Every year in early January, I select a word that becomes the core of my intentions for my business and my life in the months ahead. Last year my word was Abundance, and the year proved itself to be genuinely FULL of Abundance in every way possible.
This year, my word is Compassion, especially self-compassion. I know that this is something I need to work on because my brain so quickly runs to judgment, which is anything but compassionate. I hear the voice inside my head ever-ready to be critical, rather than understanding, giving grace or showing compassion. So, with that as a back-drop and an ever-present reality check, I want to lean into compassion this coming year, especially self-compassion.
Compassion comes from the Latin root pati, which means to suffer, and the prefix com, which means with. Compassion, originating then from compati, literally means to suffer with. The connection of suffering with another person brings compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of empathy.
How do I apply this to everyday life? Let’s start at home; I live with a husband who has Alzheimer’s. I watch him suffer every day. He is frequently in despair over his own confusion. He knows enough to realize that he’s lost. He has no idea where we are (at any given time of day) and will frequently ask if we’re in Steamboat Springs, where he once owned a condo. Other times he’ll presume we’re at our old address (a home he sold over 20 years ago). He’s perpetually lost, and he knows it.
To show compassion toward him, especially when he’s repeatedly asking, “Where are we?” even as we sit in the house we’ve occupied for over two decades, is challenging. My natural tendency to is to tire of his questions and get irritated by the repetition – a useless, and reactive way of being!
The kinder, gentler, compassionate response would be to simply say (again and again) “We’re at home, in Eden Prairie!” And, while this is a complete truth most every day of the year, it becomes tiresome for me to repeat this matter-of-fact response as often as he asks the question. So, there’s my opportunity to demonstrate some compassion!
Compassion out in the world. . . Again, my daily life is replete with opportunities to be compassionate. I notice that my reactive, auto-pilot response that is anything but compassionate when I’m in traffic. I quickly point out (to myself, or anyone who might have the misfortune of being in my car) the dreadful driving habits of everyone else. For example:
- There’s the guy who never stops for the red light, but simply makes his right turn in front of me assuming I’ll slow down to avoid hitting him (of course, he’s right) – and I swear at him! Hardly a compassionate response.
- There’s the driver ahead of me who is doing anything/everything else but paying attention as we wait for the light to change. Once it changes to green, he continues to sit there, unmoved and unmoving until the guy behind me honks his horn in irritation (as if he’d read my mind!) at the lead car driver.
You get my drift – I’m anything but compassionate in the moment of reactivity, and that’s something I’d like to change this year.
And then, there’s self-compassion. . . where, I suspect a lot of people are like I am – not very self-compassionate. The advice that the author, Kristin Neff, the author of Self-compassion: the Proven Power of Bing Kind to Yourself would offer is this:
“Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities.”
So, how then can I be at peace with my weaknesses, my challenges, my quirks and oddities? How can I accept them (accept myself) with all the foibles that are a part of me? Kristin Neff offers this:
“I’ve found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
And, for me, I suspect that’s very true – if I “accept” myself, as I am, foibles and all, will I simply be that self-indulgent/self-righteous person who stays stuck in behaviors that reflect anything but the gracious, accepting and more-evolved self I long to be?
But self-criticism doesn’t work – it doesn’t bring us to the transformation we long to see. Only compassionate self-acceptance can bring us to a place where we accept what is (bad behaviors and all) yet aim for the more compassionate response – and the transformation it provides.
So, that’s what I’m going for this year — Compassion, especially self-compassion!
- Accepting my volatile, reactive way of being, AND when I recognize it, offering a blessing instead of a curse toward the object of my ire.
- Accepting my impatient, annoyed and irritated self who wants to snap back at my husband’s persistent confusion AND finding a softer tone of voice for my next response.
- Accepting my short-comings and every-day failings as human AND inviting both self-compassion and self-forgiveness as a path to doing better in the days ahead.
You’re welcome to join me on this journey! Self-compassion is something most of us rarely display. It is my year to lean into compassion, especially self-compassion, and I’d welcome your company!