My son was so disappointed - he had been looking forward to it all week; he and his friends had been making plans over lunch about the fun games they would play, the goodies they would eat, the silliness they would get up to.
I know that kids need to learn about being disappointed, and it was only two hours out of his life. But I was the one who had messed up and written down Sunday. I was as disappointed with myself as he was with missing the party.
A few years ago, I probably would have beaten myself up about it. I would have replayed the disappointment over and over in my head and given myself a lot of crap for dropping the ball.
This time, on the very quiet drive back to the house, when I noticed myself feeling just plain crummy, I didn’t berate myself or try to make excuses. I simply let myself feel sad, and I gave him a big hug when we got home.
I have been reading about Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion lately. She has spent over ten years researching self-compassion - the notion of offering ourselves support, understanding and care rather than criticism and self-judgment when faced with the difficult situations of making mistakes or failing in some way. The three pieces of self-compassion that she identifies include:
1) treating one’s self with kindness and understanding rather than harsh judgement,
2) recognizing our common humanity - feeling connected to others and understanding that we all have difficult experiences in life, and
3) practicing mindfulness - being conscious of our feelings, noticing the experience and not trying to ignore it, fix it or amplify it.
I could go into the academic findings of her research and explain why self-compassion is seen as a protective factor and leads to more positive outcomes for people, but what I really want to express is my own unscientific awareness of self-compassion and how it softens my heart.
With awareness (or mindfulness), I put the critic to bed and instead hold myself gently, with kindness and compassion, for making this mistake.
The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.
All of these actions help to soften my heart. Rather than sitting in harsh judgment, handing out punishment or reminders of all the ways I have screwed up in the past, I breathe in lovingkindness and feel my body relax.
Rather than beginning a litany of “I am so this and I am so that…” I imagine the soft, autumn sun on my shoulders with its dappled hues of orange and gold, gently tapping ease into my body.
With a deep inhale, I let my body breathe in the crisp autumn air and my heart fills with gratitude for the richness of family and fall celebration.
I have no desire to win the contested race of parenting or successful adulthood. Instead, I want to experience joy. I want to love and laugh and feel touched by others. I want to experience beauty and meaning. I trust that it will be sometimes be messy. And I am okay with that, too.
In what way might you be holding yourself a bit harshly right now? What happens if you invite self-compassion into this moment? What do you notice?