Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. The struggle to survive within the increasingly competitive, complicated, and volatile world of modern society can wear us down. Our assumptions about progress and success have been hijacked by the relentless pursuit of material consumption. Stress, anxiety, and depression have become all too common features of our experience. It is essential for each one of us to develop inner capacities that help us to navigate the confluence of our everyday life. An important capacity to embrace is self-compassion and the art of cultivating kindness within.
Self-compassion is the art of cultivating kindness within the secrecy of our inner life. It is the energy of caring for our sense of wellbeing. To be self-compassionate is to work with our fear of aging and mortality in order to find sources of consolation and comfort.
To develop self-compassion and inner-kindness is to establish the necessary foundation that offers the possibility of extending kindness toward others. Surprisingly, self-compassion is also a vital form of participation in and contribution to the greater good; it is never an expression of self-centredness, selfishness, or narcissism. To foster compassion within is precisely the same thing as extending compassion toward others.
When we lack kindness in our inner life our thoughts and emotions are in danger of becoming self-defeating. Strangely, our sense of self-defeat is not expressed as lethargy, but as an obsession with busyness, hurry, and worry. To lack inner kindness is to become driven by an exhausting tirade of distractions that generate internal discomfort. As the feeling of life continues to intensify, our body contracts and suffers from increasing levels of tension and constraint. The darker emotions begin to emerge as our capacity for joy, belonging, and gratitude retreat. Relaxation becomes a mystery. And we forget how to rest.
Strangely, self-compassion originates in the haunting revelations of impermanence. To practice inner kindness is to step onto the liminal frontiers of our own fragility, vulnerability, and transience. Being self-compassionate is an act of courage.
Self-kindness often requires us to move into the fears we have been avoiding for a long time. Cultivating kindness within can sometimes initiate the difficult process of accepting that parts of our lives have become too small for us to inhabit. Sometimes, mindful self-compassion may reveal a truth that offers no hope of escape.
Self-compassion does not necessarily make our life easier. Kindness originates in the courage to face our own sense of authenticity in the world; it can never take the form of escapism, facile optimism, or an excuse to retreat back into the familiarity of a life that was not meant for us. To be self-compassionate is to participate in the courageous struggle to walk toward the life that waits for us.
The cultivation of self-compassion may require us to let go parts of our identity that we may have invested great effort to develop. In this sense, being kind to ourselves can force us to undertake the difficult internal work of releasing beliefs, roles, and assumptions that are no longer employable.
We see this event occur in people leaving successful careers in order to follow a deeper need and sense of calling in life. The release of those parts of ourselves that no longer serve requires us to lean into and learn from the volatile feelings of emptiness, disorientation, and uncertainty that must inevitably emerge into our life.
To practice self-kindness is to invite a period of transition into our life. Self-compassion means that we reclaim the unique talent, creativity, and joy that we left behind in our wake. To cultivate kindness within is to stand on the solid ground of authenticity with an eye toward our vocation in life. The aspects of our lives that we were required to let go of have created the necessary space for possibilities to reveal themselves.
An important function of self-compassion is to learn the myriad ways in which we unintentionally cause ourselves harm. One of the greatest wounds we can experience is the loss of vocation in life. Ironically, it is possible to be highly successful in the competitive realms of modern society all the while feeling miserable and unfulfilled. Any form of “success” that does not integrate the necessity of vocation is a foundation for regret. In other words, pursuing purely material notions of success is ultimately a form of self-harm.
The cultivation of self-compassion is inspired by the shocking realization that each one of us is here for an uncertain and extremely fragile amount of time. To be compassionate is to embrace the joy, wonder, and awe of simply finding ourselves here on this remarkably diverse and beautiful planet.
However, we also know that self-compassion does not necessarily make our journey easier; we may be required to embrace forms of kindness that will require us to undertake a pilgrimage into the liminal realms of our own sense of identity, purpose, authenticity, talent, and vocation.
To be self-compassionate is to apprentice ourselves to the deeper mysteries of life that are too large for the human imagination to hold.