I recently went to Ottawa to spend a weekend learning self-compassion with Christopher Germer and Lynette Monteiro. It’s truly something I need–and as I understand it, something so many of us Westerners who are full of self-loathing need. Somehow, we are never enough. We have been brainwashed into thinking we will only be content if we can achieve more, acquire more, and be awarded more.
Sadly, many studies would indicate that this is not so. Beyond the basics of a materially secure life we don’t get much of a bigger bang of happiness for our buck. I however, think that I’m in this workshop with my colleagues to study the next step in mindfulness practice, the emerging clinical work of self-compassion. I’m not really here for myself, or so I believe.
I am here but I feel cynical. I don’t allow those thoughts to burst through entirely, and I think I’m controlling the impulse to roll my eyes or sneer when we are asked to find a self-soothing physical gesture while we practise. I have no intention of hugging myself but manage to place a hand over my heart without too much resistance. I sit near the front, trying to be a good student.
I willingly engage in the practices we are being taught, but I soon feel squirmy and scornful, full of criticism around the workshop, the content and the facilitators. I begin to recognize my thoughts are a reflection of my own deeper internal discomfort. However, the body tends to scream when one ignores what it wants to say. So, a la Martine Batchelor I ask myself, “What is this?” over and over again. Nothing really comes.
We engage in loving kindness practices while walking and looking into the eyes of eighty strangers. We do sitting practices on our own and in dyads. At the end we receive a rubber “self-compassion it” bracelet. I can’t put it on my wrist as visions of the commodification of love and compassion dance in my head, along with the plastics needed to make it. I almost throw it out, but something niggles at me. And I don’t.
A couple of days after the workshop, the realization dawns that I am hiding from my own vulnerability. We get lots of kudos, especially in medicine, for our ability to pull up our bootstraps and move on with a stiff upper lip. We don’t get rewarded for looking after ourselves with gentleness.
It dawns that self-compassion means turning toward difficult emotions with kindness, aware, in the words of Kristen Neff, of our common humanity. I’ve decided to take a timeout to move from “we to me” and back again.