Lately, I find myself drawn to self-compassion and thereby compassion.  Mainly because there is a lack of it in myself, my friends, and folks I meet.  Perhaps self-compassion sounds a bit too self-based.  What is self-compassion?  And is it good for me?  Sounds self-focused.  As a Christian, I am to be focused on Christ not myself, right? 

What is self-compassion?  Let’s start with what it is not.  It is not self-pity, self-indulgence, nor about weakness.[1]  Self-compassion is one of those attributes that once you have it, it flows into the world, sometimes without much awareness of the one who extends it.  What is it?  Self-compassion remembers how hard life has been or can be, and in that moment of recall, extends that understanding or compassion to others who are suffering. 

Several years ago, while walking, I waved and smiled as I passed a man who was pulling weeds in his lawn.  He looked at me and scowled.  In that moment, I make a choice about what I think about him and what I think about my gesture of waving.  I decided that I like waving at folks as I pass by on the street.  I like it so much, that even if they do not wave back, I still enjoy doing it.  So, I am good with not getting a wave back. 

Now, what do I want to do about the scowl?  Do I know what it is like to be him?  No.  Do I know what might or might not be on his mind?  Or heart?  Or what might be going on in his family?  No.  I know nothing about him or his life, or his pain.  In the moment, extending compassion is maybe the least amount of energy I can extend.  His scowl is not about me.  No.  It is about his life.  Full stop.  I decided not to make up a story about it. 

In this experience, there is both self-compassion and compassion.  I expressed self-compassion in my wave as well as compassion by not exaggerating the amount of information I had on this person’s scowl. 

“Self-compassion is [a] way of relating to the ever-changing landscape of who we are with kindness and acceptance – especially when we fail or feel inadequate.”[2]  So, here we are – imperfect.  In need of compassion.  But first, like the oxygen mask in the airplane, we need to have self-compassion first.  For it is from self-compassion that compassion flows out to others.[3]


[1] Neff and Germer, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive, 20-22.

[2] Neff and Germer, 22.

[3] Neff and Germer, 22.

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