February – the month of love; it’s a month for practising compassion. Love isn’t just about romantic love, although that can be one part of it. It’s also not only family, friends, parents, children or other loved ones. We can practice love and compassion with strangers, with coworkers and even with people that we might dislike or disagree with.
For me, compassion allows my heart to lead, rather than the inner critic in my head. In part, it involves empathy; where I sense another person’s pain or suffering and am moved to alleviate it through kind actions. Compassion is proactive in the way that I treat myself and others. It’s the place where courage meets pain with kindness.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
It all begins with an awareness of self: what am I feeling and experiencing? Can I name this emotion or sensation? And knowing what it is, rather than stuffing it down, can I simply be present at the moment and experience the whole range, without avoiding it?
Loving yourself: Give the best of me, instead of the rest of me
One of the challenges of kindness and compassion is that we get caught up looking after others, pouring from an empty cup. I’m not big on self-care for the sake of self-care: but I recognise that to give the best of me, first I have to fill my cup.
“If you can learn to love yourself and all the flaws, you can love other people so much better. And that makes you so happy” — Kristin Chenoweth
Part of loving myself is appreciating both my strengths and my weaknesses. Moreover, I personally am challenged to find my calling and purpose and live that version of the best of me. It’s effortless to get caught up in the expectations other people have of us. Unfortunately, by living up to their expectations, we might actually be robbing them of the best we can give!
Are you depriving the world of the best of you because you haven’t dared to love yourself enough?
This happens when we try to please others and focus on what they think of us. Unfortunately, then we live an inauthentic life, measuring ourselves by their validation, rather than our own measurements.
One of my favourite tools for measuring my performance is the yardstick of my values. Do my choices, decisions and actions align with what I value? For me, in 2020, those values are:
- Being BOLD – which means:
- I am AWARE – self-awareness and empathy for others. Then I will be bold in how I respond to this knowing – what will I do with this information I have.
- I am INSPIRED – and then boldly take action, for tangible results.
- I am COMMITTED to myself, my goals and my dreams – so that I can fearlessly execute them.
- I am INTUITIVE – and I will boldly trust my claircognisance, knowing that I am always connected with the Divine and inner wisdom.
- I am RESILIENT – courageously facing changes, adapting to new circumstances, and innovating with all my talent.
- I FLOW – boldly choosing to focus on the present moment, with peace, patience, serenity and calm.
If my life and choices align with the expression of these values, internally, I will feel that all is well. I am living according to my personal guidelines of what is essential. Even my self-care can align with these values – am I aware and intuitive in how I choose to express love for myself? Do I feel that I allow life to flow or that it is a constant struggle?
While for some, self-care might consist of the beauty salon, getting their hair and nails done, that doesn’t have to be my self-care routine.
Loving yourself is so much more than going through the motions of self-care! Self-care is about ensuring that your cup is genuinely overflowing so that there is more of you to give.
The challenge of loving yourself
As you can guess, if self-care is about having more to give, then loving yourself is not about selfishness, egotism and narcissism.
While we all have the same basic needs – connection, significance, variety & certainty – there’s a place for recognising who fills these needs for us. Are you expecting others to fill the void you have of needing love? Do you rely on others to fulfil this rather than being independent and interdependent by giving of yourself openly?
Loving yourself means that you have found that inner source and supply that allows you to connect with others from a place of wholeness. You connect, but not to take from them something which you are lacking. You have significance in your purpose and share from a place of importance. When you need variety or certainty, you are not searching to find this in others.
This is the challenge of loving yourself: enough to be complete and whole. Can you embrace your shadows and weakness, seeing how they are the yin of your yang?
The reality is that everything in your life is simply a reflection of your relationship with you.
Every relationship is just a reflection
We all know the golden rule:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
In many ways, your relationship with your neighbour is simply a mirror of how you love yourself. If you live from ego, rather than from authentic self – your relationship with your neighbour will start with ego and selfishness. You will keep up the same appearances with your neighbour as the lies you tell yourself.
If you struggle with self-worth, your relationship with your neighbour will reflect people-pleasing or fawning.
For me, there are no toxic relationships or toxic people. There are only people who trigger in me an aspect of self-love and acceptance that I have not yet overcome or learnt to handle. I fail to relate to them healthily.
When I am in a “toxic relationship”, I put myself down and allow myself to believe I am not worthy of being treated well. Perhaps I fail to speak my truth or say “no” when my authenticity is crying for more boundaries.
If I genuinely believed I was worthy of love, I would treat myself differently. This would be reflected in how others treat me.
And so, before you look at what you need to forgive in others, take a careful look inward. What do you first need to forgive yourself? This is deep and painful work. Many times it is your shadow self and not necessarily enjoyable!
You open possibilities of compassion for others when you finally learn to love yourself!
Four steps to showing compassion & love for others
If you genuinely want to be compassionate to others, practice these simple four steps.
Emotional intelligence: be present
In the book, “Crucial Conversations” (by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler) they suggest that one of the reasons that we fail to communicate with others is that we are unaware of our own emotional state when we begin the conversation. So, before you start to interact with the other person, be honest with yourself about what you are feeling.
Check-in and become aware:
- Am I having a good day, or do I bring emotions from another situation into this relationship and conversation?
- Am I truly present for this person?
- Do I feel threatened or intimated by this person in any way? What triggers this in me?
When you are present and aware, you can adjust to take into account your emotional state. If you are feeling threatened, you can recognise that there is no need to attack the other person.
Emotions are everywhere, and they colour how we face every situation and moment.
Before you look to show compassion to another, where are coming from?
Understanding & curiosity
We judge people all the time. Try to switch judgement to interest. Instead of assuming that you know what is going on and how they are doing, approach them from a place of seeking to understand.
What information about the situation or person are you missing? Can you ask them to fill you in? Perhaps it’s as simple as “I notice you’re having a rough day…” If someone is in a bad mood, it may have nothing to do with you.
You might also consider their past, their home and relationships. How does all of this inform your compassion?
Consider all the ways that you can practice bringing more understanding to how you interact with others. Allow this to take you to empathy.
Now that you are aware of your own emotions and state, and you have asked them to open up about their state, put yourself for a moment in their shoes. Attempt to see life and the situation from their perspective, and notice how this differs from your perspective.
One of the coaching tools that I learned many years ago was literally having two chairs across from each other. You sit in one chair as yourself, and in the other chair as the other person. And then you allow yourself to view things from both sides – changing chairs as often as necessary to get a feel for not only your opinion and point of view but theirs as well.
Finally, practice kindness.
With my daughter, I regularly use the phrase “be kind, not nice”. I grew up in an environment where we were required to be “nice” – a set of socially acceptable behaviours and responses. That didn’t stop you from being a hypocrite and merely going through the motions of external compliance. It creates people-pleasing, with no boundaries.
I don’t want my daughter to be “nice”. I want her to be kind to others. Nice is shallow gestures for social acceptance. The motivation for niceness is external for approval and validation.
Kindness, on the other hand, is brave, vulnerable and connecting. When you are kind to another person, you lead from your heart with compassion, because it flows from the goodness within you. But this is only possible when your cup of compassion and love is overflowing.
So, throughout February, I invite you to fill your cup, so that you have more love to share with others!