In last weekend’s blog, I challenged you to ask yourself every morning, “How will I be loving and compassionate to myself today?” I really believe it helps set the tone for the day. But if you’re like me, when something unexpected arises – something unpleasant that I caused or is hurting me in some way – my usual initial reaction is to either blame myself or to get defensive and say (or at least think) negative things about that or whomever is hurting me. (One of my less endearing qualities is that I swear like a sailor sometimes.)
However, practicing mindfulness over the last several years has helped lessen the time between the initial hurt/pain/self-deprecation and forgiveness/resolution/peace. Mindfulness and – I realized last night – my grandchildren.
I started reading “Eye Of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being A Grandmother.” The introduction by Mary Pipher (who’s book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls” was one of the best reads of the 1990s) drew me in immediately, especially this part:
“As I offer my grandchildren total acceptance, I have extended more compassion toward myself. When I make a mistake or a bad choice, I have learned to ask, ‘How would I respond if Kate or A.B. did this? Would I be angry at Claire if she were out of sorts the way I am now?’”
She described an incident in which she tossed what she thought was an empty can of V-8 into the recycling bin, only it wasn’t empty and juice sprayed all over the room. Her initial response was to call herself “careless and clumsy.” Then, she said, she “resolved to treat myself as kindly as I do my grandchildren. As I cleaned up the mess, I reminded myself that everyone makes mistakes. I asked, ‘Why should I be exempt from mercy?’”
That got me thinking about the conditions I put on mercy. If my own granddaughter Claire spilled V-8 juice, I would never think to call her careless or clumsy. But when my knee buckled on me as I walked down the steps yesterday, I cursed myself for having bad knees, like somehow I had asked for or deserved a bad knee.
As part of my practice, I listen to dharma talks offered through the Insight Meditation Center of Redwood City, California. Recently I’ve been listening to talks about and practicing the Brahma Viharas or loving kindness meditation. (You can find them on iTunes or go directly to the Insight Meditation Center site online and download or play any number of dharma talks or guided meditations.)
I didn’t realized just how little mercy I afforded myself until I starting practicing this type of meditation. And practicing it hasn’t meant that all of a sudden I’m filled with self-compassion. Hardly. When I started examining my knee jerk reactions, I often felt worse than before. I beat myself up for beating myself up! How crazy is that?
Can you think of one good reason why you should be exempt from mercy? Should our weight, excess arm skin, sagging butts, cankles, zits, or thinning hair create a barrier to self-kindness?
I still flinch at certain body parts, wonder what I did “wrong” when the scale is up. However, over time it’s become easier to recognize when I’m being self-defeating, and my reactions to my imperfections aren’t as white hot as before.
Still, it’s an ongoing process. I will no doubt spill many more bottles of V-8 and call myself stupid before I get the hang of this whole concept of mercy.
Following up on yesterday’s blog on childhood obesity, I wanted to let you know that The Diane Rehm Show on NPR will spend the 10 a.m. hour tomorrow (Feb. 11) discussing childhood obesity and Michelle Obama’s initiative. You can download a podcast of the show via iTunes or through the show’s website.
I really appreciated your insights and comments. There’s really no way around good nutrition and exercise to combat childhood obesity. Facilitating it in the home is not always easy, and barriers such as poverty, lack of physical education in schools, and even the lack of sidewalks in neighborhoods make the task of solving the issue even more difficult. This will be an interesting subject to follow over the next few years.