TMC Talk

“Compassion: Being kind to ourselves”

A Beautiful  Pink Lotus Flower

Being kind to our selves is actually the whole of practice.  In fact, not being kind to your self is selfish.   So if all of you here are not being kind to yourself and are self-deprecating in some way, you are actually selfish.

Looking at this just by logic and reason alone, if you associate with at least one other human being or animal in your day and are not kind to yourself, they automatically receive an aspect of that non-kindness also.  It’s logic. It’s mathematics. So how do we get this way?

This lack of self-kindness comes about in different ways. Most often, we learn self-deprecating behaviours and thinking quite unconsciously from significant others in our family and when we are raised in a faith tradition such as Christian, Judaic, Islamic etc. — traditions that speak about inherent sin and sacrifice for the good of others.

Generally, it starts with parents trying to do everything for their children whether out of guilt or love.   Many think that all the things they do for their children, all the things they purchase for them, getting them into the best schools (or whatever) is actually kind. Usually, there is little or no thought put into the concept of being a role model through how you live your life — being an example by showing care and kindness towards your self.  Adults forget that when they were children they learned mostly how to be from their parent’s example and not always parental intention and speech.

Do any of you think that being a role model in showing kindness to yourself is even more important then your intentions/goals for your kids and others?

Sadly, most of us would say no, they didn’t even think about it.

So think about it now.

If you care about your cat, your dog, your parakeet, your children, your parents, your neighbours, your government, this planet, you must start with being kind to yourself. If we do not show kindness to ourselves, how can we truly know and show kindness to others?

Kindness to oneself and kindness to others is the same thing. If you are only kind to yourself or only kind to others, it is an incomplete kindness and therefore not kindness at all because it is not grounded in authenticity. It remains an ideology or belief.

Sometimes this kindness is really tough.  It may even look like an angry type of kindness.  A rough kindness because that’s what is needed at the time — a kindness that’s tough.  Like tough love.  You drag yourself out of bed and to the gym. You create time to meditate when your body is screaming for distraction.

Don’t make the mistake of always thinking that when someone is being tough with you that they’re not being kind.

They actually might be helping you. They might be saving your life. Helping you to wake up!  Because sometimes the soft and gentle kindness just won’t work – depending on the situation.

Sometimes our situation requires a soft kindness.  A compassionate listening and understanding of what your challenge is – a holding of space for your pain and confusion. And sometimes a combination of tough and gentle kindness is required.

The reason that you’re here in this class today is because somehow either consciously –on a very cerebral, frontal cortex perspective — you realize that something is nuts, things are just not going right; or intuitively you realize that something is wrong — something feels incongruent.  You’re here because somehow you know that you have to start with your self.

The best gift you can give your children, or anyone and anything in your life including inanimate objects like tables and shoes and jackets and cups is kindness to yourself — because we are always in a relationship with everything — whether we know it or not. But this is not something you will understand even through a ten-hour lecture. You can read all the books but you are not going to get this unless you try it and experience the benefits and results for yourself.

Authentic kindness starts with recognizing that being human is not easy. That no matter if we have the best parents, received the best of everything, we will still at some level suffer.  We have pain, we have loss, we have confusion.  We all have that!  But when we begin to acknowledge this fact (not like poor me, somebody save me) but just acknowledge the fact that we are human, and that suffering is integral to the human condition, then we cannot help but be kind to ourselves.

And part of that kindness is coming to a meditation class.  Part of that kindness is searching and asking for help.

In my day job, I run this shop where we provide items such as meditation cushions and today was fairly busy.   A woman came in and she and I spent some time finding items that she wanted and then I had to help some one else in another room. Soon after, I noticed she was leaving.  I knew she wanted the merchandise because we had put them on the counter.  She said she had to go because her meter was running out and I said, “But I thought you wanted some stuff.”  And she said, “Yes but you’re busy, and I don’t want to bother you.”

I’m busy?  You don’t want to bother me?  What are you talking about?  Like, the other person I was helping was more important than you?  And she came in to get something really specific.  It was this figure (statue) that represented healing and some other stuff.  But there was someone else more important than her?

She thought she was being kind… And my heart just dropped, my heart just dropped to the ground.  It was so painful to witness, and she was smiling.  “Oh, I didn’t want to bother you.”  She was ready to leave because her parking meter was going off.  Wow!   Thinking that we’re being kind…. (Could also be she was annoyed and impatient but similarly she did not get what she wanted. Either way she was not being kind herself and perhaps not authentic for the situation she found herself in.)

