Third Step: Compassion for Yourself
Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
Part Two of Step Three, by Sara Neall
In a distant zone in my being, I hear whispered the words, love yourself just as you are here and now.” – Sister Henrita Frost
Self-compassion is often the hardest compassion to practice. It can be fraught with self-judgement. As we strive to be more …. more kind, more loving, more giving we can begin to feel like we are not enough.
In Step Three: Compassion for Yourself (p.75) Karen Armstrong writes the story of Albert Friedlander. As a young Jewish boy in Nazi Germany, Albert was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. This eight years old boy had the wisdom to know he was not what the propaganda described. He lay awake one night and made a list of all his good qualities. He felt his own inherent gifts of heart and mind.
Lately, I have been practicing, ‘catch yourself being good*.’ It is a practice of noticing. I try to notice when my mind turns towards love, generosity and kindness. Over the past few months, I have noticed that when confronted with external suffering, for example, someone begging at the intersection, the news of a friend’s tragic loss, the frightening unfolding of COVID19, my first thought is always, “how can I help? what can I give?” Fear and doubt come second. It is my secondary thoughts, “that’s not enough, that’s inappropriate, that is too little, too late” that often stop me from acting. These thoughts feel rooted in a fear that I am not enough.
For me, this means that my own self-compassion is a practice of trust. I can trust myself. I trust that, if I make time for stillness and if I live more fully in the present moment, I can lean back into my own goodness. I can trust that in difficult times, like the ones we are facing, I will always act in the direction of goodness. This has a taste of equanimity. (But of course I need continued practice to be sure ….)
Our own goodness, perhaps our Buddha-nature often seems to go against the common scientific and social narrative of our ‘primitive’ brain. We hear so often that we are tribal creatures driven to react out of fear.
So, it was such a delight to listen to Nicholas Christakis’ March 5 episode of On Being:
Nicholas offers us a refreshing perspective on ‘social goodness.’ He offers the idea that love is just as primitive as fear. And that love is in fact more powerful.
* Catch yourself being good, is my understanding of a practice from Susan Mickel.