Friday, February 7, 2014

Real Happiness: DIY Love

I'm intrigued by the idea of self-compassion. It feels foreign and exotic to me, like something people do in some remote land just discovered by intrepid explorers. Shangri-la, maybe -- tucked up in the mountains, far away from contemporary life.

Clearly, it's not a concept I learned growing up, when I was taught that God helps those who help themselves. God doesn't help those who ask others for help. Do It Yourself and do it right.

I was profoundly moved when I first encountered metta meditation. Making the aspiration that I would be happy, safe, healthy, and know ease -- the same as other people -- boggled my mind. Over time and repetitions, it opened my heart. I could see that, just like me, people I loved and those who annoyed me wanted to be happy, that those irritating things they did were not aimed at annoying me but at finding some sprig of happiness. I stopped insisting that people react the way I thought appropriate and focused on how to work with the situation.

But self-compassion remains theoretical quite often. A few months ago -- seven years after I started meditating -- I was still asking, How do I meet pain with compassion? What does that mean? What does that look like? How do I do this thing?

So I was delighted that Sharon addressed this in the chapter on compassion. This is really helpful.

Self-compassion has three components, she writes: Mindfulness, a sense of common humanity, and kindness.

This involves bringing awareness to painful emotions that "arise due to our self-judgment or difficult circumstances;" understanding that we are human and therefore imperfect, and being "warm and understanding when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism."

I've actually been working with taking better care of myself at work. Like many people, I work at a place that is under-staffed and always busy. My inclination is to take on things that need to get done because, well, they need to get done. So I've ended up with a disproportionate share of the tasks, and I work without breaks trying to get it all done. But I noticed a while back that I was starting to resent people who are good friends (a painful emotion), and I noticed that, and I decided that something had to change.

I began making it a priority to get away from my desk, at least during lunch time. Ideally, I get outside and go for a walk, which has the added benefit of cleaner air and sunlight. If the weather's bad, though -- and it has been -- at least I move away from my computer screen. That's being kind to myself.

Which leaves being human and making mistakes.

Working in a business (a newspaper) where mistakes are shared with thousands of readers and where perfection is expected, I can get into a mindstate where perfection seems like a realistic goal. It's not, though. Humans mess up, even when they do things with good intentions. I've been willing to extend that to others -- not taking personally things said by someone who's obviously under stress, for example -- but not seeing that in myself.

I lead a meditation class once a week, and I generally tell students to consider the time they spend meditating as time spent getting to know a friend. You wouldn't think twice about sitting down with someone for 30 minutes and listening to what's in their heart, but you think you don't have 30 minutes to meditate. Think of it as time you spend letting the mindbuzz dissipate and getting to know yourself, as a friend, with kind, compassionate attention.

If a friend makes a mistake, I try to help her find perspective about it's importance and to decide what to do now, not castigate her for making it. If I am being a friend to myself, I need to turn that attitude inward.

Know what you're feeling, accept that you're human, and be kind. Do-it-to-yourself love.

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