How often do you stop to acknowledge your successes? Compare that to the spotlight you shine on your failures and shortcomings. Is there a disparity worth nothing? We set ourselves up for repeated anguish by expecting perfection from ourselves and from everyone and everything around us. Perfection is a myth. Nothing is perfect, and so we invariably feel like failures or are regularly disappointed by others. When we are able to be compassionate with ourselves, we can begin to see truth more clearly. We embrace our learning curve. We see our shortcomings for what they are: teachers, reminders for us to stay on our spiritual path, reminders that we should not take our achievements for granted.
There are important distinctions between self-compassion and self-esteem. The benefits of both self-compassion and self-esteem are the same. But the negative aspects of too much self-esteem, such as narcissism, are not seen in those with a high degree of self-compassion. Self-esteem is a view of yourself in relation to the external world, how you compare to others. It requires that you ignore your own faults and pain or that you consider others as somehow inferior. Having overblown self-esteem is not a truthful way of living and so not surprisingly, it results in impaired coping skills, emotional fragility, defensiveness, anxiety and narcissism.
On the other hand, being hard on yourself is also an ineffective strategy for living a happy and successful life. Self-punishment and self-criticism will likely lead to hostility, directed towards others as well as yourself, anxiety, depression, lower energy level and self-sabotaging behavior such as procrastination.
Self-compassion does not equate to self-indulgence. Those who are self-compassionate are better able to recognize their own faults, take more responsibility for their actions, are less afraid to fail or face difficulties, show more diligence and perseverance. Self-compassion helps to assure that goals are in line with self-interests. It reduces striving for that which is destructive and can prevent addictive behavior. It helps to motivate behavior that is healthy.
We can cultivate self-compassion in yoga by learning and practicing the Yamas and Niyamas. We can improve our mindfulness by practicing meditation. We can practice being kind to ourselves when we struggle with that difficult balance pose, get a glimpse of our imperfect bodies during class or even when we don’t quite have the time and energy to make it onto our mats, which has been the case for me. A very long ten days since I’ve stepped on it.
I usually don’t let my personal practice suffer, but sometimes it does and that’s when the evil chitta vrritti kicks in. The self doubt, the embarrassment, the fear and the constant pressure from myself to always be on top of my shit. My focus for myself and in my teachings this year is all themed around self-compassion. I have made a commitment to myself to “go with the flow” – which means that I try to practice whenever I can, especially while I travel, but if it doesn’t happen, I practice loving kindness. I commit to not beating myself up, to not obsessing, and to enjoy whatever that day has to bring. I commit to breathing deeply and letting go of the need to control.
By cultivating a practice of self-compassion we offer ourselves and others overall well-being, presence, mindfulness, inter-connection with all beings and the power to transform states of mind that are not in alignment with our purpose in any particular moment.
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete – Jack Kornfield.