The Compassion Experiment, 3 Tools to Change the World by Loving Yourself
I originally started writing this article several months ago. Things in my life were shifting, and my eyes were being opened to my very dark and dirty habits and tendencies. I was beginning to notice how quickly I would judge other people and how readily available my stories were when things weren’t going my way. I noticed that I even when donning my yogini stretchy pants, I was harboring feelings of judgment and discontent towards others, in yoga circles and out of yoga circles.
I have been practicing yoga for about eleven years now, and I am at a point in my life where I not only want to have a practice, but I also want to fully embody my yoga practice. Meaning I am beginning to call myself on my own bullshit. I want to own my bullshit, accept it from a place of understanding, find the root of it, and work on creating a better space for myself. I want to walk the yogi-toed walk.
Things started to get hairy for me. I started writing “this” article, (which is now completely transformed) and begin to explore even the idea of writing about compassion and getting to the heart of the matter. I realized that before I wrote this piece, I should first develop a practice in compassion, and observe what shifts, if any, began to occur in my life.
To do this I explored on my own the difference between judgment and discernment. Discernment in my words is being able to notice something that doesn’t jive with you, and from a place of awareness and compassion being able to say, that’s not for me. Just because you accept something doesn’t mean you condone it. It’s witnessing things in life that may seem off to you, but not letting allowing them to have a negative energetic effect for yourself or harboring negativity towards another. It is creating space for you and for others to be who we are, faults and all. When practicing discernment, you drop the blame game, you drop the stories, and you begin to cultivate compassion, towards yourself and towards others.
I also talked with several like-minded women about judgment, what it looks like, feels like, and even how it tastes. All of these conversations lead to compassion, our ability to feel the pain that we share with others.
The last thing I did for myself before embarking on my Compassion Experiment was have a sit down with my teacher. It’s called a private yoga session, but it’s more like yoga therapy. Working one on one I was able to really get to the root of my judgments, and the underlying theme of it all, was, compassion towards myself.
When you are judging a person or a situation, there’s a part of yourself that you are judging as well. When we project negativity towards others it is a direct reflection of how we treat ourselves. Which brings up some very important and necessary questions. If I am judging you, projecting negativity in the form of jealousy, envy, anger, or even hate, what is the root of these emotions? Do I desire something more from life? Am I holding onto stories from my past and claiming them as who I am when really, I could simply say I don’t need these anymore. Are my reactions to present day situations a result of the facts, what’s really going on in front of me, or am I reacting out of habit, from an unresolved, unaddressed instance that has left a scar somewhere, be it psychic, emotional, or even physical? Can I be aware that the lack of understanding and kindness I am witnessing is related to how I view myself?
As my experiment continued I noticed that the person I was judging the most was myself. I began the practice of vichara, exploring our stuff and getting to the root. I began to explore my samskaras, mental, physical, and emotional impressions that I have. All of this work lead me to the same root, compassion and love, directed to me, from me. I wasn’t holding a loving space for myself. The judgments and general lack of empathy I was experiencing boiled down to me not being kind and empathetic towards myself. On top of that, as a yogi and as a teacher, the guilt and shame that I was harboring towards myself about the thoughts was suffocating. If you can’t look upon and treat yourself with the same love and forgiveness that you hold for your children, how can you honestly project that into the world?
The Compassion Experiment:
First and foremost; be kind to yourself and treat yourself with the tenderness that you have for your children. If you don’t have kids, then your pets, or your siblings. When I begin to get reactive and my stories are louder than my breath, I have literally started saying to myself, “It’s okay Kim, it’s okay honey, I love you.” The first couple of times I did this, I cried, like have to pull over on the side of the road, snotty, not-pretty, soul wrenching sobs. It was cleansing. It was healing. Like raindrops to the newest buds of spring, my tears started a new growth and life within me. I allowed myself to have a sincere heartbreak, for myself. I became aware of how deeply I need to hear that, from me. I began to embrace a new understanding about who I am, and the necessity of owning that I am deserving of the same love, compassion, and kindness that I extend others.
