, and generally seemed satisfied to wallow in her malaise. Then, a boy from her class that she liked very much was bullied, and she froze. Helplessly watching him suffer lit a fire under Dorothy, and she began to explain how hard it had been to be different, and how life saving wrestling had been. She was not sure that she could work on her problems for herself, but she could for this young boy, who had been bullied.
I told Dorothy that Self-Compassion was probably the most important but hardest to attain skill that we have in this life, and that compassion for other people, like she had, often make the path to its acquisition much easier. So, we talked about this boy. She told me the things that she liked about him, and how unfairly he had been treated. I asked if he had reason to let other people bully him or to even bully himself. She said that he did, and often spoke badly about himself. Dorothy thought his shortcomings made him more accessible and relatable, and she loved him for these things.
That was all that I needed to hear to pose her the same question, “Don’t your differences make you more relatable and lovable?” Initially, she narrowed her eyes, but then softened them. She believed that this boy had certainly experienced her this way, so it could very well be a possibility. The more Dorothy was able to turn the compassionate thought process she applied to this other boy to herself, the more supportive language she used in describing her recent loss.
Eventually, Dorothy found the self-compassion we sought. She acknowledge that this loss had strengthened her, at least in how well she knew herself, and how able she was to accept the self she had discovered. The next time somebody tried to pick on this boy, Dorothy pinned the aggressor until a teacher could intervene. The boy nervously kissed her, and ran away. Dorothy started to believe that wrestling was more than simply proving to others that she was worthy. It had become about accepting herself, and allowing others to love that.
Like Dorothy, we all fear great loss, and sometimes suffer excruciatingly at its feet. This suffering does not last, but while it is here it allows us to strip down the layers of social validation, and tap into who we really are, and what we really need to be happy. Once we have accepted this self, our entire life becomes richer. May all of your defeats fill you with self-knowledge, resilience, and more opportunities for true and lasting well-being.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 117. In The Books.