self compassion

Is Compassion and Kindness the same thing?

One subject that we Mindfulness practitioners are often asked about is Compassion and Kindness. It is something that is often associated with spirituality and mindful living, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

Compassion is best defined as having concern and sympathy for the suffering of others. It is very different from being kind, it requires a level of self awareness that enables you to see beyond your own pain. Kindness on the other hand is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

The challenge for those of us who are in a “caring” role or that are practising Buddhists is that people expectation us to always be kind, caring and compassionate. Whilst that is our aspiration, it isn’t always possible to step out of the ordinary human habit to be kind and compassionate at all times, we are just ordinary beings after all.

Compassion requires Wisdom

“Idiot compassion” is a term that the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to describe the type of compassion that is absent of wisdom. Another great Tibetian Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron puts it this way:

Idiot compassion refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Compassion is giving someone what they need not what they want.

I felt compelled to write this short post because after working in a school for a while, it suddenly hit me what we are doing wrong, it is idiot compassion. We are not preparing children for the real world, we are not giving them what they need, we are giving them what they want and this is harmful in the long term and certainly not preparing them for real life.

In today’s society we chase all the pleasures and luxuries, avoiding any discomfort and hardship, even though life is surely a mixture of good, bad and ugly. We spend much of our lives running away from the unavoidable, instead of preparing ourselves for real life, one that is constantly changing and full of the unexpected. Life is just moments of joy with a mix of disaster!

As parents and teachers, should we not be giving our children the tools to deal with all that life will throw at them? Doesn’t real compassion mean we have to sometimes let our children and loved ones experience pain? How else will they be able to live a healthy life if they are never given the space to fail, to pick themselves up and become resilient adults?

Pema Chodron goes on to say that often we use compassion in a way that is harmful to others.

“Instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison at the very least, you don’t take it away from them”

What Pema Chodron is illustrating here is when we don’t say the truth in case we hurt someone, we don’t offer them what they really need and so we are not helping, we are just making it worse. This she says is not compassion, it is selfishness as we are more concerned about our own feelings than our friends. Real compassion requires courage, it is not about being a doormat, sometimes compassion requires you to stand for what is right. Look at people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther Kind and Nelson Mandela, they are examples of compassion in action.

Compassion and Mindfulness - The Stable Mind

Buddhism is often called the middle way, we learn to live with what is at any given time as best we can because it is the only moment that truly exists. As Mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism, we could say that it is also the practice of living “the middle way”. In other words, we live moment to moment, we don’t chase distractions such as short term pleasures and we seek happiness through a stable mind.

A stable mind is one that is not easily stirred by external events, it is a mind that even if thrown out of balance for a while, it comes back to a peaceful state relatively quickly. A stable mind doesn’t get lost in stories, it let’s them go without a struggle.

Someone with a stable mind knows when to say no, when to walk away and when a hard truth needs to be said. A really compassionate person doesn’t mind losing a friend in order to help them because real compassion isn’t about how we feel, it’s about what the other person needs.

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Acceptance isn't giving up

Acceptance is a difficult one to work with when you are going through a tough time. When your world is falling apart, you have a painful illness or you just can't see anything positive in life, how does acceptance help?

Well, firstly it's good to understand what we mean by acceptance because it is very often confused with giving up and resigning ourself to our current situation.

Acceptance is nothing to do with giving up, it is much more about seeing it clearly, about facing whatever your current challenge is and just saying "well it's here, I might as well face it". In Mindfulness, we say we turn towards it because it is through this process that we can begin to deal with it.

A Beautiful Mind 

It may be useful to look at the story of John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner with a remarkable mathematical mind who has spent a lifetime living with Schizophrenia. The film a Beautiful Mind documents John's story and how he was able to finally find a way to live with his delusional state of mind without medical intervention. To clarify, John Nash had invented three imaginary people who played a major part in his life and that led him to behave irrationally, sometimes dangerously. 

