When we attempt to bake a cake, we recognize that we can’t simply say, “I want a cake!” and that it will appear. We realize that we first need to gather the correct ingredients, then mix them together, all the while making sure not to add the wrong things into the mix. (Look out for the salt. It makes for a poor sugar substitute!)
The same can be said for self-compassion. How many times, though, have we thought, “I really must be more compassionate (kinder?) with myself” all the while not feeling one iota better? When this happens, it’s because we haven’t gathered the necessary ingredients to make our own cake of compassion. What ingredients would they be? And which should we avoid altogether?
Self-kindness vs self-judgment
Many of us would recognize we need a healthy dose of self-kindness, just like a cake needs sweetener. Instead of self-kindness, however, we often replace it with self-judgment, which works just about as well as replacing sugar with salt. In order to practice it, we can think of ourselves as a friend. How would we relate to a friend in this situation? What things would we say to them? Would we berate them for their shortcomings, or acknowledge the difficulty of the situation? Most likely, in addition to the latter, we would give them a hug. We can do the same for ourselves. (Go on, do it. Hug yourself now.) That’s called a self-hug, and it’s a real thing with real results. Together, we can physically, mentally, and verbally show ourselves kindness not only in our moment of need, but before and after, too.
Common humanity vs isolation
When things don’t go according to plan, it is very easy for our focus to narrow on ourselves. This narrowing of attention can produce disastrous results! It tends to emphasize our own frailty, fallibility, and f$%^ed-up-ness. (Btw, how did the letter f get all of the bad words? (Foreign, fake, feeble…) ) As a result, we dig ourselves into an emotional cesspit, then turn on the floodlights. Painful. However, if we can think of ourselves in our moment of despair, after we have fallen (yep, another f…), and remember that many others too fall, then our cesspit begins to shrink. Instead of an individual well miles deep, we have an ocean of despair up to just our knees. We’ll still be knocked about, but we will not drown. To remember our common humanity, it may help you to recall Bill Withers’ hit from many years ago. “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow.” Thus, we now have two ingredients to make our cake. Let us not forget the third, or our compassion will not rise…
Mindfulness vs over-identification
Lastly, in order to practice self-compassion successfully, we need to be mindful. This means we recognize our pain, our misfortune, whatever it may be, in that moment. We also recognize that this setback hasn’t always existed, and will pass. It is not a forever thing. We can think, “I am presently experiencing anger” instead of identifying as an angry person. We can recognize a momentary implosion without deeming ourselves a failure. By doing so, we can bear our pain, which allows us to be present with ourselves in order to practice self-kindness as opposed to running from our pain through denial, alcohol, etc.
So, the next time you fall, fail, feel feeble, remember your three ingredients of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. You’ll have baked the most delicious of cakes, and no matter how much of this one you eat, you’ll never have to worry about getting fat.
Self-Compassion Group Bake-Off!
July 28 8PM Eastern Meeting ID: 812 727 5009 Passcode: 446373
As mentioned in our last newsletter, Ms. Ashley Hofflander and I will be co-hosting a discussion on baking a better cake of compassion. This is an opportunity for all of us to reflect and learn together. We hope to hear your voice in the mix on Wednesday, July 28!
Hi Wes. I was redirected by your website to my phone app. Thanks for the posts. They are helpful reminders. I believe in keeping things simple. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, we can practice mindfulness while doing the dishes, or anything else for that matter.