Being human is not easy, being an authentic human being is almost impossible.  And it’s absolutely impossible to be an authentic human being until you recognize your own humanity and learn to apply and extend some kindness to yourself.  Kindness doesn’t mean that just because you feel like some chocolate means your going to have it.  Just because you feel that you want to buy some more clothes or shoes you should have it.  That’s not kindness.  Being kind to yourself is choosing not to drink the 3rd or 5th glass of wine because you’re overwhelmed.  Although kindness would also forgive yourself when you do drink that 5th glass — and then begin over again with renewed commitment.

Kindness is acknowledging the condition that we live in, in the present moment.  Accepting the weather that we’re in right now – not resigning yourself to it because weather always changes — but accepting what is right now. You may ask, how is accepting how we feel (especially if it is painful) being kind to yourself? This a good question.  You may think that that is not kindness but rather putting yourself into pain and suffering. From my own experience, the only way to transform any pain is to feel it. If we push it away, especially emotional pain it will most often morph and bleed into another area of our life. With each moment, day, month, year that passes it gets heavier and more distorted. Accepting and facing our difficulties with kindness and compassion is a way to bring healing and resolution to ourselves sooner. This also teaches and strengthens us in dealing with other challenges.

It is important to cultivate wisdom and balance between tough and gentle self-kindness. Sometimes in very challenging times we must step back and give our hearts, mind and body some gentle space like taking a walk, having a hot bath, eating chocolate, reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea. Always being present to the pleasant as well as the unpleasant.

So don’t mistake what I mean by kindness.  Remember I started out by talking about tough kindness.  I can tell you, at first this gentle kindness didn’t work on me.  Never did.  Luckily I was fortunate in my twenties, my first master… Whew!  He could have given any dictator a run for his money. [laughter] He was absolutely Samurai!  But after 17 years of hard training, I realized I needed another way – my body and mind needed some gentle kindness. And my present teacher is extremely gentle… well not any more.  But she was extremely kind and gentle with me for at least the first 10 years. Now she’s manifesting that Samurai form because this is again what I must need – and even though I don’t necessarily like it, I am able to accept and embody it – like medicine that is not pleasant but it works.


Anyway… any questions?

Question:  I was wondering, how could anyone know, obviously this woman thought she was being kind.  How do we know when we are being warped?  And how do we know when we are truly being kind to ourselves and then as a result being kind to others?

I could give a very long, extensive answer to this question but there’s actually an answer that is simple yet profound.   So profound that you’ve got to listen carefully.  So, how do you know you’re on the right track of kindness?  Start with owning your embodied experience — not judging, not criticizing, owning or you can say recognizing, realizing it.  Start with experience. What you are experiencing with not having to judge it, criticize it… like that’s a good feeling, that’s a bad feeling.  Both are wrong.

Just start with having the capacity to acknowledge that you are feeling something.  Whether it’s an emotion, a feeling, a thought.  Just acknowledge that.  Not trying to analyze it or fix it.  Just acknowledge that I’m having this experience right now.

Let’s say you might have a problem you can’t solve, just acknowledge that.  If you are having some kind of feeling, like a depression or anxiety but you can’t put your finger on it.  Acknowledge that.  Acknowledge what’s happening in your body, in your mind.  Just acknowledge that.  And let that be the pointer.  Let that be what’s going to set your foot in the direction to encounter that.  Let that be the entranceway, the doorway to an authentic self, an authentic presence.

Where else are you going to start?  Where else can you start!?  Except right there.  What’s going on right here!?  I’m itchy, I’m cold, I’m hot. I’m scared, I’m in pain, I’m confused.  You start right there! The path is open, clear and wide.  But the mistake we make in the west is we think we need to figure out why!  You know “why” is over rated. [laughter] Totally overrated.  I can tell you “why” never healed anybody.  Pretty well everybody that I see know why they are the way they are.  Doesn’t seem to help! [laughter] Makes no difference.  Whoever goes to therapy know why they’re going to therapy, right?  They know the situation that caused them to go to therapy.  Whether it was a trauma in childhood or adult life.  The “why” tends to keep us depressed and angry. That’s why I’m angry.  That’s why I can’t sustain relationships.  That’s why I’m always economically depressed.  It makes no difference; obviously it’s not the road.  But all these people are going to therapy. Five years, ten years, twenty years.  First of all, the therapist is useless if you have to go for more than a few months or a couple of years. Change your therapist.  Why are you going to a therapist if they haven’t done their own healing? Like, that’s ridiculous, don’t you think? — but that’s another topic.