It is in this scene that he gives us some insight into how he has come to terms with his condition. After years of working on his confused, irrational thoughts, John Nash finally shares how he was able to transform his life. Let me share this insightful conversation with his old (real) friend Martin:

Martin: "Have they gone?" (referring to his imaginary friends)

John: "No, not gone, maybe they will never be gone. But I've got used to ignoring them, and they've kind of given up on me"

He then goes on "I think that's what it's like with all our dreams and nightmares, you have to keep feeding them to stay alive"

Martin: "John, but they haunt you?"

John: "They're my past, everyone is haunted by their past" 

What John's story teaches us is that it was only when he was able to accept his delusions, was he able to help himself.

Acceptance is not giving up

Pema Chodron refers to our constant battle with "what is" like us constantly kicking the wheel. We can't have peace of mind if we keep on kicking the wheel, or if we bite the hook so we get caught. In Tibetian, the word "Shenpa" is used to describe that sticky, uncomfortable feeling we get when we are experiencing something we don't like or want. 

Shenpa - An unwillingness of human beings to let go of certain thoughts, particularly those that cause suffering

So what is the difference between acceptance and resigning yourself to your current situation?

In Mindfulness, we practice staying with our current feelings and emotions, even though our instinct may be to run or distract ourselves so that we don't have to feel what we feel. But we can't change the movie if we don't see it, we can't solve a problem until we understand it, we won't know the root cause if we don't explore deeper.

So we learn to stay, even if it is uncomfortable. We bring in loving kindness to the situation, we give ourselves the support we need to sit with the uncomfortable feeling. Until we can develop our inner resilience we are always going to be caught up in life's ups and downs, the slightest thing will upset or agitate us.

By staying and accepting what is happening at this moment you are able to get to the root of the struggle. We do this through meditation or by simply sitting with your breath, becoming fully acquainted with whatever is going on right now.

Taking John Nash's story as an example, we could narrow the process down to three simple steps:

First you must see.

Face your struggling. And recognise the thoughts you have around this uncomfortableness. Question your thoughts, are they real? Do they really reflect the whole situation? In the film Beautiful Mind, at this stage John Nash shouts at his imaginary friends "you are not real" because our thoughts are not a realistic reflection of the whole situation, are they?

At this stage you are curious, you are exploring and you are asking all the questions. If you are suffering from an illness, are your thoughts helpful or are they causing you to suffer more? What are the facts and what are the delusions? 

Making Friends with Your Struggle

The next step is to stop fighting, to surrender to the fact that maybe your challenge will never go away. Now that sounds very fatalistic, doesn't it? Well, actually it's not because when you let go of the struggle, suddenly it has less of a hold on you. For those of us who've experienced childbirth, we know that the only way to bear the pain is to stop the struggle. Adding pain to what's already a painful experience doesn't help anyone.

And always remember to be kind, yes I know this is a whole other subject!

Make Peace - Acceptance

Going back to our friend John Nash, he freed himself from the constant involvement with his thoughts. That is what acceptance is, see it for what it is, let go of the struggle and make the changes you need to make to help yourself. The pain may not go away completely, the constant negative thoughts may not disappear overnight but what will happen is that you will make peace with yourself.

If you have a personal struggle, we may be able to help. 

Sign up to a course - Book a One to One - Or get in touch directly

 

Taking Care of You

It's been a busy start to the year. I've been running Mindfulness courses non-stop, mainly Mindfulness for Cancer. I am privileged to work with such amazing, beautiful people. I am humbled by the strength and courage of all the participants on my courses.

I try to give my all and make every effort to be totally present in my sessions. I share my own experiences, I show my vulnerability because I want everyone to see that I am just human, that I am no different than them. It is important to me that each participant feels we are all connected and that we all struggle at times. None of us is immune to difficulty, challenge and suffering in life, it is all part of being human. 

I have noticed that I can sometimes feel totally drained after one of my group sessions. It's not a physical tiredness, it's much more about being emotionally exhausted. 

Sometimes the answer is to give up the fight Surrender to itLet it beDon't control itDon't fight itIt will pass if you leave it alone.png

Caring for Yourself

When we care for others, we can forget to care for ourselves. And we can think that taking care of ourselves as selfish and certainly not a priority. However, if we don't take care of ourselves then we are less able to care for our loved ones, we are less able to do our work and help others.

This week I've struggled, even had to fight with many of my own emotions. And I've sat in silent contemplative meditation, reflecting on particular questions, to see what might come to the surface. 

