Beneath every act, word, or feeling is the same fragile humanity desperately seeking love, acceptance, intimacy, purpose and need fulfillment; but also the dread terror that we will ultimately miss out on what we so deeply desire.
I have read in many books, and I have heard from many people: be kind to yourself. Part of me honestly believed I was being kind to myself. The other part had no idea what that ‘kindness’ word actually meant, let alone how to practice it. My attempts to be kind looked a lot like self-indulgence. You are worth it so buy that nice thing, or have a sleep in. Then it would switch into self-pity, another form of indulgence, only more sinister. The belief that I really was a mess and had a right to be bitter. Discipline and a belief I could be better kept me grinding along the exhausting path of life. Nothing really seemed to be all that helpful. Both include some attempt to fix myself up, or give up on a broken self. Neither contained any self-acceptance. I don’t mean putting up with of my flaws in resignation, but open-arms-welcoming of what seemed (and often still does) unforgivable in myself. This was a dilemma: how was I ever going to be able to accept myself if spending time in my own company made me want to puke?
Then one day I stumbled across what has become for me the key to self-acceptance, self-kindness, and compassion. Equal parts Humanism and Buddhist mindfulness: to look beneath the ‘faults’ and ‘flaws’ in myself and others to the truest intentions underneath. Beneath every act, word, or feeling is the same fragile humanity desperately seeking love, acceptance, intimacy, purpose and need fulfillment; but also the dread terror that we will ultimately miss out on what we so deeply desire. This is also the source of my strongest positivity: that human beings at the core of their being are about beautiful virtues like love and intimacy. I can take hope even from the darkest encounter with myself or others, if I can see how fear of deprivation of these things lead to clinging, judgment and defensiveness. I can open my arms to my most disgusting parts because I can look underneath my actions for what is most human in myself. When I lust, I can accept it because it is the distorted image of a desire for intimacy. When I hate, it is because I fear to be rejected, and I want so badly to belong.
Don’t mistake me here. I am not condoning porn or hate crimes. They are distortions of the humanity I am talking about. They may cause I to seek a clearer image, but can we find kindness for the fear of deprivation and the all to human desires, no matter how distorted. Instead of reaching for a label or a tool-kit, can we touch our shared fragility and desire with kindness? Or to turn it around for a moment, what good does judgment and recrimination do? How often has it really worked to prevent a repeat of the offense? It fails. It fails for two reasons. It fails because it treats the expression not the motivation. In other words it seeks to stop the car without taking the fuel out of it, it’s going to start up again as soon as you are done with exercise! It fails because it induces a sense of unworthiness, which only further worsens the fear that we will miss out on the love we crave, increasing clinging, defensiveness, and judgment. If on the other hand we treat ourselves and others with kindness we have an opportunity to encounter our true desire, which is motivation to better conduct.
Opportunity is exactly what kindness is. Whenever we are ‘triggered’ or ‘tempted’ we have a chance to go deeper in understanding ourselves, and others. Everytime I am afraid to love, I can draw close to myself, forgetting that I am a leper, and instead, metaphorically at least, hug the guy who fears not being loved back. Every painful and uncomfortable emotion becomes an opportunity. You and I have not f*%ked up when we feel bad, unless we view it that way. It is hard to be proud and fearful at the same time, if I acknowledge how I feel with kindness it softens the armor of pride I use to keep myself safe but others at an unsatisfying distance. It is hard to allow yourself to feel sad and pretend you like to be independent. If I accept my feelings I accept myself, the way I am in any given moment because I am not asking myself to be, feel or think anything different. Any feeling, thought or behavior is now a chance to practice self-acceptance.
I don’t want to give the impression that I have got this all worked out or have arrived. Truthfully, this is a daily struggle, but every one time I manage is a relief and a source of gratitude. Being-the-compassionate-self is more like going to the gym than climbing a mountain, I can rest on the summit, but if I stop going to the gym I won’t stay fit for long. However if I keep going to the gym, soon I feel fitter, better and have more energy. Self-acceptance and kindness are found in the willingness to stay with your feelings, to let them soften your heart to the humanity underneath. It is drawing near to yourself rather than away when it is painful. It is holding onto the deepest humanity and the goodness at the heart of every person. Telling yourself off after the fact makes things worse not better. Listening to the truest desires of the human heart motivates change and growth. And at least I can stop gagging whenever I am alone!