I have recently realised that compassion – particularly self compassion – is the answer. The answer to pretty much any question you might care to ask. I seem to have arrived at compassion relatively late in life, via mindfulness training. Whilst the mindfulness techniques I have learned are incredibly helpful, it is the attitude of compassion and kindness that we bring to our practice that truly begins to transform our lives.
I have just finished Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion. How I wish that book had been written when I was young – maybe if I had read it as a teenager I could have saved myself a whole lot of grief. I had no idea how little self-compassion I had for myself until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can look back now – with no small amount of horror – and see how I reacted in the days and weeks after my diagnosis. Yes I cried more tears than I imagined one person could cry, but I was very, very hard on myself. Because I like gathering information, I immediately began reading everything I could do to help myself. Following a visit to a nutritionist who held pretty extreme views, I left my appointment being told that all I was allowed to eat was a limited number of juiced green vegetables for the next 10 days. Combine that with my new found belief that dairy produce is the root of all evil (read Jane Plant’s book Your Life in Your Hands to make up your own mind) and that left me eating……….pretty much nothing. I was losing weight in a dramatic fashion, and not only did I have breast cancer I was slowly starving myself into the bargain. Does that sound like compassion to you? This continued until a dear friend gently pointed out to me that I was punishing myself for having cancer. She was absolutely right. Instead of giving myself a hug and sending myself all of the qualities I really needed – peace, wellbeing, calm, hope, health, I was punishing myself.
Of course I couldn’t see any of this at the time. This insight has revealed itself with the benefit of hindsight. Following a recent mindfulness course, I had another real insight into a period of my life when I was unable to show any compassion to someone I loved, when they really needed it. It was a dark period of suffering for both of us. I only recently realised that the reason I couldn’t show compassion to the other person was because I wasn’t able to offer any compassion to myself. Everything starts with the self, with you. The next time you see someone being cruel or unkind to someone else, stop for a moment and ask yourself how that person must speak to themselves. On the basis that the vast majority of people speak far more harshly to themselves than they do to others, then you begin to get some idea of that person’s inner voice.
This wisdom has only begun to surface because I have been doing compassion work with myself. My favourite Christmas gift this year is one I am treating myself to – a year’s worth of Compassion Training with the Mindfulness Association. The first weekend of practice is at the end of January 2016 and I absolutely cannot wait, I am like a child who has been given the best gift ever.
So instead of a Merry Christmas, I am wishing you a Compassionate Christmas. Be kind to yourself, accept your flaws and don’t beat yourself up if you crack and shout at the family. Give yourself a hug instead.
You can learn more about Ashley and her treatments right here.
Ashley is also starting a four week Introduction to Mindfulness Course on Wed 6th January. Learn more here.