What struck me most, however, was the lucidity with which Patrick explained the importance of self-compassion. The funny thing is namely that compassion is not about us, and self-compassion helps us to develop the strength so that we're able to let go of our self-importance and actually realise this attitude. He said that self-compassion takes care of several things. First, it allows us to avoid the trap of self-criticism, which brings us down and thereby depletes us of the resources to have compassion for others. Another trap to avoid is to avoid certain things by focusing on others. When we focus on others from that space, the issues we have ourselves prevent us from having the space to embrace others' suffering. In fact, sometimes we can use compassion for others to boost our ego, and we get stuck in a romance of compassion. When you have really practised self-compassion, you can eventually become like air, which allows itself to be breathed by everyone. I thought that was a wonderful image!
When we practise self-compassion, it also helps us to realize our common humanity, and we see how we are all suffering to some extent. We all have little control over our lives. This avoids us turning the compassion we feel into pity, which has a sense of condescension. Instead of pity, we realize that we all go through good times and bad times, and we all have lots of thoughts and emotions and unskilful actions that cause a lot of suffering.In addition to ensuring that compassion for others doesn't go awry, self-compassion also has some scientifically-proven benefits. It results in greater social connectedness and greater resilience. It also reduces anger.
Now how do you actually practise self-compassion? One technique that's described in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is self-tonglen. In this practice you divide yourself into A and B: A is the part of you that has been hurt and B is a very understanding part of you. You imagine B breathes in the suffering of A with lots of compassion and understanding and without any judgment, and then breathes out all love and compassion and healing as a nurturing white light. As this process continues, you consider that the A aspect of you is actually healed. Another technique that Patrick introduced us to was writing a letter to yourself. You would write this letter from the perspective of a spiritual and understanding figure, and it would be about an understanding and sympathy for all your feelings of not being good enough, your tiredness, your frustration. In all that understanding, these feelings have nothing left to do except to disappear. This understanding figure would show you how all these frustrations are merely a state of mind, so you no longer need to be overwhelmed by them.
Finally, Patrick also gave us some homework to in fact practise for the rest of our lives. I felt it is probably worth sharing, because it may be helpful to most of us:
- Practise loving kindness every day until your death
- Find every day something to be grateful for
- Be kind to yourself, and notice when other people are kind too
- Do every other day something kind
Although pretty challenging, I think those homeworks are a wonderful aspiration and inspiration. And as Patrick said, "compassion brings us confidence and gives us a calm mind."