I've been re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness today, and turning once again back to my practice, which has long been neglected. Final exams + three week illness + moving = easy distractions. It's important not to "punish" ourselves for dropping our committment to the practice. What is important is maintaining the will and earnst desire to return to it.
Compassion for ourselves is a topic hanging around in my mind for well over a year now. It's a captivating idea for most of us. It immediately draws our attention and creates that pulling feeling in our hearts and stomachs. It has this power because we know it is something which is literally dying to be cultivated more.
The tricky thing about having compassion for ourselves is that it's not as straight-forward or easy as it at first appears. When I first began to truly come face to face with the notion of self compassion as a necessary ingredient to growing loving-kindness for others, there was a sort of niave decision that declared "Yes, I am going to do this! I am going to be heedful of forgiving myself and being kind and gentle." The thing is, situations come up which make this simple task incredibly complicated and, at times, even seemingly impossible.
I don't have all of the answers for you on how to shine right through all of the complexities and difficulties of loving ourselves. I can, however, share this one small nugget of a lesson hard-earned this past weekend.
The details are not that important, but here is the brief of it: I found myself in the excitement of a moment, became totally heedless, drank far more than my reasonable share of wine, and without thinking twice wound up accidently causing another person great embarassment. Now that's an excruciating one, isn't it? The mistake of such carelessness, in its aftermath, burns like full sun into a tunnel of once safe and quiet darkness.
It begs the question of forgiveness. How do we forgive ourselves for harming another? Of course it was never my intention to cause someone else suffering. There was absolutely no ill-will involved. It was simple carelessness. But what's truly hard, for myself, is to find a way to forgive myself and move forward.
Coming back to the meditation path is one step in the right direction. I resolved that I would need to sit with it, literally, and really look deeply into the source of anguish now lingering heavily over me. This is one tool which I've taken from various sources of spiritual wisdom. When something is painful, go right into the searing heart of it. Look directly into what's really hurting. What I found surprised me.
What was causing so much residual pain was not actually the knowledge that I had hurt someone else by embarassing them, it wasn't actually about the other person at all. It was about me. It hurt to be a person who had caused another embarassment. It had everything to do with self and becoming and nothing to do with real or genuine remorse. This first deep realization was the epitome of staring straight into the painful heart of the matter -- it hurt even more. This is the exact place where the healing becomes possible. This is the precise point where we need to dig our hearts and minds deeper and stretch ourselves creatively.
I found in this moment what needed to be done in order to stop the terrible pain, the self-loathing, and the vicious cycle which often sours into self-hatred and self-anger, and robs us of real growth with compassion.
What I needed to do was move my attention from this point of self and turn it towards the person who I'd embarassed. I asked myself, "what do you want to say or do for this person?" I spoke to the person in my mind, felt what they felt, offered them consolation, comfort, and love. What's more, and an interesting point to make I believe, is that in talking to them in my mind I did not apologize. Apologizing would have been about me, and perhaps for me. What really healed this moment was to reach out to the other and be fully there for them, offering endless love and care and good wishes.
After spending a good deal of time with these thoughts and wishes, I returned to my normal breath meditation. I checked in with how I felt about myself and I found that the tightness, the anguish and the pain that had been there before was now replaced with warmth and gentleness.
Sometimes, in order to find self compassion and self forgiveness, we have to leave the self behind and reach further, reach way out, touch others, touch the world around us, so that we may come back to the self fuller, softer, melted, and purified.