Eureka!

Guess what?! I struck gold!

While maintaining that the main objective of this blog is to share some of my experiences on this journey through life, I will admit that I have been hoping that anyone who reads my blog finds something to take along on his or her own journey as well. We are all in this together! I only say this now because if you are reading this, you are someone I care about or someone who someone I care about cares about and I really want you to pay attention.

So today is all about sharing my gold. I am very new to this, so bear with me. I am no expert, I can’t take credit for it, and I’m not even sure I fully understand it, but I think I am on to something HUGE! I am beginning to see that any journey worth taking (i.e., life) must begin with a healthy practice of self-compassion. Of course, like many things I’ve encountered lately, this is something I have read or heard about in the past and thought, “Well, of course! Duh!” while not putting it into practice.

My last post was about truth and how being authentic, or honest, might be painful, but can open the door to compassion for others, and for myself. I knew I was balancing on the very tippy top of the iceberg because I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts on the matter. Since then I have learned a little more about self-compassion and how there is so much more to it than a simple acknowledgment that all is well.

It started with this article that Ken the Angel Life coach asked me to read. And, of course, I didn’t read it when he first suggested it. I was too busy (or, enter Twilight Zone theme music – this is something my parents always did when I was a kid – I was resisting it…). Anyway, here it is Self compassion may matter more than self-esteem. So, basically, this woman Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, researched self-compassion and found that (drum roll) it matters more than self-esteem. Sorry, I am feeling punchy. In all seriousness, there are elements of self-esteem that are desirable and those that are not. Cultivating self-compassion allows for all the desirable elements and none of the undesirable ones. This is really important for those of us raising children, and even more important for those of us shuttling said children from competitive sport to competitive (insert sport or other event) in hopes of instilling a strong sense of self in these children. We all want the best for our children and frankly, it seems to be a bit of a crap shoot as to whether or not we are achieving “the best” in our efforts. Only time will tell.

Cultivating self-compassion is not just for our children though, my friends. The article mentions Neff’s recent book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (William Morrow, 2011). Being the book whore that I am (punchy!), I immediately searched for Neff’s book on amazon.com. And this is where I think I found gold. As I poked around, I found a multitude of other books about self-compassion and…weight-loss, among other things. The funny thing is, I even remember writing about how my own desire to lose weight, or get fit, or however you want to say it, would need to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-loathing, in order to be put into action. I knew that then, but somehow I haven’t incorporated it entirely into my journey. Just last week I was telling someone about my inner punk who keeps insisting on french fries. Um, call me crazy, but I don’t think calling myself a punk is very compassionate?!

According to Neff, compassion entails recognizing suffering and feelings of kindness for those who are suffering, so that eventually we feel an urge to help or stop the suffering. Compassion also means understanding that we all suffer, that suffering is part of the human experience. Read: when you are suffering, YOU ARE NOT ALONE (I am yelling for my own benefit). Self-compassion involves all the same things.

I think one of our challenges is to show the very same compassion we show toward others to ourselves. And, I think this is what I really meant in my last post…that by virtue of practicing compassion toward others, I learn to practice self-compassion. It sounds so simple, but if we’re being honest, we know it is not that simple. I know not a single soul who lets herself off the hook with the same gracious spirit in which she would let me off the hook. Or her children, or her mother, or the grocery attendant at VG’s. We are all so hard on ourselves. We come by it naturally though. We live in a very competitive society. We grew up competing in sports, competing for good grades, competing to get into college, competing for jobs, competing to raise perfect children…we are competing all the time. Have you ever told someone what a bad day you are having only to have them respond with the details of their own much worse, much more complicated, much more trying bad day? We even compete for compassion! I’m not saying that participating in healthy competition doesn’t have value, of course it does. It is worth mentioning, however, that a competitive culture such as ours encourages us to feel as if we don’t measure up to others when we fail at something. Perhaps recognizing that sense of failure as “suffering,” instead of proof that we aren’t good enough, opens our hearts right up to understanding that as humans we all suffer, we all fail, and we are all worthy of compassion.

Speaking of suffering, I have to say that celebrating Father’s Day without a father sucks. There is no way around it. As I practiced self-compassion this weekend, I first recognized how lucky I am to have had a dad worth missing. He was such a great guy. I thought about all the little kiddos out there who don’t have dads and I realized just how blessed I am to have had my dad for 37 years. I started to think that maybe it was time to suck it up, you know, that this was my second Father’s Day without a father so I should be really good at it by now. But then I thought of myself as a little girl. I know that no matter how old I am, there will always be a little Anna inside me, longing to run to the solace of her daddy’s arms. He had the biggest, strongest arms. He gave the best hugs. I miss those hugs…

That little girl will never be expected to suck it up. That little girl is suffering still. That little girl has my utmost compassion. And that too, is golden.