I participated in a chat on Reddit recently called Ask Me Anything. At first, the idea of submitting to something called Ask Me Anything was a little daunting. But after writing a book that caused one reporter to ask me, “Weren’t you a little embarrassed to write about all the crying you did?” I figured I’d already let the cat out of that bag so … what the heck, right?
The format of the chat is that participants type in questions asking you anything they want. I received a wide variety of inquiries, but one of the questions particularly touched me. It went like this: “I enjoy reading your tips for relaxation on Twitter. Do you ever have days when it’s hard to follow those tips? Do you still ever get stressed and feel anxious?”
I love that question. It’s so honest and vulnerable. The little child inside us all innocently wanting to know that other people (even those who we think have it all figured out) feel the same way inside that we do — that they have tough moments of fear, doubt, and insecurity, and times when, despite all their best efforts, they don’t react to life exactly as they think they’re supposed to.
So my answer was simple — “I think the honest answer is that every day there are moments when it’s hard to relax. Our days are filled with so many pressures and stresses and it’s so easy to get caught up in them and get lost, which is part of being human. I give myself total permission to experience things as they come. Then I use my tools to come back to a place of self-love and compassion. That, for me, is really key: always remembering that I’m human, that I’m learning, and that being mindful means being present in life as it occurs. And then I breathe …”
That’s what I want to talk about today, the practice of compassion … or more specifically self-compassion. It’s something we read about in books or magazines that can sound easy, but amidst the pressures of real life, finding space to be patient and love ourselves can be a frustratingly difficult task. Like that beautiful piece of furniture on display at IKEA, it looks perfect and “easy to assemble” until we get it home, try to put it together, and realize it has 42 different pieces and an instruction manual that reads like an algorithm from high school calculus. Self-love is harder than it looks.
Sometimes achieving compassion feels like an impossible goal. It seems unreachable in the midst of a contentious meeting, an argument with loved ones, or rush hour traffic after which the stress of the day reaches a boiling point and we just want to scream at everyone around us. The idea of finding peace, love, or joy in those moments seems unrealistic. In many ways it is. And that adds a new stress on top of all that other pressure — the stress of wanting to feel compassion when we don’t … or can’t.
I’ve learned that these moments offer a new possibility, a new way to view compassion that isn’t just the end result. Instead our daily frustrations invite us to see compassion as the starting point, the middle, and the path itself. Our real-life stresses and frustrations become opportunities for us to be compassionate with ourselves even when we fail to show compassion toward our world. In this “in your face” world, any true definition of compassion must include loving ourselves even when we forget to love others. I think it has to be that way — and that compassion is, at once, the goal, the lesson, and the tool rolled into one “I love you” for ourselves … and for others.
This week I invite you to join me in loving yourself as you try to love the world around you. To breathe deeply before you self-judge when you lose your cool, think a nasty thought, or say a harsh word. Instead, use those moments as a tender reminder to guide yourself back to your heart with a breath and a gentle, “Welcome back, I love you.” In this way compassion becomes inclusive, genuine, and achievable for us all.
Big hugs of compassion, patience, and real-life spirituality,