As we learn to have compassion for ourselves,
the circle of compassion for others —
what and whom we can work with,
and how — becomes wider. ~ Pema Chodron
Although I know this teaching to be true there are many times in my life where I have forgotten it. This can be for many reasons – wanting to help others, even at the expense of your own wishes/dreams/health/emotions/finances; disconnecting somehow from the reality of being here now and thinking that being compassionate to others is more important than compassion shown to oneself. Yet, if we are interdependent and interconnected – however you might choose to frame that view (e.g. Buddhist philosophy, quantum physics, or any other school of thought) – it surely makes sense that showing compassion to oneself is the vital first step in showing compassion to anyone or anything else around you.
I think one of the difficulties is the simplest: it feels selfish. My internal dialogue goes along the lines of ‘but if I want to help others surely my focus should be on them and not on me?’. Yet if I cannot show an ounce of compassion to myself, what kind of example will I serve to others? What ‘quality’ of compassion can I, in truth, then share with others? It would be like attending a masked ball throughout life, with a flimsy plastic mask of compassion screening off the being within, who, for some reason, doesn’t believe that she too is worthy of the ‘compassion’ she wishes to show for others.
So the harder path, but ultimately the more successful one is to be kind to oneself. Show compassion to oneself. Treat oneself kindly, gently, acknowledging the precious being you are. This can be done in many ways, and some will resonate more strongly with you as a person than another. In terms of spiritual practice I’ve found metta, or ‘loving kindness’ meditation, to be incredibly useful. I – admittedly – don’t find the time to practice it enough, but when I sit even for 5 mins a day in this practice it really does open up the heart of compassion for self, and ultimately others. Perhaps more on that another day …
So, today, practice being kind to self. If you were treating yourself as the most precious being there could possibly be, what might you do differently today? Would you have a different internal dialogue? Allow yourself to act, speak, dress, eat, exercise differently? Or even forgive yourself for past transgressions or difficulties – even if just for today? Even if you can find just one small thing to do compassionately for yourself today, please try it. Perfectionism gets in the way of transformation, but even one small act can open up new ways of thinking, being and doing. Enjoy!