Much of the work I do with my clients centers around cultivating their sense of compassion, for others and for themselves. I’ve found that most of us can find a level of compassion for others, but when it comes to our selves, we can be obstinate and harsh. We expect so much of ourselves and confuse our lack of self-compassion for ambition, strength, and control. We falsely believe that the more we judge ourselves, the higher our future performance will be.
Let me tell you that compassion, in and of itself, is a thing, and it matters more than most other qualities that we can benefit from cultivating. The opposite of compassion is not some kind of positive or helpful quality of being. The opposite of compassion is judgement. These two ways of engaging with ourselves and the world around us, sit on two ends of a spectrum, and it’s my experience that the further we move away from judgement and towards compassion, the more power, authority, and control we have over our lives. Compassion sets the table for a meal that is nourishing, and allows us to feel full for a long time. Judgement is like junk food. It feels good in the moment, but no good comes of it in the long term. If you’re tired of consuming this emotional junk food and want to understand what change might look like, read on.
The best way I can share this distinction with you is through a very personal story.
Most of you know that I’m as passionate and committed to endurance running as I am to my career and clients. My career demands that I take exquisite care of my brain and emotions. So far, age has been an advantage in this practice. At 55, I’m far more intellectually and emotionally intelligent than ever in the past. I have a great deal of control over the two elements required to grow these abilities. Committed time and deep attention, more often than not, will yield the results I seek.
Then there is my life as an athlete. I’m not where I was at 50. I’m not as fast, or as strong, or as consistent. I get injured more often and recover far more slowly. So often, I question whether I’m an athlete at all. I make fun of myself (but am sad inside) when I say, “Yeah, I bust my ass for a sport I’m not even good at,” or “Yeah, I’m a runner in between injuries.” In this area of my life, my self-compassion is almost entirely absent. I ask my body, again and again, why it just won’t do what I’d like it to do, or simply what it used to do. I get upset and frustrated, but mostly judgemental. Look up the word, and you’ll also find overly critical, fault finding, disapproving, disparaging, deprecating, scathing… Uggghhhh… I can be all that and more when it comes to my body.
A couple of months ago, after a particularly difficult ultra-race (but one that I had attempted and succeeded at many times in the past), I found myself unable to recover. Suffice it to say, that simply walking was an effort. As the weeks and months are passing, my recovery has been slow (in my eyes). I’m not running, and each time I try to run, my body tells me in no uncertain terms, that it needs more time, more love, and more compassion. But accessing compassion for myself and my body has been almost impossible, until last week.
My daughter and I went for what normally would have been my favorite trail run in the mountains, but now is limited to a hike. Even as I wrote that sentence, I could hear the judgement dripping from each word. We began our hike, and the magic of the mountains began to take effect on me. I slowed down to the beauty of the moment, and my mind finally settled down. When we are able to move into this state of mind and being, our thoughts become more calm and expansive. We call this “Flow.” It’s where creativity and intuition take over fear, worry, and judgement, which is so often our daily emotional default. As my mind made this shift, my body continued to do what it does, what it has always done, and what I refuse to acknowledge when I’m judging and criticizing it. My body continues to serve me in any way it can. Like a devoted lover, like a committed friend, like the best ever teammate, my body has always done the best that it can at any given moment. My daughter is now 20. She is tall and strong, and so very beautiful. As I turned to look at her hiking behind me, I was struck, perhaps for the first time in a truly conscious way, that my body is the servant that nurtured hers into being. This human who is the representation of my heart living outside of my body, is here because my body, the one I criticize and judge daily, did what it’s been doing for 55 years — serving me with all of its fibre.
I don’t know why it took me so long to have a glimpse of this insight. But given that tears are welling up in my eyes, even as I write about this moment, I know for sure that I’ve crossed that invisible but life-changing line from judgement to compassion. I know that I’ve tapped into an emotion that will not only allow me to live with more ease in this moment (regardless of the circumstances), but will also undoubtedly increase the odds of me achieving whatever athletic goals I set for myself.
What I know to be true, is that positive change cannot be created through negative feelings. Judgement feels bad, but only 100% of the time. If you have come to belief, like I had, that being critical and judgmental (towards ourselves or another) will lead to the kind of unbearable discomfort that will move you to positive action swiftly and effectively, I invite you to truly question that belief. You don’t have to take my word, or the mountain of evidence that already exists in the field of human potential which supports the principle that compassion builds and judgement destroys. You can start by testing, not trusting. Be only 5% more compassionate at any given moment when you catch yourself being judgmental with yourself or another. If it works, you’ll know it immediately in your experience of how life “feels” to you, and then keep practicing the 5% more system. And if it doesn’t work, well, reach out to me and let’s talk!