Self Compassion

Illuminations Newsletter 72

The other day I came across something on the internet about self-compassion. Knowing this to be an important and relevant topic for us, I decided to write an article on it. I hope this helps you or at least gives you enough insight into the nature of self-compassion so you can help another devotee who may benefit from being kinder to themselves.

May you always think of Krsna.

Mahatma das

Like ourselves, spiritual practitioners of all traditions have high ideals, and this can cause us to be upset and hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to these standards, particularly when we do something (or have thoughts) that go against devotional principles.

When we fail to maintain devotional standards in either thought or action, or even when we desire anything that is not helpful to our bhakti, we are usually trying to satisfy a habitual urge or need. Let’s look at this more deeply by understanding this phenomenon from a psychological perspective.

When we feel empty, when we feel we are lacking something in our life, or perhaps when we even feel miserable or sad, we try to fix this emptiness with some kind of gratification. For some it is sex. For others it is alcohol. For many, it is overeating or shopping. In any case, we are trying to fill a void in our hearts.

After we do this, we feel guilty because we know we didn’t need to do it or shouldn’t have done it. So we think, “I am bad because I have no self-control.” This then creates a vicious cycle in which we turn to our old habits (food, shopping, illicit sex) to fill the void that this activity created when we last did it. You go there to feel better, but it only makes the emptiness greater. And the cycle continues. It is a classic description of raja guna, a treadmill of endless unfulfilled desires. It is a perfect system for keeping conditioned souls bound to the material world.

This creates a lot of negativity in our hearts. We criticize ourselves. We feel bad, but bad in a way that doesn’t solve the problem. The bad we feel, as we said, creates a vicious cycle, because when we feel bad, we look to drown our sorrows in sense gratification. And it just doesn’t work. And we know it. But we do it again. So, of course, we feel bad again.

How do we deal with this?

Acknowledge that you went looking for happiness in the wrong place. Separate your sense of self from your behavior. Then ask yourself, “What need am I trying to meet by doing this?” In other words, why do you want to buy what you don’t need, watch the movie you don’t need to see, go to that website you don’t need (or shouldn’t) look at, or do whatever it is that you shouldn’t be doing? Are you trying to cope with stress, suppress anger, avoid feeling lonely or run away from something? Or have you given up on yourself and you just don’t care anymore, so you are not even trying to control your habitual urges? Whatever it is, you need to hone in on what is driving your urge to do or think what you know is wrong.

It’s important to be present with your feelings instead of pushing them away. We have a strong tendency to resist the sore areas of our lives, the areas inside that need repairing. We either don’t want to look at them, pretend they are not there, or tell ourselves we’ll deal with them later, only to put them off indefinitely.

When you see this problem in yourself, what do you do? Many people become more depressed. But this is counterproductive. When you are tempted to slip into a bad habit, you can extend patient compassion to yourself. Understand that you are conditioned, and this means that you came into this world with an inheritance of negative samskaras, tendencies for activities that are harmful to you – and also picked up many new bad habits.

Don’t beat yourself up. Be patient, kind, and tolerant with yourself. Recognize that you are simply trying to fill an emptiness in your life that exists because you are not more Krsna conscious. Then, when confronted with the tendency to do the wrong thing in the future, pull back a little bit and prepare yourself to make a wise, self-supportive choice.

Don’t allow yourself to do things that are self-destructive. Treat yourself as you would a small child. Take care of yourself. Nurture yourself. Be kind to yourself. Understand that any actions that take you away from Krsna consciousness are self-destructive and demonstrate a lack of self-compassion.

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