Belonging and acceptance is a primal need that is common to all of us; From the moment we are born we are seeking this from the environment which begins with our parents and extended family and as we develop and grow expands to include school, peers, church and other social groups. From the very beginning of our lives when we don’t get acceptance and attention we begin to adopt negative beliefs about ourselves. We give up parts of ourselves so that we can be acceptable to others and to avoid the pain of rejection. These negative beliefs become our filter of how we experience the world and we not only misinterpret communication from others but also prevent ourselves from being our authentic selves. Over time our beliefs, emotional responses and behaviours are so deeply entrenched in our neural pathways that they become who we are.
As we begin the journey of self-development we start to challenge those old ways of being. The problem is, of course, to not only recognize when we are backsliding but to check our attitude towards ourselves when we are doing it. It is so easy to bring all those old negative thought patterns into play and beat ourselves up because we over-reacted to a situation, shut down from our partner, or indulged in an addictive habit. We need to understand that this type of thinking has become our default setting and it will take time and patience to create new beliefs. In a nutshell we need to have an attitude of self-compassion.
There are 3 components of self- compassion:-
The first component is to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves ; treating ourselves like a good friend as opposed to being harshly judgemental.
The second component is remembering to treat ourselves with humanity. To acknowledge that imperfection, in terms of ourselves; our mistakes and struggles, is part of the shared human experience.
The third component is mindfulness, which is also key to keeping self-compassion from devolving into brooding and feeling sorry for oneself. It refers to the ability to step outside ourselves and see what’s happening, see that things are difficult or that we’ve made a mistake or we’re struggling, and hold that suffering in mindful awareness as opposed to getting lost in it or fused to it, which is our more habitual response. Understand what mindfulness is here We need all three components to be present in order for it to be true self-compassion.
There are a number of attitudinal foundations to mindfulness:-
A non-judging attitude is important if we are to see past the automatic and usually unexamined ideas and opinions that we have about pretty much everything. When we begin paying attention to what’s on our mind, we rapidly discover that basically everything is a judgement of one kind or another. It is good to be aware of this.
We are always trying to get somewhere else and have a strong need to be on the way to some better moment, some better time when it all will come together for me. When we are impatient and driven it prevents us from being where we already are. Patience is really a wonderful attitude to bring to the journey of self-development.
This concept from Zen Buddhism, called “shoshin”, invites us to experience life in a way that is unburdened by the past and by previous knowledge. One Zen master called beginner’s mind “a mind that is empty and ready for new things”. Read Experience Life article “Beginner’s Mind” by Kenneth Cohen here
Can we trust that things unfold in their own time and that we do not have to fix everything or even anything? Can we trust what we think? Can we trust our ideas and opinions? Often they are unreliable because it is so easy for us to misperceive, misapprehend, mistake what is actually going on. Maybe what we think is true is only true to a degree.
Non-striving is related to the timeless quality of the present moment we call now. If we remind ourselves that “this is it”, that we are alive now, that we are already here, it can make a huge difference. The future we desire to get to – is already here! This moment is the future of all the previous moments in our life including those in which we thought about and dreamed of a future time. You are already in it – it is called “now”. How we are in relationship to this moment influences the quality and character of the next moment. In this way we can shape the future by taking care of the present.
It rather means realizing how things are and finding ways to be in wise relationship with them and then to act, as appropriate out of that clarity of vision. If we don’t see and accept things as they actually are, we won’t know how to act.
Letting go means letting be – not pushing things away or forcing ourselves to release what we are clinging to, what we are strongly attached to – it means non-attachment and in particular nonattachment to outcome.
Read Psychologies article How to be kind to yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff here
read my newsletter article dealing with distractions in mindfulness meditation here