It’s a strange irony that we spend most of our lives not living them, but trying to change what has gone (the past) or control what isn’t here (the future.)
The mind is very, very sneaky. We can see where other people do this – and where other people are too this, too that, too something other! But it’s far, far harder to see where we do it ourselves.
I wrote an article some time ago about the infallibility of the human memory, referencing research done after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and 9/11. Shortly after those disasters, researchers recorded people’s reports of where they’d been when they heard the news. They then spoke with the same people a year and three years later, and found people’s memories had changed. This research shows we combine several memories into one and in other ways make mistakes. One year on, people were only 60% accurate. Three years on that had dropped to 50%. Some people even argued that the recordings must be wrong and that what they now remembered was the accurate version!
While this all fascinates me, what was equally fascinating was that a few commenters seemed to think what I’d written about applied to some people but not others, with one person citing an example where her siblings remembered something differently to her – and they were incorrect!
We all do this – someone talks about a trait they don’t like and we think, “Oh yes my mother/sister/brother does that too.” If we even consider we might do it, our thoughts are more along the lines of: “I hope I don’t do that/ I hope they don’t think I do that!”
When we look away from ourselves in this way, we miss golden opportunities. I don’t mean opportunities to judge ourselves the way we judge others, or to “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps!” (For a start, I have no clue how the heck you’d manage to do that. I think I’d fall over if I tried.)
No, what I mean is that we miss opportunities to give ourselves a little more love.
A week ago, I was travelling back from a retreat, wondering what ordinary life would be like from now on. For six days I’d been with over a hundred other people, taking part in exercises or listening to Hale Dwoskin guide people from feeling stressed about what seemed like horrendous problems into peace – and often to laughter. We spent a lot of time laughing!
I had also talked with him about in issue of my own, and came to see it in a very different way.
This shift in perspective came about several hours after we’d talked. I’m not going to share the details of the situation – partly because it involves someone else, partly because the details aren’t what matter. This is true in any problem, not just mine. What matters is how we approach it. I’ve known this for a long time, but, like most people, my mind is sometimes very good at hiding from itself. This is particularly true about those traits I’ve tended to judge myself for.
So, I’ll tell the story in brief, changing a few minor details – in any case, what I felt about this person could apply to several others. I’d talked to Hale about someone I know who has been going through a difficult time for several years. I wanted to help them but couldn’t see how – for a start my brand of “help” wasn’t always what they wanted!
One thing Hale said was, “Love them as they are.” I said I did love this person as they were and wanted them to be happy, and he pointed out that I cared about them, but I wanted them to change – and that the other person knew this.
I knew this was true (and not just about this person) but whenever I thought of letting go of wanting them to change, it seemed as if the situation would never change and I felt really sad. The next morning, I was standing in the shower (a great place to reflect and release) feeling sad again. Then suddenly I saw that it wasn’t just sadness I felt – I also wanted the person to change so that I didn’t have to listen to their problems.
Some part of my mind had always secretly known this, but any time I saw it in the past, I judged myself for it. I should be kinder, selfless, loving, understanding.
This time, those judging thoughts didn’t come and it felt as if a weight had lifted from me. I’d had a back pain for weeks, and had found the chairs at the retreat very uncomfortable, but that last day I could sit easily with no discomfort.
I’m good at reminding other people that compassion starts with ourselves, but I don’t always notice when I don’t feel it for myself. I know I’m not alone – this is a common theme in the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion posts. There’s a tendency to think that if we are kinder to ourselves, let ourselves off the hook, that we will be unkind or behave badly towards others. Really this makes no sense.
When we believe the judgemental thoughts about ourselves, we give them power, and they affect how we then respond to other people. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I have had a conversation with this person since I got back from the retreat, and it was the more open than any conversation I’ve had in years! This is the power of letting go of self-judgements, of allowing a little self-love.
Several years ago I heard the non-dual teacher, Byron Katie, say that no two people have ever met. At the time I didn’t quite get what she meant – when we try to protect ourselves from our own self-judgement we present a false identity to the world (and want them to love what we don’t love ourselves.) We also see others through our mind’s filters, judging, feeling fear, preparing to protect ourselves. Because we look through a lens of: “I’m not good enough,” we literally see and hear (or read) things that don’t exist.
Remember that article I referred to earlier in this post – the one about the inaccuracy of memory? I remembered dozens of comments that misunderstood it, yet when I went back to check today, there were only one or two and most people had understood what I wrote! Why would I have remembered so many? Because for a long time I believed that I’m not good at explaining things so people don’t understand me (not the most useful belief for a writer to have!) So anyway, I focused on those who didn’t quite get what I was saying, and felt a little frustrated with myself and with them. I was also certain that they thought what I’d written didn’t apply to themselves. Now, rereading the comments, I’m not so sure.
Another story smashed, another weight off my back.
I have a feeling I’ll be writing more on this topic in the coming weeks, and for now I’ll leave you with a question to ponder. Where do you judge yourself and assume others also judge you? Could you give yourself some compassion instead? If you answer to the second question is yes, celebrate it in the comments section. And if your answer is no, you can share that in the comments too, after you’ve considered this: would you say no to compassion towards your best friend?
This post is part for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion’s September’s link-up. To read more posts, or to add your own, click on the blue button below. To accommodate all time zones, the link-up is open noon BST 21st September.
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