You have to start with where you are!  Where you are, is not where you think you are. Acknowledge where you are… full embodiment.  Really acknowledge that and enjoy it!  Wow!

When I had my transplant it was absolutely painful.  You can’t imagine the pain.  Because the painkillers didn’t work on me.  They made me violently sick.  You know, after a day and a half I was going to die if I didn’t begin to enjoy my pain.  And I don’t mean that masochistically.  I mean open up to it, become curious with it.  Like watching a movie, how it changed and moved around.  It was awful all of the time but I was having a relationship with that instead of being attacked by it.  Enjoy is not the right word but there’s a different way to show up.

The reason that every class (and I know that most of you that come here regularly are tired of hearing me say this), the reason most people come only once to a meditation class, or twice or three times, (and not just this class but any other similar group or community in Toronto or in the world) — the only reason they only go a few times and don’t come again is because the teacher in front of the class did not confirm their idea of what they think they should be feeling or experiencing.  Many have this idea of what meditation, spirituality, or enlightenment means. And until they find it, it’s not the right place.

But if you don’t have ears to hear and eyes to see then you keep on searching. We search because we are in “pain” – emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. My teacher uses the metaphor for this as like looking for water — taking a shovel and digging a couple of feet.  No water, go some where else, dig again-no water and never really putting in the effort to keep on digging till you find water.  It’s definitely not being kind to yourself. Do not mistake struggling, working hard (mixed with confusion, doubt and uncertainty) and yet still continuing “to dig” in various places as being kind to yourself.  It’s the

moving around, the self-doubt that’s the problem – the hoping that someone or something will save you Eventually, you have to accept that the struggle, confusion, doubt is not a mistake and that you must begin to explore that struggle itself.

So we have a couple of minutes, does any one have another question?

Question:  If kindness is not going shopping or getting yourself whatever it is to make you feel better then how does meditating, being with what’s going on?  Is that kindness?

No, I said when we begin to allow ourselves to acknowledge what’s going on with ourselves, both physically, psychologically, mentally; that’s the beginning stages to be able to enter the place of true kindness.

   Further Question:  Keep digging?

Well you can think of digging as that capacity to be able to observe yourself for longer stretches of time without having to label it good or bad, criticize it, judge it in that kind of way.

Now let’s talk about “cookies”.  It’s ok to have things that bring happiness to your self.  I enjoy having a long breakfast. It’s one of the few things I do for myself and occasionally I even have a two-hour breakfast.  I like to have my newspaper and read while having leisurely breakfast. I have long days, so I give myself that.  And then also I like to have a strong cup of tea and a cookie at night.  And I really enjoy that.  It’s being kind to myself and choosing pleasant and peaceful activities. The key is making choices in awareness.

It’s when you’re doing things (like, eating, drinking, reading, shopping, etc.) unconsciously in order to numb yourself, in order to avoid certain acknowledgements that is not kindness. That’s avoidance, that’s using it as a crutch, a numbing affect.  So I know that perhaps I’m a little attached to having a nice cup of tea and a cookie.  And I know it’s a little luxurious having that long breakfast, but I work very hard so why not?  And giving myself that little time gives me a better day… I like it.

Somethings can be pleasant and somethings can be unpleasant and neither are a mistake to your practice. When we fall back on the convenient trappings of what we think should be happening is when we actually prolong our suffering. When we embrace our experiences with the proven tools of mindfulness and meditation (like the example of my experience with my eye operation) then we experience that not running away from the pain is actually being kind to yourself. You may think that having to feel pain, physical or psychological is somehow wrong or a failure, a mistake. In these circumstances, it is not a mistake but actually the opposite. By embracing this pain, you begin the transformational process.

Traditionally, pain (especially physical) is the body’s wisdom in bringing awareness to something that requires attention, like a warning alarm. The territory of “digging”/ meditating can also activate this warning pain on other levels as mentioned earlier- not just physical.  This warning indicates that we are going in the right direction.  The discomfort is the “ego” (the old narrative) trying to maintain it’s hold on you because that is familiar territory even though it keeps you “stuck”.

Hope that answers your questions.

Blessings everyone. See you next week.

This short article is from a talk given by Theodore Tsaousidis at Toronto Mindfulness Community in December, 2014. It is edited slightly to fit the essay format. 

© copyright December 2015

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