From Back Breaking Grit To Self-Compassion: My Own Journey

Harden Your Heart. A Heart This Kind Will Crumble.

When I was very young, I had someone very close to me say, “Harden your heart.  A heart this kind will crumble.”  It was an inauspicious, and rather unsupportive moment in which I was asked to question my most defining quality.  I knew of few examples to support an opposing argument, especially very few men.  While not always consciously, I set out on a journey to test my strength, my will, and my resilience. 

Like most kind people, kindness is not the summation of my qualities, just the quality on which most people focus.  However, at my lowest points, I can remember asking the universe if it would not permit me to simply not let go of love or my desire for other people to have lives filled with love.

Coming To Self-Compassion.

My story of coming to self-compassion is similar to many.  I dedicated most of my life to helping others, sometimes to a fault, until my body convinced me that it would succumb to illness, if I were unwilling to focus on my own well-being.  One of my favorite mentors refers to this as the oxygen mask necessity.  At the beginning of every flight, flight attendants warn that if the cabin loses air pressure that adults must first put their oxygen masks on before attending to children to avoid suffocating mid-task.

To help you find your way to your own moment, I will tell you about mine.  I was about twenty-five years old, and doing outreach work in the housing project areas of Boston.  I committed myself completely to this task, and spent most of my off time lifting weights at a local gym.  At some point, I was sleeping very little, and struggled with the harsh effects of sleep deprivation.  Amongst them, none was worse than a vague paranoia, which I tried to power through with the gritty toughness and back breaking work ethic that I learned in military college.

When Will It Be Enough?

In meeting with my first self-compassion mentor (although I was unaware that he possessed such skills), he asked me a very simple question: When will it be enough?  I understood that he meant how long will it take for me to realize that I needed to find another way to go about living that incorporated my well-being too.  I was puzzled and a little defensive, like most young Jedi.  But, I could not ignore the truth in his words.  Interestingly, a truth that had been expressed by a former professional hockey player that I used to train with at the gym, who had found his balance through family and by going to church, and urged me to find my own.

I struggled with this question.  I looked hard at my life, and realized that I did things that were compensatory instead of revitalizing.  I paid attention to my diet, fitness, and my skin, but with the intention to borrow on them as much as possible to do great things for other people.  The world of self-compassion finally opened up to me, when I admitted aloud that I believed that complete fulfillment and happiness were not viable options for me.  When my mother heard these words, she said, “They need to be.”

They Need To Be.

That was all the inspiration I needed.  They need to be.  My mentor taught me that it was much easier to move towards friendship and create well-being for the self, and experience loss than to move away from these things and be chained to paranoia, and unfulfillment.  His words were, “I would rather lose one hundred friends, and have those I have got, then never risk losing one, and have none.”

Once I allowed my actions to be guided by compassion for myself and others, the paranoia was gone, and with it my other somatic symptoms.  I still come back to this advice, and many similar tools from Dr. Christopher Germer today.  So, that is my story.  I hope it has helped in some way.  Please continue to send me yours.  They are so inspiring.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 164.  In The Books.