For years, I never made “New Year’s resolutions” the very idea seemed daft and self-important. Besides, if you want to change something just silently announce your resolve and do it. There’s isn’t a particular time you need to wait to make your declaration. True change happens now. Any other resolution is just a fanciful trifle. If you fail at your designation and have kept it to yourself, you don’t lose face. And if you do succeed, actions do speak louder than some hollow hope left unfulfilled.
My feeling has changed on this matter. As I get older, I have begun to see the importance of a public declaration. The motivation hasn’t changed: I still want to keep face, but I like the concept of accountability. As the Bible says “Let your Yeas be Yeas, and your Nays be Nays.” If I come upon an intention, I need to be serious about my sustainability. My head is a pastry shop filled with half-baked ideas. If I publicly birth a manifestation of thought, I am responsible for seeing it mature and blossom. Saying something out loud and in the presence of others makes me own it. So I better be sure I have the wherewithal. And while you can and should do this throughout the year, there is something to the idea of making a decision for change at the start of the year (at least symbolically so).
So when I began to finally begin making resolutions on the new year, they were usually just your garden variety aspirations. Those included “lose weight, save more money, take better care of myself physically,” The usual suspects. As far as my interactions with those around me, my goal was always “Be more compassionate to others.” On all these fronts I’d have intermittent success and failures.
This year is different. I wanted to find one all-inclusive mission. Something that was short, pithy and succinct. I meditated on the subject quite a bit. Usually, when I am swimming. For some reason when I am doing my laps in the pool, I am at my most “zen-like’. And the message I received was “Show more compassion to yourself.”
This is odd for me. Sure, I can quickly grasp the purpose of saying “Be more compassionate towards others.” I get that one. But for me? A much more difficult concept. I was raised Southern Baptist. While there are lots of parts of that upbringing that I feel are no longer resonate, I always liked the concept of service and self-sacrifice. We are to show humility and deference. Not to be haughty or self-important but to place others before yourself. We are to have a servant’s mind towards others. I strongly believed that. I still do. But Christ said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”. Not like yourself but “as.” What does that mean exactly? Why was the translation not “like yourself’?
I have spent some time pondering this, and I really think this isn’t semantics. The word usage is purposeful. We are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Meaning (to me) that we are really one and the same. It’s the yin-yang symbol (the taiji). You know the one that kind of looks like a black and white fish swimming together. Two parts inseparable and both necessary for balance.
So applying this to my New Year’s resolution of being more compassionate to myself. If I am indeed one with all humankind then showing self-compassion is showing compassion to others. How you treat others is a direct reflection of how you treat yourself. You can wear a cloak of humility and say you treat others better than yourself, but you are just deluding your mind. As I show compassion and understanding of my own foibles, I become less judgmental of the frailties of those around me. As I choose to see my good, my views of other change along with it. For years I have criticized myself when I fell. When I blew my diet, or missed the gym, or made a verbal or social faux-pas. It never made me less inclined to fail so in the future only more so. Unkindness even towards oneself permeates to others, You will never truly forgive another if you can not forgive yourself first.
It took me what seemed like forever to grasp this: Self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem at least on paper scares me. I am so phobic about coming across as pompous. I was perpetually told growing up how ‘stupid’ I was. I overcompensate out of fear and sometimes ‘lay it on the way too thick’ So I always have to find a way to self-deprecate. Or even worse self-defecate. I fear to come across as arrogant or conceited. The truth is intelligence is relative anyway. I have value even when I don’t know something or can’t comprehend a task as fast as others. But I constantly vacillate from feeling dumb to overcompensating and then feeling critical because I fear to come across as a know it all. The balance between confident and narcissistic eludes me. So The word ‘self-esteem’ always had bad connotations.
But unlike self-esteem, self-compassion doesn’t carry value and is not based on perceived worth or evaluations. Everyone (even me) is worthy of compassion. Like Love, compassion only works when it is unconditional. Because we are all one. In it’s worse, Self-confidence causes one to ignore their flaws and limitations. At it’s best, compassion embraces them. Compassion doesn’t compare yourself to others. Instead, it encompasses all aspects of yourself in others and sees them as a greater whole. It is an honest and authentic appreciation of oneness.
Success isn’t measured by the times we achieve but by the times we fail and how we choose to respond. Events both positive and negative are not our definition only a reflection of compassion or the lack of.
So how do I/we do this? It’s a journey, not a destination but I think it has three steps. Kindness, recognition of oneness, and a mindful spirit. I do want to be kinder to others, and when I reflect on particular instances where I missed the mark, they were all times I wasn’t feeling good about myself. This is a natural step towards oneness. My lack of kindness towards myself directly affected others. They, in turn, may have been placed off-center by my words or actions and that could directly impact another creating a chain.
That leads to step three mindfulness. Recognizing that I am mad, sad, hungry, tired, etc. and be aware that it is a human condition and not reflecting my value. My heart isn’t the stock market. Its value is constant, not dynamic. Evanescent externals don’t diminish me, So I grasp that this experience is fleeting and I am able to allow disappointment not to bleed on others. This is an ever-vigilant thing, and yes, I will fail often and when I do: rinse repeat and go back to step one.
One way I have learned to generate self-compassion is to become still and focus on a person, place, or even pet that I care deeply for. Then I transfer that feeling to myself because we are one. I think of someone I care for making the same error I have, I try to think of how I would show compassion toward them, and I apply it to myself. I try to love that critical voice inside me. I say “I know you mean well.” (And it does, truly. Even if it seems hard to believe). “But I got this” Then I lovingly dismiss that voice.
This all isn’t easy or painless, but healing never is. I really want to work on this in 2020. I think only good can come from it.