Self-Compassion: Making Friends with Yourself
December 2015 Graduate Meeting

Videos for this meeting:
The Three Components of Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff [6 min]
Overcoming Objections to Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff [12 min]
Woman Makes Her Body a Billboard for Self-Acceptance [2 min]

Printed material discussed at this meeting:
Self-Compassion by Emma Seppala
The Five Myths of Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff

See also Soften, Soothe, Allow [May 2015 Graduate meeting]

Kristin Neff is the University of Texas psychologist who has made self-compassion and mindfulness her life’s work. Self-compassion may be the most important component of MBSR - it’s the oil that makes the gears of mindfulness work. Without it, the practices are dry at best, and harsh and counter-productive at worst.

For that reason, after we viewed these at this graduate meeting, both of Kristin's videos shown at the meeting have been added to the course: The Three Components of Self-Compassion has been added to Week 5, and Overcoming Objections to Self-Compassion has been added to Week 7. Also added to Week 7 is her article, The Five Myths of Self-Compassion. These resources reinforce the importance of self-kindness in MBSR and clarify some common misconceptions about self-compassion, including the belief that being kinder to ourselves is somehow narcissistic, or that self-compassion makes us complacent and less effective.


    Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself ... do not be disheartened by your imperfections, but always rise up with fresh courage. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor's faults if we are impatient in dealing with our own? Those who are fretted by their own failings will not correct them. All profitable correction comes from a calm and peaceful mind.
           - St. Francis de Sales

    Many people in our culture have misgivings about the idea of self-compassion, perhaps because they don’t really know what it looks like, much less how to practice it. Often the practice of self-compassion is identified with the practice of mindfulness, now as ubiquitous as sushi in the West. But while mindfulness—with its emphasis on being experientially open to and aware of our own suffering without being caught up in it and swept away by aversive reactivity—is necessary for self-compassion, it leaves out an essential ingredient. What distinguishes self-compassion is that it goes beyond accepting our experience as it is and adds something more—embracing the experiencer (i.e., ourselves) with warmth and tenderness when our experience is painful.
           - from The Five Myths of Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff

    Strive for more, work even harder, aim to be the best! We live in a society that regularly sends us such messages. Meanwhile, most of us don’t stop to consider whether our goals are possible or whether they would even bring us lasting happiness. Even if we were to win a gold medal at the Olympics, our status as reigning champion would only last a few years and would most likely be accompanied by anxiety about losing in the future.
         Kristin Neff, associate professor of human development at the university of Texas and a pioneer of research on self-compassion, believes that our society’s emphasis on achievement and self-esteem lies at the heart of much unnecessary and even counterproductive suffering. From an early age, we are taught to build our self-esteem by competing successfully, yet competition is a losing battle. Psychologists have discovered that most people believe they are above average and better than others on almost every trait (the better-than-average effect). This belief helps us ward off painful feelings of inadequacy, but it comes at a price. When our self-esteem rests on the premise of successfully competing against others, we are always precariously teetering on the edge of losing. Social comparison and competition also foster disconnection by causing us to view others as obstacles to overcome in order to keep our position, mark our territory, and vanquish potential rivals. We ultimately feel more separate from others when the primary goal of our desire for success is to belong and to be loved.
    After observing the pitfalls of self-esteem, Neff went looking for an alternative, a way to set and achieve our goals without beating up ourselves — or anyone else — in the process. Through the practice of Buddhism, she found it in the form of self-compassion. With self-compassion, you value yourself not because you’ve judged yourself positively and others negatively but because you’re intrinsically deserving of care and concern like everyone else. Where self-esteem leaves us powerless and distraught, self-compassion is at the heart of empowerment, learning, and inner strength.
           - from "Self-Compassion" by Emma Seppala

    Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it’ll undermine our motivation to push ourselves to do better. The idea is that if we don’t criticize ourselves for failing to live up to our standards, we’ll automatically succumb to slothful defeatism... But there’s now a good deal of research clearly showing that self-compassion is a far more effective force for personal motivation than self-punishment.
           - from The Five Myths of Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff

    This brings us to unconditional friendship with ourselves, the second quality that Ani Pema teaches is critical for waking up. As she explains it, "When you have a true friend, you stick together year after year, but you don't put your friend up on a pedestal and think that they're perfect. You two have had fights. You've seen them be really petty, you've seen them mean, and they've also seen you in all different states of mind. Yet you remain friends, and there's even something about the fact that you know each other so well and still love each other that strengthens the friendship. Your friendship is based on knowing each other fully and still loving each other."
    Unconditional friendship with yourself has the same flavor as the deep friendships you have with others. You know yourself but you're kind to yourself. You even love yourself when you think you've blown it once again. In fact, Ani Pema teaches, it is only through unconditional friendship with yourself that your issues will budge. Repressing your tendencies, shaming yourself, calling yourself bad - these will never help you realize transformation.
    Keep in mind that the transformation Ani Pema is talking about is not going from being a bad person to being a good person. It is a process of getting smarter about what helps and what hurts; what de-escalates suffering and escalates it; what increases happiness and what obscures it. It is about loving yourself so much that you don't want to make yourself suffer anymore.
           - from "Pema Chodron on 4 Keys to Waking Up" by Andrea Miller

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Closing Thoughts
[contributed by Palouse Mindfulness graduates]

from Jan (South Dakota):

     You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire Universe, deserve your love and affection.
           - Buddha

from Jim P. (Idaho):

      And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly.
           - Brené Brown, from The Power of Vulnerability

from Jamie Lynn (Milwaukee):

Kindness
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

from Jim K. (Idaho):

Hokusai Says
by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.