Still struggling to get it right
I’ve blinked and I find myself in the middle of summer. You’d hardly know it if you looked outside at the grey skies and damp gardens, but at least it’s reasonably warm. When I last wrote, I was focused on simplifying the flow of my day, using my time intentionally and making sure I had time for rest, and that meant making some hard choices about what I did actually have time for. This was made even more difficult as rules and restrictions started to change and became more flexible. As more and more of us got vaccinated, the evidence suggested that strict isolation was less necessary because – at least where I am – the health service became less overwhelmed by COVID cases. That was very positive and yet, for me, it’s been a surprisingly uncomfortable couple of months.
Part of my discomfort has been observing what’s going on around me. I’m watching people I know – and people I don’t know – making decisions about how they are spending their time and with how many people while I continue to weigh up the pros and cons of what they are doing. All the while, I’m still vacillating about what’s right for me in terms of meetings, travel and big groups of people. Ironically, maybe, for the past few months I’ve been using my busy badge to give myself the additional time I’ve needed to figure out what I’m comfortable with and what is less comfortable for me. Meantime, I’ve been judging people nine ways to Sunday about what they are choosing to do, sitting on my high horse, while I remain too busy to decide.
Not that that strategy has eased any of my discomfort. Another part of my discomfort has been the strength of feeling I have around what I perceive to be everybody’s rush back to normality. What’s so great about normal? Were our lives really so much better before the pandemic that we have to get back to it exactly as it was before we were so severely restricted? Has anyone even taken the time to consider ways they can make changes in their lives for their own benefit and the benefit of others? Have I even fully considered these questions? Not yet, I’m afraid, and that means even though I’ve pledged to be intentional as I move forward, things may actually be drifting a bit in my own life while I ask all these questions and come up with very few answers.
I observe, question and judge, but it’s only been in trying to write about something for this blog that I’ve realised much of my discomfort has been knowing what to say about how I’m feeling. Over the past couple of months I’ve started a handful of blog posts about various things on my mind. At some point in each post, I’d get to the point where I wondered what I was actually trying to say. I felt all of what I had written had been quite negative. Surely I could take something positive out of writing about the concepts of normality or home? Surely there would be a ‘take home point’ or some kind of learning. These things just were not there.
And even outwith writing, I’ve been feeling relatively more negative and judge-y about things – things that usually don’t really matter much to me. I found myself saying to a really good friend recently that I wasn’t my ‘usual cheery self.’ And while that gave us quite a good laugh, that I was referring to my usual self as ‘cheery,’ it was also clearly a sign that I’m feeling out of sorts. While I know I can be judge, jury and executioner, especially when it comes to myself, I find I’m much more forgiving of others. So when I find my first reactions to be judgements of some kind, I begin to wonder what’s wrong. Why has judgement crept into that place I thought I kept reserved for kindness and compassion?
It’s only when I realised how hard I was being on myself about my writing that it occurred to me that all those judgements about myself weren’t helpful. Clearly these judgements weren’t inspiring me to write or helping me come to any kind of understanding. So I stopped and asked myself why I needed to write something positive. Maybe the ‘right’ topic hadn’t come to me. Maybe I needed more space to know what I wanted to write about. Maybe if I stopped judging myself for being so negative and judgemental and offered myself a bit of compassion for finding things difficult, maybe then I could find that same compassion for all those others I was judging. And not too long after that, it was as if a light bulb went on. Maybe self-compassion is the answer here.
So I opened my laptop and started to write, and, well, now you’re all caught up. Now I’m asking myself what a compassionate response would be right here, right now. My go to question to get to that answer is usually ‘What would I say or do for a friend who came to me with this?’ Well, I’m sure I’d tell them that it’s ok that they are feeling judgemental just now. I’d then point out that lots of people are probably feeling that way, especially given the current circumstances. I might remind them that they don’t need to act on the judgement and if they felt it was possible, they could get curious about it.
These are the things Kristen Neff would suggest – she says that when we offer ourselves self-compassion, we “mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation."
So I’m going to do my best to sit a bit longer with this pain and discomfort. Not indulging it, but just getting more curious about it. The hope is if I can get more curious about the pain I’m feeling around my own self-judgements, I can also get curious about my judgements of others. Which reminds me of what I was writing about at the beginning of 2020, when I had undertaken a radical compassion challenge. Tara Brach would suggest that to be radically compassionate, to be able to show compassion to those we find difficult or whose values don’t seem to match our own, starts with learning how to be compassionate with ourselves.
I’ve learned a couple of things from this. First, I’m still a work in progress. I’ve been writing about my journey to self-compassion for some time now and there are still times when I don’t get it right. Not only do I not get it right, sometimes I don’t even notice that I’m getting it wrong. I believe that happens more so when things feel hard, but I might need to explore that theory more. Regardless, I can live with not always getting it right so long as when I realise I’m getting it wrong, I do something to put it right.
Also, allowing myself to just be how I am in whatever given moment is really helpful. This is the most complete and clear post I’ve been able to write in months. And it that brings with it a feeling of peace. I’ve also learned that this self-compassion thing is a practice. Just like if I want to get really good at a sport or a musical instrument I’d have to practice, if I want to get better at self-compassion, I’ll need to keep practicing. Who knows how long the peace and clarity will last or how long I’ll be able to offer myself a compassionate response instead of a judgemental one. But I’ll take it for what it is right now. And I can always hope that this little moment of peace and clarity will offer me a chance to truly consider all those pressing questions and judgements and see with clarity how I’d like to move forward.