Compassion is not just cosy, gentle and receptive; it can be fierce and protective. In this sense, it has both masculine and feminine aspects. Like yin and yang, we need both in order to maintain balance.
Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff says that the yin is its comforting, soothing form, where we validate our pain and acknowledge our difficulties. The yang is the more motivating form of self-compassion, where we protect ourselves or provide for others—generating feelings of fierceness and strength.
“Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda
Think of the fire-fighters who dive into burning buildings out of compassion for others. It wouldn’t be so compassionate to sit back and watch and think, “Poor them!”
Think of a mother lion with her cubs. One moment she’s tending to them, nursing them and showing them care. Yet if the lives of those cubs are threatened, she’ll stand up and fight. It wouldn’t be so compassionate to feel pity for the hungry attacker.
When things go wrong, how do we treat ourselves? What comes to your mind?
—Perhaps some self-criticism, being hard on ourselves?
—Feeling isolated or avoiding others for fear of shame?
—Ignoring our own painful feelings and distracting ourselves with entertainment, food, drink?
If, in recalling and reading this, we find we’re feeling a bit down about ourselves, we could place a hand on our heart or give our arm a reassuring rub. We could tell ourselves it’s okay, we’re all hard on ourselves at times. And we could perhaps encourage ourselves with some self-talk like, “May I be kind to myself in this moment.” Taking a moment to really feel that warmth and reassurance.
Here, we just practised all three components of self-compassion.
This reflection exercise can help us understand if there’s a difference in the compassion we show to others and the compassion we show to ourselves.
During this reflection exercise, we’ll be reflecting on how we treat our friends and how we treat ourselves. We can do this either with pen and paper, or without.
You’ll need to put aside about 10 minutes to do this.
“Be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.” ~ Wilfred Peterson.
Taking a few moments to sit and settle into the present moment. Making ourselves comfortable. Allowing ourselves a few easy, deep breaths… with a sense of ‘letting go’ on the out-breath. Then allowing the breath to settle into a natural rhythm. Closing the eyes and scanning through the body from head to toe, noticing any areas where we’re subtly holding onto tension… and bringing some kindness to those areas. Perhaps even offering ourselves a silent inner ‘Awww…’, allowing our heart to melt a bit with each ‘Awww.’ If we like, using the out-breath as an opportunity to let go of tension a little bit more each time.
This short practice trains us to bring mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness to our suffering.
If we’re currently experiencing emotional discomfort or suffering, we can work with this.
Otherwise, we’re invited to think of a situation in our lives that is difficult, that is causing us stress. Calling the situation to mind, and seeing if we can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in our body.
Now, saying to ourselves:
1. “This is a moment of suffering…”
This is mindfulness, acknowledging what is happening.