Recently I listened to an interview by Krista Tippett of the public radio program “On Being” with two Buddhist teachers, Sharon Salzburg and Robert Thurman. It was titled “Embracing our Enemies and our Suffering”. During the discussion there was a distinction made between internal and external enemies. We are all familiar with the phrase “we are our own worst enemies”. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than any of our so-called external enemies would dare to be. Sharon Salzburg offered the following ideas to counteract this self-flagellation that we all experience from time to time. First, she talked about her initial experience practicing metta or lovingkindness in an intensive, structured way. The practice begins with self-compassion and moves out from there to others. She says:
“I always knew that classically you began with yourself, which I found kind of confusing because I felt, well, surely the higher path, the more spiritual way, would be denying yourself . . . some kind of self-abnegation . . . just focusing completely on others. . .”
But then she goes on to say that she learned that self-compassion can really be a form of generosity:
“It’s like generosity of the spirit. And the best kind of generosity comes from a sense of inner abundance. . [I]f we feel depleted and overcome and exhausted and just burnt out, we’re not gonna have the wherewithal inside, the sense of resourcefulness, to care about anybody. . . [I]t’s a self-preoccupation that happens when we feel so undone, so unworthy. . . [thus] lovingkindness for one’s self is this tremendous sense of strength and resourcefulness in terms of connecting to others.”
And finally she comes to this point which really resonated with me:
“. . . the one question that’s very interesting to reflect on is how do I actually learn best? How do I change? How do I grow? Is it through that kind of belittling myself and berating myself and humiliating myself? Or is it through something else, some other quality like self-compassion and . . . having the energy to actually move on? So where does that energy come from? It comes from not being stuck. And how do we get unstuck? In fact, it’s from forgiving ourselves and realizing. . .I am capable of change.”
So when you are tempted to avoid trying something new because you’re so sure you won’t be any good at it, you might want to reflect on what helps you to learn. All of us have a different path to learning. Some of us are visual learners, some auditory, some hands-on. And maybe we have also learned through negative stimuli from time to time to avoid certain painful experiences. But how do you learn best? How do you learn those positive lessons that give you the energy to move forward? Self-compassion just might be worth considering. Try being as gentle with yourself as you would be with someone you care about. It can’t hurt and it just might help.