What’s self-compassion good for?
It wasn’t the first time life had brought me to my knees. But it was the worst.
After almost forty years of practicing meditation and compassion, I thought I should have been able to handle it, but there it was — everything fell apart, and I was a wreck.
In quick succession, people were dying and things were going dramatically wrong. It was like piling shock upon shock onto my system, and I was reduced to living in a state that felt between worlds. That was the year — I call it “the year of losing everything” — when seven people close to me died, including both parents and my beloved partner of thirteen years, who within four months had suffered a series of devastating strokes.
A lot of things were going horribly wrong on many levels that year. The image that came to me was like something I’d experienced while swimming in a very long set of waves in the Pacific Ocean that suddenly became huge and powerful. They kept knocking me down, and as soon as I swam up to catch my breath, another wave crashed down on me. Very quickly I found myself out of breath and out of strength but the huge waves continued relentlessly.
With my husband’s death, I felt I’d lost many cherished people at the same time: my best friend, coach, meditation partner, counselor, lover, and more. Without his income stream, very soon after he died I had to let go of our rented home, car, all our possessions, and even the country I was living in. In shock, I was unable to grieve. For a half-year I was homeless, moving from place to place, until I entered a four-month retreat in Ireland.
The retreat brought a sense of peace, but soon after it ended, more waves crashed over me, including the unexpected death of my mother. Once more, I lost my place to live and found myself moving boxes of the last of my belongings from a friend’s spare room into storage. Cast adrift again, any inner balance or ease flew out the window.
And with these new losses, there was a profound sense of utter abandonment and despair. Some days I felt I’d hit the bottom of a dark pit, unsure if I could take anymore. I was full of self-judgment and anxiety, and with all these losses piled one on top of each other, I still couldn’t weep. The waves continued to crash over me, and I wondered: What is wrong with me? What am I going to do? Why should I go on? What’s the way out of this?
Then while preparing an in-service talk for a hospice, titled “Compassion in Care for Self and Others,” the first glimmer of an answer came: I had experienced an unendurable surfeit of suffering, and I needed to have compassion for myself. This was the start of a new commitment — to enter a journey of self-compassion.
It started with exploring what went terribly wrong, and why. And that led to a clearer understanding of how not to be swept under by the unrelenting, devastating waves.
I’m not an expert on anything, but I am profoundly experienced with suffering, with grief and fear, self-judgment, and encountering my imperfections. I’ve walked downhill on a grey road on a misty winter morning wondering if life had abandoned me.
I have realized that being perfect is not what makes us deserving of compassion. We deserve compassion because we suffer.
As I researched and learned more about self-compassion, I’ve gained remarkable insights that are freeing me from old burdens of self-doubt and self-judgment. I’ve come to understand how I got trapped in vicious cycles that have plagued me for decades. I’ve practiced meditations that inspire self-forgiveness, kindness toward myself and others, and brought glimpses of ease and freedom.
And now, my vulnerable heart, softened and feeling safe to open, can include myself in my compassion.
Now, I can weep, . . . and sometimes, even play.
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In coming chapters of this blog series: What’s self-compassion good for?, I will continue sharing elements of this journey of freeing my heart through self-compassion.
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©2018 Christine Longaker. All rights reserved.