Two key messages (of many) that I picked up in the Mindful Self-Compassion course, and have been re-learning again and again, was that whatever I was experiencing – it’s okay! And that I am not alone in my suffering.
In my prior post I alluded to wondering if I could be open to this MSC thing, due to fears of others judgment of which I was struggling and was a tad preoccupied with.
Given the fact I was experiencing strong emotions at the start of the course, and felt apprehensive in displaying those emotions to the rest of the group, the “it’s okay” message was a comforting blanket of safety. “If it’s a struggle, it’s not self-compassion,” one of the teachers says early on in the piece. [Sigh of relief]. “It’s okay to be a slow learner…tears or no tears, there’s no way this has to be for you.” Permission to be exactly as I am at this moment. [More sighs, more relief]. What a gift this was to me! It allowed me to let go of my preoccupation with others’ opinions of me and meant I could attune to my own experience and make the most of the week – this was the ultimate gift for me. This was self-compassion.
Being given permission to not only feel what I was feeling but to act in ways that suited me (of course within being considerate of others) was part of the “it’s okay” message. For someone who finds it hard to take down time unless I am really feeling poorly, the precedent of having permission to take care of myself first, to take a break if I needed, and to participate as much or as little as I wanted was like water to my thirsty soul. This was self-compassion.
From the very beginning of the course we were encouraged to start being self-compassionate and to be as open or closed as we needed to be. This was a huge relief to me – a source of freedom to experience and if able, accept my experience as it is and not have to struggle with it. And also to take care of myself if for any reason I needed to. This provided the safe space I needed to open up to my experiences in ways I had not before. It’s okay. Do what you need to do.
But somehow it reminds me that no matter how strong or together someone seems, they too suffer – and this makes me feel normal.
Sadness- it’s okay. Anger – it’s okay. Grief – it’s okay. Feeling invisible or insignificant – it’s okay. Anxious of other’s judgment – it’s okay. It is not good or bad that I am feeling these things, they just are. This is suffering. How about some kindness? Take a nap if you need to. Have a break. Participate. Don’t participate.
In addition, I learned early on that whatever suffering I am experiencing – I am not alone. There is something weirdly comforting in knowing that we all experience pain. Not that I enjoy others’ suffering. I am often deeply affected by it. But somehow it reminds me that no matter how strong or together someone seems, they too suffer – and this makes me feel normal. Okay. I am sure others can relate. When people don’t get it – when they invalidate our suffering – it can be very isolating. I don’t know about you, but I can conjure up all sorts of explanations about why someone not understanding me means that I am not okay. But early on in the MSC course I learned that even if people don’t get it or they don’t understand, we actually all suffer. Even those who don’t appear to suffer, actually do. Because suffering is part of being human.
This is something I am still now (months after attending the MSC course) trying to get my head around – perhaps because people suffer in different ways so it is not always easy to recognize in others.
This is a huge hurdle for me to recognize sometimes. Not in my work but in my personal relationships. For example when I suffer I might cry, withdraw verbally, or get some fresh air and exercise. Sometimes I am self-compassionate and kind to myself. Sometimes I reach out to others. Sometimes I eat a lot of comfort food.
Part of developing my self-compassion muscle will be to continue learning to better recognize not only my own but others suffering. And not take it so personally when they suffer in ways I don’t quite understand.
Others I know get angry, or isolate themselves completely. Some openly vent their anxieties, seeking reassurance from others, whilst others keep themselves busy or drink to numb their suffering. Others reach out for help from someone or comfort themselves. There are many ways we humans ‘manage’ our suffering and I can relate to many of these. And sometimes I cannot relate at all. Sometimes I don’t always ‘get’ how others suffer (and they certainly don’t get me). Although outwardly different, internally there is a similar process of suffering for all humans – something that says “I’m not okay” and goes with feeling the need to escape from the associated feelings, or at least hide them from others and sometimes even ourselves.
Although it may look different on the outside, suffering is common to each and every one of us. Part of developing my self-compassion muscle will be to continue learning to better recognize not only my own but others suffering. And not take it so personally when they suffer in ways I don’t quite understand.