I’m like one of those Japanese bowls… I have some cracks in me, they have been filled with gold…
HI there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last you looked I was headed off on a training retreat to learn how to teach a self-compassion program developed by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff. It was quite the gathering of folks from all over the world. I suppose that says a lot about the state of the world and the wish of so many of us that something… anything… perhaps self-compassion practice even… could create a shift away from our determined efforts to create suffering.
As with any retreat, I learned – and keep learning – that the process is subtle, sneaky, and seductive. Somewhere along the way (and I don’t recall when it happened), I discovered this splinter just west of my heart. One of those things you don’t know is there and that it has had you off-kilter until it’s no longer there. To be honest, I don’t even know the accreted story around the splinter other than it having something to do with shame.
Of course, it has to do with shame. What else would sit festering and infecting everything, cracking apart the rigid calcified self-constructs only to create more? Fun times were had by all my constructed and contrived selves!
And then this past weekend, I had the absolute delight to co-teach with Chris Germer right here in my own backyard. Almost 100 people at the retreat and I was gobsmacked by the kindness and solid practice. You might say to me, “Hey Genju! Can you see it now? No need for shame or unworthiness. Feel the love, Girl! Fill those cracks with gold!”
You might and you’d be right. Except for that moment when that Thing happens in a retreat. You know the one I mean: where you’re bopping along and BAM! you get that ole familiar mind worm about screwing up. Right at that moment, as I shut down for how long I don’t know, Chris leaned over and said something about how the session was flowing. Something about how he would do this differently next time and that he was doing fine but really preferred the back-and-forth. Having been shut down and on high threat alert, my mind and body flooded with shame. I had let my co-teacher down! We got through the rest of the day and you know I sat up all night deconstructing this nanomoment, right?
Well hell. It was a self-compassion retreat so that’s what I practiced. Not with the idea that I wanted the suffering to end but – as Chris says – BECAUSE I was suffering! And then (really after about 4 hours of torment), I heard his words again but understood them differently. Earlier someone had said they wanted to hear more from him about self-compassion; he and I consulted and agreed it was a good idea for him to carry the late morning and afternoon session. He wasn’t referring to my preoccupation. He was referring to the imbalance of the teaching dynamic after we decided to shift our roles. Can you see those cracks filling in with gold?
Checking in the next morning, it was clear that my high threat stance had really warped the message. But wait, it doesn’t end here!
In the Q&A, one participant asked: If in Buddhist teachings we are told to see there is no self, what is the self in self-compassion?
Yah. One of those questions. But it opens the door to asking whether self-compassion is really a selfie. (Spoiler alert: I don’t agree that it is but let’s hash it out.)
OK. You take a stab at this and I’ll publish my answer and my revised answer in the next post.
Well . . . perhaps self-compassion depends in a fundamental way on the realization that there’s no self to protect, harbor or bolster.
‘Cause, if we really believe that we have a unique, special, and precious self, then ultimately we’re gonna do everything we can to protect, harbor and bolster it.
On the other hand, if we can attain the illusory nature of self (not such an easy thing, at least for me) then we can ease up on the defensive posture and relax into kindness, equanimity, and generosity of compassion.
I suspect we cannot have “self’ compassion without compassion for all beings. And vice versa.
Stabbing with one dull knife, which is dangerous and a bit crazy. My understanding is that the self is insubstantial, not that it doesn’t exist as the tricky phrase “no self” suggests. Mostly we operate from that self that seems so solid to us (or ego) out in the world, without thinking how full of holes, how much like tissue paper, it is. It’s this self of ours and others that needs compassion, I think. In practice we are aiming to go beyond the conceptual mind to experience something other than that busy, needy, confused self, but that’s a quiet place, that we mostly don’t visit too often. I think we can both cultivate compassion from that little self and that it arises spontaneously from our true nature when circumstances are right.
Oh Beautiful Being, we the unlovable, the self-full, the self-less, the never perfected, the always flawed and unlovable——we too, are are deserving of compassion, of our own most tender love.
Ditto what Barry and Carole said… Plus, I just recently read where the Buddha never said that there was no self… Interesting…. From what I understand it’s really a matter of mistaken identity, or mis-identification. We *identify* with the insubstantial self (ego-mind self) with its mind worms – instead of identifying with our True Nature, or Buddha Mind, with its open, spacious clarity that sees everything as it is, not how we *think* it is. It sees beyond the mask of “me” that is “selfing.” In other words, we need to identify with what is behind the “me” mask – the True Self – and from that place there is *only* compassion for all existence….In the mean-time, sending you heartfelt compassion. Glad the cracks filled in 🙂
I’m no Buddhist scholar, not by a longshot, but I do think about self-compassion (and teach it) so here are my few pennies. While on the one hand there is “no self” in an absolute sort of Buddhist way, there is very certainly a “self” (or many “selfs” as you note above) that we construct and carry around into our various activities. After all, wouldn’t it be that “self” that got gobsmacked? 🙂 THAT self suffers, for all the reasons we know so intimately, and so THAT self is worthy of attention, soothing, warmth, patience, love and affection. Self-compassion can happen while we have no self. Maybe it would refine things to refer to it as “self”-compassion?
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My self, I was late to see this post. Should I comment, I thought to my self? Yes, compassion for my perception of lateness!
I relate to the world through myself which is on the relative level. I do not exist on the absolute level, yet I don’t really experience the absolute, as if I did, there would be no I or self!
As I practice compassion on the relative level for myself and others, as this is the language we have to speak in, I become more aware of my attachment to self and that the deeper my suffering through my attachment and aversion and ignorance, the deeper my compassion becomes for all, because I am not really separate from any other living being.
If we do not directly experience our own suffering, sense of failing, letting our co-teacher down, anger and all the other negative thoughts and feelings we all have as human beings, how can we possibly develop compassion, never mind limitless compassion.
Thank you for your great article.