“In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.”
– Pema Chödrön
Many people turn to meditation and mindfulness practices to cultivate kindness and compassion in their lives. In doing so, most people focus on ways to be more kind in their interactions with others. Developing compassion for others is a worthwhile pursuit, and it is often easier to act compassionately towards our loved ones than towards ourselves. Without self-compassion however, the depths of our compassion are inherently limited.
The practice of self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself as you would a dear friend or family member. The word compassion derives from the Latin word compati, meaning “suffer with.” Cultivating compassion requires that we recognize suffering, acknowledge that everyone experiences suffering, and practice mindful awareness of our suffering.
When we strive to practice self-compassion, the first step, recognizing our own suffering, is often the easiest. We know our own suffering intimately. So intimately, it can impede our ability to move on to the second step: recognizing the universality of suffering.
It is, unfortunately, easy to convince ourselves of the uniqueness of our individual pain and imperfections. The key to this step in cultivating self-compassion is to take a step back. Focusing on the singularity of our own suffering is isolating. Recognizing suffering as an inherent part of the human condition, can allow us to realize that we are not alone. This awareness can alleviate some of our sufferings and help us achieve the third step in cultivating self-compassion: mindful awareness of our suffering.
When we suffer, it is common to exaggerate or suppress the negative emotions we are experiencing. Practicing mindfulness with regards to suffering means observing our feelings as they are – nothing more, nothing less. As a result, we can see our own flaws clearly and understand how they may contribute to our suffering. This allows us to gain perspective on our experience of suffering.
Mistakes, flaws, and failures are inevitable in life. The practice of self-compassion acknowledges this with an open heart and helps to increase our emotional resiliency in the face of such inevitabilities. We tend to be own our worst critics and as such, if we can learn to be compassionate with ourselves, we can learn to cultivate compassion for anyone.