Self compassion or self suppression?


I preach, above all else, compassion.

Gentleness with self is the much-needed salve to heal our deep hurts.

When we try and hate ourselves into changing, we only create more of the same.

When our bodies are in the red zone – in fight or flight as created by our own internal self criticism – we cannot lose weight, for example. We cannot be creative. We cannot be efficient. We cannot see the truth.

And yet I’ve been dancing, of late, with the idea that sometimes, too, we might just need to push. Or, more specifically, allow ourselves to be pushed.

In yin yoga – a practice of long-held poses designed to open the deep connective tissue and allow energy to flow freely through the body – we often talk about ‘finding our edge’.

We find our edge – taking our body to the point where we feel stretch and slight resistance – and then surrender to gravity. Like a rubber band stretched over a jam jar, at first the resistance is strong. But over time, things loosen. Muscles melt. Layer upon layer of cells soften. Energy – and emotions (literally energy in motion) – can be freed.

It is in these long moments where breath is jagged and sensation threatens to overhwhelm our fragile minds that patterns emerge.

Old stories swamp the mind – ‘I can’t do this’, ‘my body isn’t designed for this’, ‘I’m not good enough’.

And yin yoga – as a mindfulness practice, helps us observe this as simply story, rather than fact.

It helps us untangle bodily sensation from thoughts from feelings and to simply accept them all as they are. Without changing them.

It is at this edge that we come face to face with discomfort – and our response to discomfort. We stay there as a silent witness, watching the beauty of surrender in allowing sensation, suffering and thoughts to pass all on their very own.

It is this edge where we learn both resilience and surrender.

It allows us to understand that it is not our job to control or respond to suffering, nor it is helpful to avoid it.

It helps us to understand that we are strong, capable and able to hold discomfort… and it allows us to bow down and let grace come in to support us.

It is also at this edge that we release.

Old emotions. Old stories. Stagnant energy.

In certain hip opening and heart opening poses, places where we store hurts and sadness, emotions can become active that have long been squashed and stored in our cells.

Emotions so big that sometimes they rise up ferociously making our hearts pound and our faces flush.

They can catch us unaware… and yet we watch. And we say ‘this is emotion’.

And we stay.

And in doing so, we allow that emotion to pass through us. And finally be released.

My yin yoga practice has, over the years, been progressively more restorative in nature. My nervous system needed that – a practice where I could allow my body to totally surrender and relax and be held with no sensation at all other than relaxation.

And yet this evolution of my yoga practice has mirrored my approach in life. One of gentleness. One of, perhaps even, cautiousness.

And although gentle-ness and compassion is beautiful and so healing, sometimes we also need to find our edge. To allow ourselves to be guided to our edges and to simply be there when we are there.

Most of life’s most magnificent gifts can be found at our edge.

It is only when we do something that we are afraid of – that we feel the exhilaration of overcoming that fear.

It is only when we are at our most vulnerable, do we allow ourselves to truly be loved.

It is only in nature – naked and stripped of our electronics and dependent on our instincts and our connection to earth – that we witness our strength and remember our true wisdom.

The edge is where childbirth, orgasms,  perfect artistry, love, courage, wisdom, connection, clarity, truth and faith are born.

Hurt, challenge, despair, grief, pain… transform at the edge into hope, community, knowledge, creativity and justice.

Despite the deep discomfort of the edge, we find ourselves there over and over.

Inexplicably, we seek to grow. Even when it hurts.

I’ve been feeling something wanting to shift for a while – perhaps not only in my life but in my work too (since my work always mirrors life).

And because I quite like my life right now, I’ve been resisting it.

I actually said to my husband recently ‘can’t I have a break from growing for a while? What more does the universe want from me?!’

I’ve been avoiding my edge. Avoiding feeling the prompts which are pushing me there.

I’ve been avoiding pain and discomfort in all their forms – physically, emotionally and mentally.

Which, ironically, creates more suffering.

When we don’t allow ourselves to feel and free emotions – we soothe them.

Our culture creates the perfect illusion that we don’t need to suffer. Sick? Pop another pill. Sad? Eat something soothing. Uncomfortable? Lonely? Look at Facebook.

And bit by bit. The message we receive is that our feelings don’t matter.

We don’t allow ourselves to be moved by feelings, by discomfort. And so we stay stuck. And the emotions stay stuck.

When we squash expression trying to emerge, it rises up as illness, as anger, as frustration.

After spending time in hospital last week for acute gastritis (literally an inflammation of the stomach lining), the visceral remembering of this in my body is very raw.

Feelings rising up like hot acid in my throat. Feelings irritating my insides.

My avoidance – masked as self compassion – finally reaching its end point.

My ‘I can’t’ mentality – masked as self compassion – finally being unveiled for what it is.

‘I can’t’ being met with ‘why not?’

Because if we were truly compassionate, we would allow ourselves to grow.

We would allow ourselves to be pushed (rather than pushing ourselves) by following the deep calls from within – even when the things we are being pushed to do scare us to our core..

Because if we were truly compassionate, we would allow ourselves to feel. To be moved by feelings even if those movements equate to rage or tears or sadness or grief or disappointment. Knowing that by truly feeling, we are releasing those emotions and allowing ourselves to find creative solutions to move forward

Remember the pristine feeling of peace that follows hot, disappointed tears? It’s like when the earth breathes a sigh of relief after the rain. There’s a stillness. A knowing.

Because if we were truly compassionate, we wouldn’t avoid doing things we may fail at, but rather we would be open to learning and growing through the experience. Which, underneath it all, is what we desire most of all anyway.

Because if we were truly compassionate we would understand that there’s is no ‘there’ to get to. And it’s all just layers unfolding upon each other to reveal more and more of OUR unique truth.

Because if we were truly compassionate we would ask our bodies to work with us to dance around the edge, to explore it, and to feel the tremendous sense of courage and strength that comes from treading on new literal or metaphorical territory.

So I ask you to consider today whether your self compassion is true self compassion, or is it a form of self suppression?

And if it’s the latter, where can we collectively find the strength to surrender to the unquenchable urge to grow and expand?

How can we find comfort even at the edge? How can we dance at the edge together?

M xo

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