Second, ask yourself, “What is the most loving, kind thing I can do for myself in this moment?” This seems like such a natural and organic way to live and interact in the world, but it was foreign to me. Once I started this examination I realized that a lot of my motivation was to please people, which oftentimes conflicted with what I needed in my life to create balance and fulfillment. I began to learn to say no. Healthy boundaries create more freedom in your life. By saying no to others you are in turn saying yes to yourself.
Third, an article I read while researching compassion pointed me towards the practice of swaddling your negative emotions, just like you would a baby, with love and compassion. Allowing yourself the space to say, I honor this fear, anger, and/or insecurity, to wrap it up in love, and then ask yourself if you are ready to let it go. If you are, then say thank you for the lesson, but I don’t need you any longer. If not, then simply hold the space for yourself lovingly, without judgment, guilt, or shame. Love all of yourself.
I am a mother and a yoga teacher. In both of these sub-cultures I have begun to notice a lot of backlash, towards other mothers and yogini’s. There is an underlying need to compete, compare and judge. Moms bash each other for their choice in feeding, cloth diapers or standard, co-sleeping or not, stay at home versus work away from home. Yoginis judge each other about the type of yoga we practice, the clothes we wear while practicing, our weight, our ability or inability to do a handstand in the middle of the room and our choice in diet.
This all makes me very sad. Underneath the judgments, criticisms, and gossip is a general lack of worthiness and self-love. How can you fully receive and give love to and from others if you do not have that love for yourself? Any judgment I have of another person is in truth a judgment that I hold against myself. The way we treat people in our lives’ is directly related to the inner dialogue we have going on with ourselves. Our cutting each other down, our gossiping, our inability to experience joy for each others accomplishments and victories is not just stopping our personal growth, but impedes the overall cultural and emotional growth of these two kulas.
We all share this heartbreak, for ourselves, for the ups and downs that come with this life, and ultimately for each other. Instead of judging a mom at the playground who is being short with her child, step back and acknowledge that at some point in our parenting, we have also lost our temper. Just like me, this woman is having a bad day, just like me, she is feeling overwhelmed. Create the space for connection, compassion and love, even if it’s just energetic. And maybe even walk over and introduce yourself, and see what happens. Being a mom is the most rewarding and often the most emotionally exhausting job. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone in your struggles lightens the load and allows some space for reflection and recollection of your own energy.
Yoginis, my beautiful soul sisters, my empowered like-minded warrior goddesses, we all just need to stop the bullshit. I will be very honest and say that I was neck deep in my own. Not even drowning, but enjoying the delusion that it provided.
We are all doing our own work, the process might be different, the clothes might be different, the food we eat may be different, but we are all in this together. It’s tough work, it’s real, nitty gritty, get in touch with God kind of work! This sangha, this community of ours could change the world!!! If we allowed ourselves to fully support, honor, and cherish each other along every step of the journey we could begin to shape the history and cultural evolution of our society. An old Chinese proverb goes something like, “When Western women wake, mountains move.” We were born for times like these!!! Let’s get out of each others way, out of our own way, and bridge this gap of disunity. Let’s support each other in the collaborative fierceness than we can embody!
The work continues with me. I am still working on getting to the root. When I feel myself becoming reactive I try to stop, breath, and look at the facts. Then I explore what’s going on beneath the surface, beneath my stories. I am starting to see shifts in my life, I am starting to be forgiving and loving towards myself, to honor that everything is a part of my journey and as a result, I am slowly beginning to embody my practice. The path is love, understanding, and compassion.
The root of the word compassion is compass, my invitation is turn that compass towards yourself first, and then let the overflow of love and understanding you have for yourself flow out into the world until you can no longer tell the difference in who is the giver and who is the receiver. The light in me honors the bright shining light in you, the same light that we all share, and that connects us all, Namaste.
I would like to acknowledge and say thank you to my teacher, Mary Bruce, who’s guidance has helped me to connect to and to trust the teacher within.
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