We know how important it is to be compassionate with ourselves—“to love ourselves anyway”—yet sometimes we feel it’s impossible to overlook our flaws, shortcomings, and mistakes. We think if we could only change this or that about ourselves or do something noteworthy then we would really be deserving of self-love. But my friend Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön wisely tells us:
“Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”
So self-compassion isn’t about “overlooking” anything; it’s about really looking at all parts of ourselves and accepting that these things about us make up the whole picture of who we are as individual human beings. It is about understanding that we will sometimes suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, but that these are all part of our experience.
Have you ever looked at an oil painting close up? From a distance the image is one of beauty, but up close, the brushstrokes might look haphazard, the purpose of the gobs of dried paint are unclear, and even the colors may seem muddy and unappealing. Yet every movement of the artist’s brush had a purpose in creating the whole, and we stand back to admire the finished piece.
The same is true for those things about ourselves that we don’t really like as well as those things that we do like. Each experience—whether negative, positive, or neutral—is a brushstroke that contributes to the magnificent work of art that we are.
So what is the secret to self-compassion? It’s about taking an up-close look at the individual parts of ourselves and accepting that no matter how we perceive them, they are placed perfectly on our life’s canvas. Next, we take a step back to look at ourselves from a wider perspective to embrace the beauty of our whole being.
How do we begin to do this? By sitting with ourselves for a few minutes on a daily basis in meditation. We check in to see how and what we are feeling, accepting those emotions and sensations as part of our experience. Then when we go within, we discover that innate part of ourselves that always looks at the whole picture, that knows we are perfect, and that we are truly worthy of our love and compassion.
After this quiet time, we go out into the world, fully aware that the paintbrush is in our hands. We have a palette of colors from which to choose. We can make changes, dabbing new colors here and there or adding more paint to this corner or that. And when we turn in for the night, we can take a look at our painting from that wider perspective and intimately know its beauty and blessing. When we consider our lives from this vantage point, we really do “love ourselves anyway.” How can we not?
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”