I’m having an interesting summer so far this year. I haven’t slid into summer completely burnt out from the flurry of finishing off a semester and academic year, but I have just finished a year-long training course. So while I do need some rest, the process of unwinding feels far easier. For once, I’m not coiled up as tight as a bedspring when reaching this point, and the result of this seems to be I have quite a lot of time to ponder. And what I’ve been pondering is how I’m doing so far on this journey towards self-compassion. Or, given my love of scaling questions, my pondering sounds something like this: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you say you love yourself?
Now I know compassion and love are not the same thing. However, I do know that I find it far easier to be compassionate towards those I love, and so I’m guessing this is where that question comes from. And as I’ve been pondering such things, I’ve come up against a few home truths that have stung a bit. Now, with all my training and self-development, I would have always said that I know my strengths and my weaknesses and that time had given me the luxury of accepting them both as being a part of me. But over time, I’ve found the truth – even the truth about me – can be surprising and hurtful, even when I understand that I am by no means perfect.
I would have thought that by now - and at this age - I wouldn't have had to keep re-adjusting my vision of who and how I am, but I still have to. And it's not necessarily that easy. I think that might be because, even though I used to teach about the “subjectivity of knowledge”, there are times when if I think I know something, especially about myself, this knowledge, in my mind, becomes objective - Truth with a capital T. So, yes, I know myself and my strengths and weaknesses, but I am still learning about me, and much of this learning has come since I’ve been married. Here are two examples.
I have always loved music and thought I was relatively musical – naturally so. I grew up around music; I used to want to be a singer; I even considered majoring in ‘voice’ at university. I had a grandmother who gave piano lessons, an aunt who could play anything on the piano without looking at any written music and a father and cousins who played numerous and varied instruments – and did so well. And what I’ve learned recently is that music may be in my genes, but that doesn't mean I have a natural talent for it music. This realisation did not come after getting my worst mark ever in my first trimester at university in the ‘Foundations of Music Notation’ class. No, this realisation came almost 30 years later, when, after being in the same room with me while I was practicing the keyboard, my husband remarked, “You play like Les Dawson.” Don’t know who Les Dawson is? Neither did I....
It had been a number of years since I had done anything musical, but at long last, I had the time, money and inclination to finally learn how to play the keyboard and had started taking keyboard classes at the local university. The class was a group of adults, sitting along a row of keyboards, alternately playing into headphones and together as directed by the teacher. I enjoyed it so much, I made my husband buy us a keyboard for the house so I could practice (not enough room in the house for an actual piano). I kept up the classes, swiftly moving along the levels and definitely noting improvement. It was only when I reached level 5 or 6 that I started to notice I had difficulty in keeping up. And when I say I noticed this difficulty, what I mean is that I was reaching a stage in my learning where I couldn’t improve any more unless I put the time into practicing. And, up until this point, the requirement to practice to keep up hadn’t been as great. So I had got by with my ‘natural’ musical ability for quite a while, until that no longer worked. I was getting busier at work (or so I thought) and was struggling to notice any progress when I did practice, two things that served to deflate and demotivate me when it came to playing the keyboard. It didn’t help that my husband could sit down at the keyboard and play anything he wished – or could sit down, see what I was trying to play and play it himself, correctly, the first time trying without much of a struggle. And, it was during this time, one day when I was practicing on the keyboard with my headphones on and my husband was sat on the computer in the same room, and he turned to me, smiling, and said, “You play like Les Dawson.”
Mercifully, at this stage, I did not know who Les Dawson was. But, in these days of having any and all information at your fingertips, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Les Dawson was a comedian, no longer living, who’s ‘schtick’ was playing a piano – not very well. Like this:
Now, it is the case that Les Dawson was extremely talented to be able to play the way he played on purpose. And this is the defence my husband tried to use. However, he was right. I did play like Les Dawson, but not because I was trying to. And that’s when it hit me – I am not naturally musical. In order to be good at playing music, I need to practice, and then practice some more, and then practice even more. Though there had been signs throughout my life, I had chosen to ignore them, inventing my own truth about myself, and this truth had finally come crashing down like a ton of bricks. And It hurt.
Not long after this, another truth came home to roost. I have not developed – much to my amazement – into a ‘go-with-the-flow’ kinda gal, who is up for any adventure without complaint. I am, I see a bit more clearly now, a complainer. Yes, I wanted to walk the West Highland Way. Yes, I DID drag my husband along to walk the West Highland Way (well, part of it so far!). And I did well. But maybe not as well as I believed. Though we had watched the movie ‘Up’ years ago, and though I had loved it at the time, I had pretty much forgotten about it until relatively recently, when my husband brought it up again. “Watch this!” my husband said excitedly as he sat at his computer. “Change ‘Russell’ to ‘Debbie’ and that’s you!!!” He’s almost ecstatic now. So, over I go to watch… this:
while my husband reminds me, gleefully, “This is what you were like when we walked the West Highland Way.” With a great big smile, he says this. Like it’s something I can be extremely proud of. What I realised then is I either have to re-adjust how I see myself and my strengths and weaknesses or restrict my husband's access to computers. How can it be that I'm a non-naturally musical complainer? How had this knowledge escaped me? Who AM I?!
Well, actually, I’m still me. I know many of my strengths and weaknesses. And, I’m still learning and growing. I may not be naturally musically inclined; I may be a complainer. But I am still accepting – of others as well as myself. Though it may have felt like it at the time, these truths are not the end of the world. They are part of me and, now, anyway, I like to think they are a part of me that I can laugh at. And knowing these things about myself, I have choices. When that complain-y thought comes into my head, I can choose whether to agree with it as truth or look for the positive side. When I play the keyboard, I laugh a bit more at my mistakes (and, of course, I practice when no one else is in the house!). Just like I would encourage others to accept all parts of themselves, I don’t hold either of these things against me. I feel like I’m getting better at loving myself for who I am – all of who I am. I don’t really get this right every day. But, I’m getting better at it day by day. And that’s all that I can expect myself to do – keep trying, keep loving, keep accepting, each and every day. And when I notice what I’m doing or that it’s just not working, I can laugh. Because what’s the point of this journey if you’re not having fun along the way?
So how am I doing on this journey towards self-compassion? Pretty well, I’d say, even if I may have to re-imagine who I am to fit my experiences. Those days I find it a struggle? Those days my self-talk is a little harsher than I want it to be? Well, that’s what tomorrows are for; to try again and do better next time. I can’t really ask much more from myself. In realising this recently, I have deemed this summer my summer of love – loving myself for who I am with all my strengths and all my weaknesses, knowing that for just now, I am enough. Maybe you, too, can make this your summer of love, a time when you can embrace yourself, warts and all, for the lovely, unique and brilliant person that you are.