Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Being Gentle with Ourselves

I have come to look forward to new articles by Susan Piver. The May issue of Shambhala Sun has her latest, Out of Fear, a look at ways we can move through and beyond the fears that run our lives.

Here are a couple of sections from her article that make a lot of sense to me.

When you clear away the judgments, criticisms, assumptions, and beliefs about your internal experience, you discover that what is left is tenderness and the ability to feel things deeply. You can be kind to yourself, not because you earned it by achieving goals or living up to an ideal, but because you possess a human heart that, when left to its own devices, comes back over and over to its natural state.

Who are we harder on than ourselves? Deep down, we're not convinced we're good enough at any thing. Self-doubt is our constant companion. Often, we don't know where this harsh self-criticism comes from. Our own mind? Parents? Teachers? Lifestyle magazines? We con ourselves into believing thoughts, such as I'm too needy, I'm not clever, I'm ugly/fat/old, I'm a loser, and I'm sure it's all my fault (my personal favorite). How does one suddenly become gentle without faking it, without using gentleness itself as just another device for self-improvement?

* * * * *

Gentleness arises when you recognize your innate, limitless, and extremely powerful goodness. When you remember how basically good you are, you can stop pushing and pulling yourself toward perfection, struggling for acceptable proof of your value -- the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect body/mass index, the perfect sofa, the perfect what-have-you. You are already so totally beyond good enough.

How do I know that you possess this goodness? We all do.

Even if you can't identify it in yourself, it's easy to recall a time when you saw goodness in others. Perhaps you felt this way while reading the story of a saint, a hero, or even a regular human being who gave his or her all in the name of generosity or kindness. Seeing how people greet each other or say goodbye at the airport, overhearing a particularly sweet exchange between lovers, or watching television and seeing victims of disaster being rescued can bring tears to your eyes. Noticing a flock of birds move together in perfect connection or listening to an extraordinarily soulful piece of music can deeply touch you, too. You remember childhood slights with vividness because it was confusing and painful to have your goodness questioned. Goodness comes first in all of us, and our world is full of proof that this is so.

This is good advice for people with a powerful inner critic -- like me. The critic can't be beaten down (I've tried that approach), but it can be lulled into being more quiet when we can be gentle with ourselves. It's not all that easy to do, but it does work if we stick with it.

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