Thursday, February 19, 2015

Learning Self Compassion with Kristin Neff

I'm not crazy about work books.  It's a 'me thing'.  I prefer a book that requires my attention but doesn't make demands of me. Things are simpler that way. But if I was to ever recommend a workbook...Kristin Neff's Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself is a must.  Not only are the exercises accessible, they are essential.  Each one provides a strategy to engage with Self Compassion and bring yourself that much closer a healthier and happier life.
The timing of this book was perfect for me.  I have been struggling with so many things and it felt like there was no way out. I learnt that asking for help was a step in the right direction but it is not enough.  I cannot make my problems someone else's burden. Yet even without a response from those I approached there was a moment of relief.  The understanding that I was not alone in my struggle somehow made that struggle easier.
It is from reading Kristin Neff's book that I now understand what was happening.  In asking for help I did two things; I acknowledged my suffering and I accepted that while I didn't have an answer there were other that might.  Two very important concepts in the practice of self-compassion: common humanity and mindfulness.  The third, which I lacked (and could not fully comprehend) was self-kindness.
Being kind to myself felt like a reward for 'bad behaviour'.  If I was going to screw up, why would I say to myself, "I am sorry that you are going through a hard time for the crap you pulled"?  It felt right to be angry with myself.  Yet after years of doing just that I had nothing to show for it.  I was ready for something new and with a little more scepticism than was deserved, I set forth to make a real attempt at self-compassion.
I would have loved to automatically find myself perfectly able to be compassionate with myself.  It is a slow going process (one I am unlikely to be done with any time soon).  But I have been furnished with tools that work and I am more than ready to put them to use.  Even after only a few weeks, I can see a difference in how I relate to myself and, even more surprising, how I relate to those around me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Different Perspectives

I’m putting The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer on my reading list (just as soon as I buy it).  Not only because I have seen her TED talk or because the foreword is by Brené Brown author of I Thought It Was Just Me, But It Isn’t.  But because I get it.
I get how we open up parts of our hearts and minds when we ask for help.  I have been there.  I have found myself at the end of my rope with nowhere to turn but to those around me.  I have found help in the most unlikely places and been reminded that there is a common humanity joining us all together.
 But it is hard.  The shame of self-condemnation is so strong; the voice inside my head offering up only one perspective.  One where asking for help is admitting the worst about myself.  To that angry inner voice, there is little defense as it boldly declares:
“You should be able to figure this out.  You should help yourself…aren’t you smart enough, good enough, strong enough?  Is this what independence looks like?  You’re a fool and a failure.  You suck and you’re stupid.  And who can help anyway?  Nobody!  Nobody cares.  Nobody understands.  You’re all alone.  You will suck…forever.  You will be in this dark, shitty, lonely place…forever.”
And on it goes beating at the parts of you that are already weak and terrified and sad.  The result being you stay stuck exactly where you are…forever!
While there is a violent attack on the self, there is another way of looking at this same thing.  One that I learned only after I decided I wasn’t going to listen to the hateful self-talk and remain where I was.   Asking for help offers a strong vibrant thread of self-compassion that says:
“I am going through something difficult.  I am not alone in this problem…or this world.  I can find a solution or at the very least, someone who understand.  Because I let myself admit where I am weak or lacking or afraid, I can find the help I need.”
That alone removes the sting of shame and extends the hand of care and kindness back to ourselves.  From that one act, we find strength instead of weakness; the resilience born out of courage and vulnerability.  And of the asking we have done of others?  That may indeed provide answers and solutions but we have already take the biggest step to making things better.
Asking for help offers what is that much harder to come by: hope.  In the face of the despair created by failure, fear, and feeling lost and alone…what could be better?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Confidence and Courtesy

I bought a car.  The need outweighed the fear that had kept me from giving it a shot.  I knew I needed to make a change.  When the car finally arrived, I was not excited.  I could feel my heart beating a thousand times a minute as I contemplated a hundred terrible scenarios – two of which I had already lived through.  Car accidents scare me – with good reason.  I was determined to never have a car accident again.
So when I got into the driver’s sit, after nearly 10 years away, I vowed that I would drive with ‘confidence and courtesy’.  One about how I would feel on the inside, the other about how I would treat other motorists.  A good plan.  Except it wasn’t working.  Small things would leave my heart pounding; if accelerated too fast, braked too hard or just forgot to check my mirrors.
I was convinced I was driving badly and an accident was around the corner.
Inside my head there was a voice that pointed out everything I did wrong and kept repeating the refrain: stupid, stupid, stupid.  Nothing had gone wrong.  Nothing bad had happened.  I had not had an accident where I was entirely at fault and murdered fellow motorists and pedestrians in a malicious vehicular attack.  It was the response to slowing down to take a bump and nearly getting stuck half way through or coming to a stop a little too close to the gate on my way into the office park where I work or the near miss at a junction when I panicked at the sight of a speeding bus coming at me and nearly tail ended the car in front of me in a bid to get out of the way.
But all I saw was the ‘panicked’ which was far from confident.  Forgetting the ‘nearly’ that said I hadn’t done anything wrong.  A part of me unhappily adding, “YET!”  I didn’t remember the courtesy but when I did it out of the desire to balance out some cosmic arithmetic; paying forward the courtesy in the hope of forestalling some future Karmic backlash.  I was acting out of fear and it made everything sour.
The fear is real.  Having an accident is a possibility.  Experienced, professional drivers can have them just as novices can.  Sometimes shit happens (because nothing says it better than a cliché).  I can only do three things: Obey the traffic rules, drive my car with care and treat other motorists the way I would like to be treated.  These are not difficult undertakings.  Except all of them turn into something to be afraid of when I cannot embrace two things: the possibility of failure and the chance to show myself some compassion.
I’m not ready to review Self Compassion by Kristin Neff as I had planned for this week.  But while I am making my way through it, I am beginning to hear the voice of self-criticism clearly.  Perhaps with time that voice will be quieter, kinder and gentler with me.  Leaving behind a voice that is confident and courteous - to me!