Practicing Self-Compassion

I could surf the web, never reading an entire article, or try to give something to you, my dear readers.  I mean, give you something.

I force myself up the stairs to turn off the modem.  Now it is just me and you, my dear readers.

At my side–a heavy-cream latte made by the baristas in Hy-Vee. I am nervous but I should be fine.

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Heavy-cream latte at my side. I’ll get to the spider webs later.

I am anxious and ruminate constantly, I told my therapist.  She already knew about my layoff and unresolved arbitration.  When she suggested I learn about the practice of self-compassion, I balked—it sounded like trendy self-help—like surfing, not really diving into the wreck.  I had already read my share of books on mindfulness and the like.

“Kristin Neff,” my therapist was firm.  Skeptically, I watched one of Neff’s Ted Talks, and then ordered her book.

Give yourself compassion for the wave of pain you are suffering, says Neff.  Pause, acknowledge your pain, recognize how hard it is to feel pain, how your own suffering connects you with all of humanity.

Maybe I don’t want to be connected with humanity—especially not if we are all suffering, all vulnerable, all so imperfect.  Maybe if I keep myself cut off from you, dear reader, I can be perfect and not suffer!

Except that my anger is bottomless and I lash out at my kids. Losing my temper feels both terrible and sublime, but shame (how could I act that way in front of my children???) stalks me and sucks me down into a toxic flush.  I log on to Neff’s self-compassion website, close my eyes, and follow one of her guided meditations.

The New York Times had been reporting on the science of ruminating: women ruminate more than men (this is because the playing field of life is not level and women have to be on watch, and we have to excel–only to be laid off or lose an important election), and people who ruminate are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

I begin to notice how frequently I ruminate about Western Illinois University:

in the middle of the night,

when I wake up in the morning,

when I go for a walk,

a run,

when I drive to a Cross Country meet,

Shopping in Aldi

when I try to meditate,

when I cook,

when I play Chopin

And why can’t my brother still be alive to help me?  Chad, why did you have to get yourself sucked into an ice-cold river whose flow had been rudely interrupted by a defunct dam?

This is a moment of pain. 

Everyone suffers.

May I hold my pain with tenderness.

I no longer wake up at 2:00 am to ruminate.  In the mornings, my thoughts are calm.

What I can give to you is recognition of the waves of suffering that define what it means to be alive.  There is happiness as well.  I cannot give you self-compassion–you have to give that to yourself.  I’m still working on it.

Thank you, dear reader.