What is the point of fighting, what's the point of pushing yourself to keep going when the mind and the body are both saying "time out"? There is no point, we have to stop, we must listen and give up the struggle. We should listen to the signals our body is giving us. 

Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves first, sometimes we have to place ourselves in the centre of our own life. If we don't, then we are no good to anyone, especially to those we are trying to help.

“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” - Tara Brach

No Guilt

So I gave up tonight, I have been totally unproductive and there's no guilt. What is the point of taking time out and then feeling guilty? If we decide to let things go, to stop the struggle and give ourselves what we need, then we need to drop the guilt too.

This is the point I guess, sometimes we just have to give ourselves permission to do nothing, to stop doing and just "be" for a while. Give ourselves permission to stop trying to avoid the need to slow down, to let whatever needs to pass, to just pass. 

We are not used to being, we are taught to be productive, to keep "doing" and if we are not careful we burn out. 

If we learn to listen to the mind and body, then we can learn to take care of ourselves before it becomes too much. Pay attention to the signs, learn to give yourself what you need and remember you are worth it!

 

 

Let Go Of "One Day" - This is that day

Today I decided to clear out my wardrobe; I'm not one to hold on to things and I don't like clutter. I've never really been one to get attached to things or people. Change has never been a big deal for me, quite the opposite I get bored easily.

Anyway back to me wardrobe story! I’m sure many of us have a "one-day" wardrobe. You know those clothes we hold onto for when we can actually get into them or when we feel good enough. 

This got me thinking, why do we do this to ourselves? After all, it's crazy to have clothes you may never wear until you become that perfect person you think you should be. Why do we constantly beat ourselves up about not being good enough, right now, right this minute?

So I made a commitment to myself, no more waiting for one day. If it doesn’t fit today or look right today, then no point hanging on to it. There is nothing more liberating than letting go of waiting for the perfect conditions before you just get on with living.

Why do we wait for that “one day”?

Every day I see people struck by unexpected life threatening illness, it's part of my life now. And this often wakes people up to the reality that life is indeed unpredictable. But why do we need to be reminded that in life there are no guarantees?

What are we really waiting for?

When we live with this "one-day" attitude it's most likely because we don't feel quite good enough. We feel not worthy or perhaps incomplete. We are always waiting for something before we give ourselves what we really want and need. We project into a future we don't even know we will reach.

We live in this crazy mind of ours that convinces us that we are not good enough just yet, if ever!

We wait for that perfect body to one day realise that your body is perfect because it's your body, the only one you've got. We buy into all the myths designed to make us feel inadequate, to keep us buying into consumerism, to keep us in fear of actually just loving and accepting ourselves as we are.

We wait for that perfect partner because we don’t feel good enough on our own. This is probably the biggest myth of all. Spending our lives looking for this perfect person to complete us, to give us what we won’t give ourselves. We know we are not perfect, yet we think that a perfect other might exist? 

We buy into this illusion that we need others to validate us, that without a partner we are not worthy. However the truth is that we will leave this world alone, we can't take things or people with us, so best we put ourselves right. And we experience life in the moment, allowing people to flow in and out without expectations. 

The apology we never got

We wait for that apology that we will never get from the people who let us down. We carry anger and regret as if it will somehow make our lives better, not realising that the longer we hold onto this the more of our life we give to those that do not deserve it.

All this waiting for the right time, the right person, and the right place just robs us of life, until one day we look back and know we should have just lived our life.

As I reflected on this subject it suddenly hit me.

This is my life, right this minute.

Of course, there are parts of it I'd like to change. Just like everyone, I have regrets and disappointments but I also have joy, happiness, and lots of love around me.

So what choice do we have but to live now, with all the parts of our life and do our best to put things right? 

There is no choice because we can only experience life in this moment, no point waiting for another time, no point putting things off.

Feeling unworthy and not good enough is no excuse to stop yourself from living life to the fullest. You may never feel worthy, so might as well just do what you want now, no need to wait for permission, no need to wait for someone else to validate you and no need to wait for the perfect conditions.

The greatest shame is to go to our death with regrets, let’s make sure we work on living with no regrets.