One of the songs I perform on dulcimer is “Love (Yourself) Harder.” Some of you have probably heard it at retreats. The opening words go:
Gonna’ wrap my arms around myself—
A small pine cone with burrs around the edges
Gonna sing myself sweet lullabies,
Brush my own cheek with human kindness, yeah
The idea behind this song is that we all could use more love for ourselves, even with the bumps, sharp edges, and imperfections (that burrs that we have– as little “pine cones”). I find this repeatedly at trainings and working with my coaching clients (and with myself): we can judge ourselves harshly—often much more harshly than we would judge others—and that this judgment actually gets in the way of our making the changes we want in life. I also find that when we are judging ourselves, we often are judging others too.
I recently came across an interesting article about this in a study focused on investing. It seems in most attempts to get people to invest, there is some form of “should” that is often fear-based (i.e., that you “should” start by a certain age, and invest X amount, etc, since if you don’t start investing now, you won’t have enough when you retire… ). It also seems that this approach is not very effective. It offers a kind of extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation. While many of us have “good” intentions, not all of us follow through (like other things in life! Exercising more, eating foods that support our bodies, getting more rest, creating overall more life-work balance, and communicating differently are all goals I hear regularly as a coach).
Here’s what the study found: if the potential investor is show a computer-generated image of how they will look post-retirement age, they are more far more likely to invest. Seeing themselves as an older person makes it real somehow ( a kind of pre-observation, in NVC terms) and opens up a place of compassion and concern for themselves. Seeing this elderly person, that’s actually him or herself 40 or 50 years from now–they are inspired to care for this “stranger” and start investing now.
I find a similar approach effective in having empathy for ourselves about other challenges in life. This is a question I often ask: How would we talk to a young child that we care about? What if we imagine ourselves as a younger version of ourselves–how would we speak to that little person? I am convinced that most of us would speak with much more care and gentleness and compassion. And often when we’re triggered, it’s a younger version of ourselves (who has some core needs that were unmet earlier in our lives, that still aches to be heard and held with care) that’s getting activated. Sometimes a “short” version of empathy suffices in these moments. It can be enough to simply acknowledge that something is hard—and for the “adult” (who’s acting compassionately) to let this younger part know that it will be okay. While this is not “formal” or classical NVC, it’s acting for ourselves out of place of compassion, what NVC consciousness is ultimately all about.
This morning I woke up with a moment of grace: the thought crossed my mind that there is endless compassion for each of us in the universe—even with our foibles, hurt, pain, and blind spots and when we “miss the mark.” But because we take things personally when things don’t go our way (out of a need, I think for some meaning and sense of control–and hope for change), we can blame ourselves—for other’s reactions or choices we make. And I invite you to imagine: what would the world be like if we each had tender compassion for ourselves—the kind of kindness we would have for a young child that we care about and love?
Inspired by caring for ourselves this way, in the coming year I’ll be offering programs focused specifically on self-compassion that will integrate the practice I describe above with shifting core beliefs and finding self-connection and self-empathy through listening with our bodies. This includes evening programs in NYC offering an introduction to these practices, as well retreats in the Bahamas and also at the Omega Institute, June, 2015.
Am hoping to see you at one of these events, or another training coming up, such as the five day retreat in October at Kripalu, that I will be leading with colleague Martha Lasley.
Regardless, the next time you’re triggered, I invite you to try this experiment–and dip into a place of radical self-compassion. Imagine yourself as a young child, hold yourself “gently,” and love yourself a little bit harder.