What if the world was a kinder place…
What if – in the words of a friend – we stopped “idolising the rich, the famous, the beautiful. Let’s stop encouraging suspicion, judgement and cynicism. Instead, let’s start acknowledging the kind, the compassionate and the thoughtful.”
This is the world I want to live in: one where we are encouraged to be kind, compassionate and thoughtful to others. One where we are kind and accepting enough to ourselves, in order to be kind and accepting of others. Another way of putting it is: if you deal with your own shit, you won’t react to other people’s shit, and instead can treat them with the compassion that every human being deserves. Imagine if we all went through life like this; the world would be a much more understanding and less hateful place.
The quote above comes from a blog by a friend of mine, Sara Price, whose eloquent piece of writing echoes my own sentiments on a kinder world. Here is her blog.
So how can we be more self-compassionate? How can we be more understanding of our own fears, insecurities, triggers, failures and vulnerabilities, in order to be more understanding and compassionate to others?
A first step towards self-compassion is self-awareness. We cannot understand, let alone change, that which we do not notice. So we MUST learn about ourselves. We need to be greedy for self-knowledge, for an understanding of our thoughts, our feelings, our hopes, our dreams, our triggers, our behaviour, our choices, our habits, our ego, moods, and our motivations.
We are incredibly complex individuals – all humans are – but many of us have stopped looking into our inner world, let alone venturing deep into it and trying to understand it. We learnt from an early age to squash the inner workings of our heart and soul because they didn’t fit with what the outside world expected of us. Instead we built a strong suit of armour around ourselves and became the person we needed to be to survive.
Self-awareness is a journey of awakening, of learning who we really are, of acknowledging our flaws and pain but accepting them unconditionally. Tough work. Really tough work, and a life-long journey. For many people it’s much easier to close this inner inquiry off and project outward instead. This is where hate, anger and intolerance stems from.
But we – those of us who hunger for a kinder world – must lead the way into the deep, forgotten parts of ourselves and rediscover, heal, learn from and accept them. Again, this is not quick and not easy, but it is entirely doable. Lots of people have done this, and not all of them are Buddhist monks.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m fully aware of the damage that carrying this armour around for over 40 years caused me and those I love. Instead of it protecting me it made me timid, fearful, judgemental, self-absorbed and depressed. Not a good base from which to be kind and compassionate to others.
But I have managed to change. I have taken my armour off layer by layer and peaked inside to find the real me with her awesomeness as well as her flaws. I have had to learn to be compassionate to myself as a human – not a machine – and with each act of kindness to myself I was able to extend that kindness to others. It’s just not possible to be kind to everyone else (in a consistent, real, present, non-judgemental way) if we are not accepting of ourselves.
“The first step towards self-compassion is self-awareness.”
To start exploring self-awareness choose something that has been on your mind recently. Maybe someone keeps annoying you, maybe you can’t seem to stick to what you say you are going to do, perhaps you are worried about something, or you could be struggling with a recurring issue at work, home or within an important relationship.
If you are the journaling type, grab a journal and answer these questions. If you are more of a thinker, go for a walk, or sit on a park bench and mull these questions over. If you like to bounce ideas off other people choose a friend to do this with and talk it out between you. Not all of the questions will be relevant, and many of them will be hard to answer, but the ones that you resist, or that are harder to answer may be the ones that hold some key insight into why this is happening, or how to solve it.
- What emotion comes up when you think of this ‘issue’?
- Where do you feel it in your body?
- What do you usually do/are you doing to resist it or express it? (i.e. an angry outburst, distraction, pretending you don’t care, etc.)
- How do you feel about yourself as a result of this emotion or issue?
- What is it specifically about the issue/situation that causes a reaction/emotion in you?
- What judgements are you making about yourself?
- What do you believe for this judgement to be true?
- What would you have to stop believing if the opposite was true?
- How do you feel about any other people involved?
- What beliefs and judgements do you have about these people?
- How helpful are these beliefs?
- Does this emotion or issue occur at other times/areas of your life?
- What is really going on here?
- What are you scared of?
- What are you hoping for?
- What is making you feel unsafe?
- What would make you feel safe?
For example, let’s imagine you have a colleague that keeps annoying you and you’ve noticed you’ve snapped at him a couple of times recently without much provocation. Going through these questions might bring up some insights:
You might notice that:
You feel a tightening in you throat when he makes jokes about other colleagues. In time you could train yourself to notice this physical reaction and choose another response.
Since kindness and tolerance is important to you, you notice you experience anger when you hear him gossiping, criticising or judging other people. This is telling you that something important to you is being disrespected and you might need to take action, for example, to restore a boundary or remove yourself from the situation.
You notice you have developed a judgement about this person that he is mean and doesn’t care about people’s feelings. This may be the case, but he’s also someone’s son, friend or father and there will be good sides to him that you can focus on instead. Also, are you judging him harshly in this situation because you judge yourself harshly when you are occasionally mean or uncaring to others? Or are you scared of other people judging you this way?
This is a simple noticing game to start with. There is no pressure to change your behaviour just yet, unless a particular insight makes it easy and obvious for you to do so. The most important thing is to do this in a self-compassionate and non-judgemental way. You might notice things that you don’t like, and don’t want to admit, for it’s a brave soul who looks inwards with the intention of seeing the truth of themselves.
But the rewards are worth the pain of re-adjusting your self-identity. Self-knowledge is power and gives you better options. This self-awareness is also essential for self-acceptance – which I believe is the nirvana we are all striving for, often without realising that it exists inside of us, not in the goals we are chasing. Psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach says, “self-acceptance rewires the brain for deeper connection” – to yourself, your family, your community and to your spirituality. I believe it’s a worthwhile and life-long goal, which not only provides peace and enlightenment for ourselves, but benefits all those we encounter throughout our life. Starting with self-compassion and awareness is to set the foundations for self-acceptance, self-love and a deep sustainable happiness. It is impossible to do it any other way.
I honour all of you who are on this journey. And I thank you for staying to the end of a very long post.
lots of love,
If you would like to join a community of like-minded people who want to make the world a kinder place please like The Kindness Project’s facebook page. Thank you.