Fifty years after Gene Roddenberry and the crew of the Enterprise U.S.S. asked us to consider communicating with all sentient life (rather than annihilating it), we grapple with the charm of the idea, and inch toward the possibility, even though we may be discomfited by the prospect. Compassion then, was not yet the ‘household word’ it is today.
Now, when we hear the word compassion we feel we ought to give some, and know we want to get some. And rightly so, the word compassion evokes connection to others, a deeper understanding of life, and the experience of peace that we dream for our communities, and our world.
Even higher on the list of ‘most wanted’ reciprocal emotions is love. Our beloved partner, child or grandparent, perhaps an adored pet, sets our heart aflame to spread the warm glow of love within. To love those we favor brings exquisite joy and unparalleled pleasure.
So if love and compassion are more to be sought after than rubies and fine gold, how did we become so inept and unpracticed at loving ourselves? Add ‘self’ to compassion, and the ‘auto response’ is “What?” or “Huh?” or “I never thought about it”. More practiced at giving respect, honour, love and kindness to others; we leave the table scraps for ourselves.
If other people spoke to us in the way we habitually speak to ourselves, we would have nothing further to do with them. Criticism and ridicule is the common language of our self-tal; if and when we hear it. The ‘self-critical’ voice is so deeply embedded in our consciousness; it requires a dedicated exercise of intention to hear what we tell ourselves, about ourselves. We criticize harshly and judge fiercely.
As with all the great challenges of life, herein lies our liberation. The self-critical voice is, in fact, the dragon that guards the doorway to the personal treasure we yearn for. This monster that belches hell fire whenever we move towards the edge of the circle of our ‘comfort zone’, and likes to keep us in our place, is really disguised. Beneath the fearfulness we find the angel of our liberation.
Subservient to the limitations of our past, the voice of our ego driven ‘little self’ renders us impotent to step into our own inherent greatness. So often we let this voice beat us back into submission to our old ways of thinking, doing and being, until we shrink into the familiar territory of our own smallness.
And when we don’t submit to it, we often react with hatred or revulsion. We want to poke it with a stick, tell it to ‘shut up!’ or threaten an already wounded part of ourselves with further violence –unleashing an inner monster bully to silence it, at least for the moment.
This hatred towards an already wounded part of ourselves creates inner conflict that can lead to self harm. It is the source of stress, of ill health, and depletes our essential creative energy. Fear based reactions channel this creativity towards wasteful and toxic results. This is the churning inner turmoil that manifests outwardly as troubled relationships, and inwardly as disparity about who we are and what we are capable of.
How then, can our desired state of compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others flow from a conflicted source? Really, it can’t.
“Nothing can rise higher than it’s source… nothing manifests in the result unless it is in the cause… Nothing is evolved as a consequent that is not involved as an antecedent.” - The Kybalion
Compassion for others, without self-compassion is a lie. If we really want to experience love and compassion, we must begin with the most difficult person of all to love: our self.
This same creative energy we are in the habit of turning upon ourselves, can be positively channeled for our own healing and harmony. And after we have established equilibrium within our selves, from this secure place of inner wellness, we can forge the love and compassion we crave in our relationships and in our environment.
We can make a beginning with our own self-dialogue and learn how to be in loving relationship with our imperfect selves. Over time, this self-acceptance opens our hearts to a truthful love of others, a genuine tender mercy.
When I ask my coaching clients what their ‘inner critic’ or ‘self-critical voice’ looks like, some have created picture. Not surprisingly, the creature is often the antithesis of the person. If they are soft and lovely and kind, the creature is hard and sharp and domineering; if they possess greatness with a generous heart, the creature is tiny and shaming.
The initial reaction to the image is often repulsion or loathing. Once in a while, someone may laugh or chuckle at the incongruity; always there is a connection …some hidden character trait that reveals a wistful truth. This insight is a key to the kind of morsels the dragon favours; a starting place from which to tame the hidden forces of old, crusty self-resentments.
Naming it builds a bridge to a lighter relationship, friendliness and the willingness to reconcile the conflict. This path to self-reconciliation begins with an interested conversation.
What’s really going today in Dragon Land? How does it feel to be hostile and critical all the time? Where did you learn to speak like that? and then listening for the answer… allowing space and time to process the response that will come. We have an inherent drive towards wellness and health that wants accord.
Dialogue that stems from curiosity rather than scorn goes a long way towards building self-compassion and easing inner conflict. To notice how and when the ‘voice’ appears, to listen to its tone and feel its energy, and then to lovingly probe its motives and question its message, can surprise us with hidden wisdom.
Up-levelling self love takes time to cultivate, mature and apparently manifest. Trust and intimacy with the complexity of who we are requires patience and develops slowly over time. Eventually, the habit develops of being more loving and caring with our self. We notice deeper self-acceptance and expanded self respect. This is the genesis of authentic self-love.
And from this fresh ground water of self-compassion flows the nourishing spring of genuine compassion and love for others. We begin to author the genuine peace we dream of for the world. We live an integrated life - a life of integrity. We can invite the Dragon, who used to make us cower, in for tea, and notice its reflection is actually our Angel of deliverance.
What does your ‘self-critical’ voice look like? Why not let it out for some non-judgmental air? Schedule in some time to draw/color/paint/collage or build a model of your ‘self-critical’ voice. Bake it into a cake, hum it into a tune, then name it, take a picture of it, and email it to me at email@example.com. Then perhaps consider what deeper questions would you like to ask of it.
I’ll email you back an audio; a healing Loving Kindness meditation, for posterity