Recently, a friend interviewed me for an article she was writing about the inner critic and it was satisfying to reflect on how the practices outlined in Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, had postively impacted my life. I answered her questions as honestly as I could, describing how I was increasingly aware of moments of self-judgment and wiling to offer myself kindness. However, in the following days I developed pneumonia and didn’t feel like meditating, teaching mindfulness or offering myself compassion.
As I dragged through each days’ tasks, I became less objectively aware of the critical voice in my head and instead began to adopt its judgment as my new mantra: “You’re failing. You’re failing. You’re failing.” All the challenges I was able to see in a balanced way when I was healthy suddenly seemed entirely my fault and completely insurmountable.
Just when I thought I understood self-compassion, new circumstances and information, this time in the form of a lung infection and a kindly stranger, rushed in to alter my understanding once again. So here I’d like to share a comment I made in that interview alongside a different perspective I gained in the throes of self-loathing that followed.
Is being self-compassionate easier said than done? What are some barriers people face when trying to be self-compassionate?
“I’ve found Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion exercises very easy to apply in my daily life and I am happier as a result of these practices. I think the biggest barrier to self-compassion is the belief that if we are nice to ourselves, we won’t ever accomplish anything. Self-judgment creates fear, which can be a huge motivator, but Dr. Neff has proven that self-compassion is actually more effective at motivating us to pursue and achieve our goals.”
Shortly after I made this statement, there I was coughing and putting up a poster for an upcoming meditation workshop with the inner critic insisting that the entire undertaking was futile. Rather than stepping back and recognizing this as a voice of fear, in my weakened state I felt that judgment hardening into an opinion.
Then a squat, untidy, older man approached and began to read my poster.“Ah, meditation. I’ve been meditating for 20 years,” he said smiling impishly. I wasn’t sure if he was being facetious, but I decided to take the bait. “Wow, that’s pretty amazing.” As I looked into his eyes, I realized that he was neither joking nor pestering, but quite likely to be a friendly person. “You know what the longest journey a person will ever make is?” he asked. I stared back at him blankly. “It’s the journey from here,” he said, gesturing to his head, “To here,” he continued, placing a hand over his heart. “And do you know what the hardest part of meditating is?” More blank staring from me. “It’s convincing yourself that you’re worth that journey.” He laughed heartily here, seeming to remember all the days when he really didn’t think that he was worth it.
I could blame the cold medication, but truth be told his words opened a floodgate of emotional relief and I was thankful to be wearing sunglasses. All the hardness of my harsh self-judgment softened in an instant. I don’t know what that statement meant to him, but here is what I heard: believe the kinder quieter voice that wants you to thrive on your own terms. Believe that this compassionate voice is always there, believe that it is right, and create the stillness it needs to be heard every single day. Or maybe he just meant that being self-compassionate can be really fucking difficult. Either way, I think he’s right.