I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and talking about it with a good friend each week, working our way through Brene’s Guideposts. The 2nd Guidepost, Self Compassion, proved quite difficult. It was kind of funny in a way — we were beating ourselves up for not having enough self compassion. How sad is that?
As I was getting ready for bed that night, I laughed at myself in the mirror when I thought about how hilarious it was to actually be beating myself up because I don’t have enough self compassion. And then it occurred to me that this might be at the root of my current dilemma.
I had not been feeling at all kindly toward my mind for weeks. It was dragging me down, embarrassing me with its shameful behavior, its refusal to stop acting like a petulant child.
I had tried all my usual tricks. Meditating. Tapping using emotional freedom technique. Exercise. Walking. Eating right. Praying. Watching funny movies. Moving my thoughts in a different direction. And yet — my mind persisted in its childish and boorish behavior.
I wondered what it might be like to be more compassionate toward my mind.
The next morning I woke up thinking about this. I had been dreaming about Poohbear, the wise and compassionate Feline Zen Master in Choosing to Be, and I found myself longing for the healing conversations I had with him when I was writing the book. Poohbear was my wise and compassionate self, and I missed him greatly.
And then I had an idea. I decided to pretend I was walking down the street and that I happened to see my mind walking toward me. I thought I would begin by smiling and offering a friendly greeting, much like I would do with someone I was delighted to see. Then I would just let the scene unfold. I got some coffee, went to my computer and began writing.
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I was walking along the sidewalk on Ojai Avenue yesterday when I happened to see my mind walking toward me. She appeared to be a bit distracted.
I slowed down and smiled at my old friend. As she approached I said, “Good morning. It’s so nice to run into you today. I was just thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing.”
She stopped and looked at my smiling face, brought out of her ruminations by this brief interruption. She had to think for a moment about how to answer my question.
“Actually, I’m not doing very well at all. I have been stuck in this awful pattern for many days, and I fear I will never get out of it. I regret so many things in my past life. I feel sluggish and unable to do anything useful. I am fearful about what I see happening around me. I know I am growing old and there is nothing I can do about it. Honestly, sometimes I just want to sit down and cry all day.”
I was moved by her honesty and her suffering. I know her to be courageous, but I was struck with how much courage it took for her to be so honest with me.
I touched her arm gently and said, “My dear friend, I hear that you are suffering. If you feel that talking about it may help, I am here for you. Perhaps we can find a quiet place to sit where you can tell me more about your situation.”
A tear rolled down her cheek. “You don’t know how much it means to me to have you say this. I feel so ugly and stupid right now. I think there is something terrible wrong with me because I can’t figure out how to get out of this black hole, how to turn this around. All I can do is beat myself up about it, and compare myself to others who seem to be doing so well. Your kindness is like a soothing balm.”
I took her arm and put my other arm around her, giving her a gentle hug. “Come with me, dear friend, why don’t we go sit on a bench where we can talk and you can unburden yourself.”
We walked together into the park toward one of the magnificent oak trees. I brushed off the bench and we sat down, shaded by the awning of the tree. I was silent for a while, allowing time for us to sink into our surroundings, to hear the birds singing, to feel the gentle breeze on our cheeks, to see the lush green shades of the leaves on the tree and the grass beneath our feet.
After a while, she began . . .