change,  life changes,  managing stress,  resilience,  Self-Compassion,  uncertainty

On Self-Compassion

I woke up Monday morning (last Monday that is) feeling energized and ready to go. I had plans for the week ahead. In addition to the usual tasks, I was going to write, reach out to some friends and family members, and begin setting the foundation for new projects.

My intentions were good and I had the energy and inspiration to match them. It didn’t exactly go as planned.

It’s now a week later. As I sit down to write this, I look back and wonder where the days went.

My mood began to deteriorate from the get go. It was a rainy and cold week. Neal and the girls were frustrated. They’re all working remotely but last week the Gods of internet decided to play games.

As soon as I’d sit down trying to focus, somebody would burst in, frustrated, asking me to do something about this forsaken internet.

We kept getting in each other’s way. I found myself getting more and more distracted. Inspiration, energy, and creativity went out the window. Eventually, I gave up. It seemed the practical thing to do. What is the point of becoming more and more frustrated with myself and everyone else?

As the week went on, I went from being inspired, confident, and energetic, to feeling anxious, doubtful, and sluggish. Yes, I was able to take care of my family, prepare meals, keep the house in order, and even touch base with friends and family overseas. But, I wasn’t able to focus and I became increasingly rattled.

Then, during one of my early morning meditations, it came to me, like a whisper. I needed to be kinder, more forgiving, and generous with myself. I’ve never been that great at being good to myself and yet, that would be the first thing I’d tell a friend or a client during a time of intense change and heightened emotions.

Our safest haven may be found neither in running nor in hiding, but in staying still.

Sharon Salzberg

This quote could not have come at a better time. As I read it, memories of past retreats I had participated in, came to me and formed a picture. These days do feel like an extended retreat, don’t they?

During a retreat, we’re asked to enter silence, become still, and go inside. Things come up for us to look at, closely, with honesty. We’re not always comfortable with whatever comes up. Memories are rehashed. Old feelings come to the surface. Our fears and insecurities become visible so we can take yet another good look at them. Maybe this time from a different angle.

During a retreat, we feel supported and guided. We also choose to participate. That’s not the case these days.

We didn’t choose to start a pandemic. We don’t feel supported or guided and we have no idea when or how it all ends. There’s loss, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety piling up.

Pushing ourselves to be productive and go about our business as usual, isn’t always sustainable or wise. Yes, there are things that need to be done but when the well is dry, practicing self-acceptance and patience is a lot wiser and more effective than pushing through mud. Self-compassion doesn’t come naturally though, does it? It’s way easier to be harsh with ourselves.

Yet, these days, like always during crisis, it’s courage, caring, and softness that help us rise above and persevere.

By Saturday, the sun was shining and I knew what I had to do. I got my mud boots on and some old clothes, grabbed my gardening gear and out to the garden I marched. Everything else could wait.

When I feel unsettled and unfocused and start beating myself up for everything I haven’t accomplished, the garden becomes my savior. I’m not particularly good at it but this has never stopped me. I garden for me and I love it.

When I’m forging arm to arm battle with the damn Queen Anne’s Lace, on my knees pulling this way and that, covered in dirt, my arms all scratched up by the rose thorns, I don’t think of anything but what I’m doing in that very moment. It’s cathartic.

As I go on clearing, digging, and shaping, I look at the iris, the peonies, and every friend of mine that’s been there for me through the years and I’m happy. And, when I’m utterly spent and my knees and back are killing me, I get up, throw my filthy clothes in the washer, and take a long, hot shower. Then, I get dressed and go back out to take a stroll and admire my handiwork.

In last week’s post On Resilience, I talked about how the journey through fundamental change resembles a marathon. We need our stamina, focus, and mental strength to come through to the other side. How do we go about building stamina and resilience?

We begin by practicing self-compassion and self-care. We begin by …
  • Recognizing how we feel and not try to push these emotions away. Instead of fighting whatever is coming up that we don’t like, we sit and breathe with it all. No judgement, no shame. Let it be.
  • Reminding ourselves that whatever we’re experiencing during this time is absolutely understandable and normal and we’re not the only ones feeling this way.
  • Giving ourselves permission to be vulnerable without shame. Some days will be better than others. There will also be days when we just want to pull a blanket over our heads and forget this damn thing is happening.
  • Taking really good care of our health. There’s not much we can do without our health. Eating right, keeping active, and getting the rest we need to the best of our ability.
  • Protecting our mental health. We each have to find the right balance between being informed and keeping sane. Take long breaks from reading or watching the news and engaging in social media. Pay attention to how your body reacts. Your body will always tell you when it’s had enough. Listen to it. Walk away from what makes your blood boil. You can get back to it when you’re stronger.
  • Engaging in activities that nurture and inspire us. For me, this last week, it was gardening. What makes you happy? What gives you joy? What do you need to do to get back to yourself? Do that.

It’s now Monday afternoon and I feel better. As I’m finishing this, and before I head out to the garden, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book I’m currently reading.

To be human and alive, it seems, is to strive and to struggle, to learn and to grow even as we endure our losses and question our ability to transcend them. It’s easy to think we should be somewhere or someone else – smarter and wiser, or further along on the path closer to having an answer. Instead we muddle along, heads down, certain everyone else must know something we haven’t figured out yet: how to be happy, how to love without getting hurt, how to let go, when to hold on, how to live with uncertainty where to find faith.

Katrina Kenison from her book “Magical Journey”

Chin up fellow travelers. We can do this. Stay in touch, spread the love, plant a garden … breathe!

Yota is a life coach and retreat leader who helps women navigate life’s inevitable changes mindfully and intentionally. Her approach is deeply influenced by her cultural roots, work and life experience, and her long-term practice of mindfulness meditation. In addition to her work with individual clients, Yota speaks and writes on mindful living, overcoming self-doubt, and the art of letting go.

6 Comments

  • Julia

    Self compassion… wowww! Perfect! Just what I needed to start my day with… I love how you inspire the deepest parts of myself and as I read every single one of your messages I expand! Thank you!!! Big hug!!

    • Yota

      Big hugs right back at you, Julia <3
      Thank you for taking the time to visit. This is my preferred way to try and make sense of the times we find ourselves in and our shared experience. And, although I'm well aware of how differently this pandemic is affecting people, we're all riding the waves of transition and uncertainty. The emotional impact of this journey is something we can all relate to.

  • Diana Salsberg

    You have written well about the probably universal feelings we share.
    Life in the time of Covid is full of unsettled emotions and real fears.
    As days run together and control of each one is often a useless task, i find I must sit myself down and breathe at least 3 full breaths, and then let go of the crippling ‘worry’ and just be.

    I am here.

    • Yota

      Good morning Diana <3

      Thank you for checking in and sharing your experience. Everything is becoming magnified, isn't it? I was reading this morning how these days we're living in the in-between space; right at the cusp of our old ways of life ending or being drastically altered and the birth of a brand new paradigm. Only, we don't know what this looks like. The way we feel – and I believe it's a globally shared experience – is normal, and we have to remind ourselves daily. And so we accept the reality and stay strong by being kind to ourselves and breathing through it, just like you described it.

      Big hugs my friend.

  • Kathleen

    Thanks for reminding me that pushing and wading through mud isn’t always so productive! Our society’s mania for Results and Outcomes and Meeting Expectations No Matter What can be soul crushing.

    • Yota

      Hi Kathleen,
      Thank you for stopping by <3
      These invisible expectations we all try to meet at all costs, who set them up anyway? These days are extraordinary. We're coming face to face with our worse fears and failings. How in the world can we go back to what used to be without taking a pause and evaluating? Soul crushing indeed!

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