In my previous blog post, I talked about the connection between self-compassion and the spiritual principles found in the Twelve Steps. These principles form a strong connection to self-compassion.
Mindfulness, being present to our thoughts without resistance, is the first component. It helps us to realize when we need to practice self compassion.
As we continue to explore the role of self-compassion we will look at the importance of understanding our common humanity, what we share simply because we are human beings. This awareness is what I consider to be the second component of self-compassion.
My common humanity — certain characteristics and responses I have just because I am human — can be the biggest obstacles to my practice of self compassion.
Up until I entered recovery over twenty years ago, I spent most of my life finding evidence there was something wrong with me. I found myself looking outside of myself to overcome my self-judgment, and I focused on getting approval. The challenge was that I could never live up to my own standards of perfection, so even if you approved of me, I still believed there was something wrong with me.
I have come to understand that what is “wrong” with me is my humanity, my human condition. I have come to understand that as a human, I am limited and imperfect, and so is everyone else.
Why can that be so hard to accept?
Well, we have a part of our brain that is totally unconscious and is designed to keep us safe; from time to time it rings alarm bells that tell us we’re not safe. Most of our conscious fear of not being safe comes from thoughts prompted by these subconscious alarm bells! And those thoughts can make my ordinary human limitations feel like dangerous weaknesses and/or pathetic defects.
It takes practice to build new pathways in our brain so we can get free of our old ideas about ourselves. It takes a willingness to care for ourselves when times are challenging. At those times, when we’re full of anxiety, we are least likely to practice self-kindness, which is the third component of self-compassion.
A simple question we can learn to ask ourselves when times are hard is “What do I need?” This is one of the many things we will explore together when we gather on September 12th at The Retreat.
With my wife and daughter traveling for the month of August, I headed off for a week of family camp with my son, who was mostly intent on doing his own thing with his group of friends. Every day I took time to sit for Centering Prayer, usually in the mornings, and several times outdoors, beside the lake shore.
Released from my usual everyday roles — husband, father, AA sponsor, worker, provider, voice of reason, director, choreographer — I settled down hoping that I might experience some profound peacefulness, freed as I was from my usual attachments. And indeed, instead of engaging with thoughts of to-do lists, and that thing that person said at the office, oh and don't forget to pick up the such-and-such at Target, I found opportunities to ever-so-gently apply my sacred word when I was distracted by the call of a loon, or the breeze on my face, or the dew on the bench. By any measure it was a magical setting for my 11th Step meditation.
So why was I so uncomfortable? Father Keating writes that if we are persistent in our centering prayer practice, eventually "the emotional junk in our unconscious emerges," and eventually "the obstacles to opening [ourselves] to God are revealed." I was experiencing the unloading of the unconscious, and unable to fall back on my familiar patterns, I felt hypersensitive and untethered. Awareness can be painful.
But it can also lead to healing. One promise of the 12 Steps is that we will gain awareness of the obstacles in our path that keep us feeling separate from our Higher Power, and thus from ourselves and one another. When we place ourselves in God's hands through Centering Prayer, Keating reminds us, we are consenting to have God remove these obstacles. Compelled by circumstances to take a break from my normal state of constant busy-ness and distraction, I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to draw near to God's love and more genuinely consent to divine healing.
More shall be revealed.