Reverb13 Day Nineteen: Self Compassion

The Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”  How will you practice self-compassion?

One of the finest lines one must navigate is that which separates compassion for the self, and simple laziness or stubbornness.

I see my own inadequacies. I wish to improve myself, and so I instill self-discipline in order to do so. That  self-disciplinarian at times is not at all accepting of the rest of my nature, as it seeks to change me into something more successful, more lovable, more powerful. But if the message from that self-disciplinarian is that I am not currently good enough in many fields of endeavor, is that compassion?

In a sense I suppose it is, because the goal is to improve what I am. But in so doing, I often feel like less, and not more. One has to conclude that compassion, even for one’s self, should result in an uplifting feeling, not in a feeling of failure and smallness. Usually I feel the latter when I push myself too hard.

So let’s look at this from the other side. Let’s say I practice total self-compassion. What does that entail? Surely, so it would seem, that entails self-acceptance. I accept my weaknesses. I treat myself in a gentle manner even as I fail over and over again to improve who and what I am. I rush nothing, insist on nothing, and evaluate nothing that I do, say, think, am, or desire. I allow myself the freedom to luxuriate in whatever is totally me at any given moment, without judging myself. Compassion.

In this scenario, I fear the things I cannot do now will never be possible. Things I do that may be wrong are never corrected. I gain no strength, no wisdom. Indeed I sometimes think I would do nothing at all, because society can be a quite exhausting place for me. Its standards, its judgments, its expectations and demands, (all of which seem arbitrary) can, if left alone, lead me to a certain numbness.

There is little point in someone like myself attempting to swim in that superficial, hissing cauldron of accusations and indifference that is society today. So, I could easily revert to doing nothing. Just existing, loving myself, creating when I can, and accepting that I am a failure unable to combat all that is out there trying to destroy me. Why beat myself up for not having the constitution to get through all of that? I’m a writer, not a soldier.

Self-compassion. Self-discipline. How to weigh them. How to allocate the proper proportions of both so as to accept what I am, weaknesses, quirks and all but still allow for success on my own terms without either giving up, or being swallowed up.

I can say that over the last several years I have allowed self-compassion to at least be a part of the equation. For much of my life, I proceeded only with self-discipline. I did so because I have failed in life far more often than I have succeeded, in just about anything I try to do. Society, both off line and online has never had a shortage of explaining what I did wrong, or how I am not the right kind of person. How I think is wrong, how I act is wrong, what I am is wrong, what I want is wrong,  the way I go about it is wrong, the reasons I do so are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong is, in summary, what most people have told me most of the time for all of my life when they see how much I have failed.

A guy starts to accept that after a few decades, and self-compassion tends to fade.

But in the last few years I have at least added self-compassion to the equation. Much like my freshman algebra class, I can’t seem to balance the equation no matter what I do, but I at least acknowledge the need to do so. As a result, I’ve thought about this balance for several years, and have come up with a few things which may or may not help me solve for X:

-I must accept the fact that I have tried to change certain things about myself for most of my life. Tried to become certain things. Many side-issues have been resolved during these attempts, but certain other things have remained an issue forever. Part of it may be the anxiety I think I have, and I suppose a counselor will help me determine if that is so. But some things, even the things that make life more difficult, are just who and what I am. If I haven’t been able to change them by now, they are not changing. Even if the world insists I need to (and can) change such things, I have to accept that a few traits, even the counter-productive ones, just aren’t going anywhere.

-I need to ultra-concentrate on those traits, skills and tendencies of mine that are productive, useful, positive. I need to convert much of the energy I have dedicated to “fixing” all of the parts of me that don’t work into mastering those aspects of myself that do work. True, there is a risk of becoming a locksmith in a village without doors, but if I have to find another village, I’ll do that. But first I must pursue what works, even if I have less that works than most other people.

-I need to discover the goofy, out of the way routes to get to certain places, and accept them. Believe it or not, I can illustrate this point with another high school math reference.

Geometry. It’s the only math class at which if I did not excel, I at least succeeded. Geometric proofs, (wherein you prove something is true about a diagram given information you already have) were  friends of mine, because I could understand them, even if I could not love them.

The best part about them, was that efficiency was not a requirement. There was more than one way to do it! I remember my teacher using a neighboring town to illustrate this point:

“You can drive from here to Walkersville via Miami if you want to, so long as you get the names of the roads and the order they appear correctly.”

That’s the closest thing to beautiful I had ever or shall ever encounter in mathematics. I got a B in that class, mostly by going to Walkersville via Miami. (And sometimes, via Brazil.) I didn’t usually have the shortest proofs in the class, but they were accurate and correct more often than they were not.

If I can think more geometrically about myself and my life, and less algebraically, self-compassion may just trickle in. If I let myself get somewhere in a round about way, I may not have to beat myself up over my weaknesses as much.

-Making extra sure I show compassion for the weaknesses and inadequacies of others. There is a limit to this, of course; I won’t sacrifice my morality nor allow myself to get walked all over. But by and large, showing compassion for someone’s else’s difficulties, (which I have always tried to do) will hopefully show me how to show it for my own. My own soul may need to come first, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn self-compassion through the process of compassion for others.

So, in closing, the balancing act goes on between self-compassion and self-discipline. I long to accept myself for what I am and what I am not even as the world does not. But I also long to move forward. To succeed. To improve. Maybe, with the above things in mind, I can find a way to do both.






  1. Kat McNally

    It’s a fascinating conundrum, Ty. And one that, I think, most of us grapple with.
    For me, I’m beginning to realise that my failures and flaws (as I perceive them) have never successfully been overcome with the “drill sergeant” approach. Compassion doesn’t necessarily mean accepting that I suck, it means looking for a more appropriate way to work with my shortcomings so that I can redefine success on my own terms.
    Everyone’s journey is different and I wish you all the best with yours.

    • Thank you. I suppose the journey, perhaps, is one of attaining the balance I mention. It’s all about avoiding the one extreme or the other, as is the case with so many endeavors.

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