The Lean In

By Angela

Self-compassion is a challenging journey.  I often find myself in absolute awe of how difficult it really is to find compassion for myself.  This awe comes only after I got over the shock of realising how very little I did have for myself at the start.  Wowza.  I always found it easier to just push myself to improve until I just couldn’t.  This drive came from comparing myself with others perceived progress, (I’m either way superior or way worse) until that just wasn’t working either.

Then there are the distractions of which there are oh so many.  It gets painful, no problem.  I’m on it.  I’ll just work out harder and more often than what is healthy for my organism.  Or looky here, I’ll dive into other people’s problems.  How about a complete series on Netflix… in one sitting.  There is the glass or four of wine (used that check out up for good as it was such a go to).  SUGAR works.  Or a diet, of course now, I’d call it a cleanse.  Internet shopping anyone?  Social media? We live in the land of plenty…plenty of distractions.

Here’s a helpful tip I found in Christopher Germer’s book, The Mindful Path to Self-compassion. He suggests trying to lean in when an emotion or feeling starts happening rather than distracting. 

He seems to be suggesting this lean in instead of

A. ignoring it (it’s called repression my people and it will come out at some point) OR

B. Spinning said emotion into a positive (my particularly unbelievable skill set…just give me a problem/feeling/emotion and I can spin into something that feels better). 

By leaning in and getting present with yourself, you open the door for compassion.  Notice the idea is leaning in, not doing the cold plunge into Kane Lake complete with the ice cream headache.  No plunging,  just lean in gently.

I’ve found one magical ingredient to being able to lean:  You have to release all judgement about having the emotion in the first place.  It’s impossible to lean when you are also judging.  (Think a stance of judgement complete with arms crossed and two feet on the floor…not conducive for leaning).  Then the compassion can start to seep in.

Compassion means a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.  It also means a strong desire to alleviate the suffering of another. 

Guess what? And this is way cool, YOU can be that another.  Then it turns into SELF-compassion.   It is possible to be the watcher of yourself (this calls for mindfulness), the giver of compassionate kindness (you are most likely good at doing this for other people) and also be the receiver of the sympathy…from YOURSELF. 

Admittedly, if you are just starting out, it can be quite the tall order.  It is challenging to stay present.  It is challenging not to judge.  It is challenging to feel sadness, anger, disappointment and even sometimes joy.  It can be overwhelming.  But through this idea of noticing with compassionate curiosity what exactly it is that we are feeling and instead of moving away from it (with a distraction), we begin to learn to LEAN IN.

So it goes a little something like this:

“Whoa, I am disappointed.  Oh, dear, I can feel that behind my eyes where they are welling up with tears.” 

Which quickly leads to: “I shouldn’t be disappointed, but just thankful it wasn’t worse.”  Then comes the predictable excellent diversion of dark chocolate/TV combined with feelings of extreme blah on the couch.   That is ignoring and repressing followed by a one-two punch distraction.

How about this instead: ““Whoa, I am disappointed.  Oh, dear, I can feel that behind my eyes where they are welling up with tears.  Huh, well, isn’t that interesting? Where else do I feel this in my body?  That must have meant more than I thought it would. “

A great follow up is: “It is okay sweetie.  Take your time feeling disappointed.  This feeling won’t swallow you alive, but just try and let it move through you.”  (Yes, starting to talk to yourself as a small child is usually an excellent pathway to learning how to be kind to yourself). 

Yep, super challenging to start noticing, and then choosing a response rather than reacting and distracting.  BUT learning self-compassion via the tool leaning in is a practice worth cultivating.

This week: Leaning in and trying out self compassion instead of pretending all is well with a distraction. 

AngelaThe Lean In