On Gratitude, Self-Compassion, and Embracing Yr Weird


I'm grateful that 2018 was the year I embarked on a journey of learning how to cultivate more gratitude and discovering self-compassion. As the events of each passing day bring more terror, more collective trauma, it becomes clearer and clearer to me how much this journey I am on is necessary, for me and the world.

The hits keep coming from all sides, faster and faster, it seems, and I know that the weight of the world feels like too much to bear, for too many of us. The attacks, the violence, the phobias and isms and othering of human beings, each and every human more like us than many are willing to admit.

Even those with good intentions often lash out in ways that create more divisiveness and in the end cause more harm than good. Yelling at people and telling them how wrong they are, or how stupid or dangerous their views are is a really ineffective way to get them to come around to your way of thinking. (More about the science of how incredibly tricky and nuanced it is to get people to change their minds here and here.)

I have lashed out. I have acted out of pain, out of anger, out of the need to seek revenge, to be "right", to make things even. And in doing so, it didn't make things better. Maybe those actions felt good momentarily, but they didn't fix things, and ultimately they created more pain, for me and everyone else involved.

The end of 2017 brought the beginning of a very painful time in my life, and so, at the beginning of this year, I decided to cultivate a practice of gratitude, via a series of daily posts on Instagram. Part art project, part self-discovery. As the end of the year quickly approaches, I've begun thinking about the next step. Where do I go from here? Where do we... all of us... go from here?

2018 has brought a lot of personal pain into my life, and as I am working to move through it, to learn from the pain, I believe these lessons are bigger than me. Bigger than this moment of personal pain.

I've been thinking a lot about the transference of trauma. Of trauma and pain passed down through generations, or within families, or between romantic partners or close friends.

I've realized that much of the trauma and pain that I've given and received in my personal experience was trauma and pain that had been transferred from the unhealed wounds of others. I don't blame them for passing their trauma or pain to me. And I'm learning to be more self-compassionate, given the trauma and pain that I acknowledge that I have passed on in return. In doing so, I'm also trying to be more mindful and compassionate towards others. Reminding myself that hurt people hurt people, and all acts of violence originate from a place of pain, often subconscious, on the perpetrator's part.

Earlier this year, when I started seeing a new therapist, he recommended the book When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun who is the resident teacher at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America.

I am immensely grateful for the introduction to this book, which has sparked an interest in exploring Buddhism more deeply. I'm grateful that a class on World Religions was a requirement during my days at Loyola University, but I haven't explored Buddhism much beyond that until recently.

I recently also started reading Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, by Robert Wright, an evolutionary psychologist who has written a whole bunch of other best-selling books that I now very much want to read.

I am grateful for this new part of my journey, this dive into understanding and relating to suffering in a different way. We are living in an incredibly troubling time, but in so many ways, all of human history has been incredibly troubling. Now, it's just infinitely easier to tune in, and harder to tune out, the ways in which it is increasingly troubling. But the speed and breadth of communication that technology enables us also means that we can share joy, hope, love, allyship, and loving kindness just as quickly and easily.

Loving kindness and compassion must start from within. This is a lesson it's taken me a long time to begin to deeply realize. Even this time last year, I was soooooo much harder on myself. The words I used towards myself in fits of frustration, anger, and sadness were not often loving. Nor are they always that now. But I am beginning to see that self-compassion is a tool and a practice that we all need, and it needs to spread like wildfire if we have any hope of survival. (I have been learning more about this and the tools of self-compassion via Kristin Neff's book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.)

When I first started formulating this idea of "Embracing Yr Weird" a few years ago, it was coming from a similar, yet oh-so different place. I started to work on a book around this idea back then, and I floundered, lost the motivation to continue... I'm realizing now that the book I need to write could not have been written back then. I hadn't learned the lessons yet that I needed before I could move forward.

Embracing Yr Weird is ultimately about self-compassion. Showing yourself grace (something I've struggled with SO MUCH over the years) for those things that make you feel sometimes amazingly you and sometimes terribly judged or unworthy. The more I've talked about this idea in person with other people, the more I understand that this feeling is really universal.

Our cultures, our families, our traditions, the very nature of how human beings have evolved as a species... they create boxes that we feel stuck inside of. And that feeling of being stuck, feeling unable to be fully, authentically who you are, often causes us to lash out -- at ourselves with unkind words, at friends or loved ones, or at complete strangers in acts of violence and hatred.

People that are genuinely compassionate towards themselves, people that feel like they can fully embrace each and every part of who they really are -- people who have embraced their weird -- are more compassionate, gentler, kinder with others.

This work that I am moving towards -- this path of working with others to embrace their weird and to become more self-compassionate, and in the process, more inclusive -- is truly, I believe, my life's purpose.

Originally published on October 29, 2018 as 302 / 365 of my #yearofgratitude

Photo credit: Benjamin Balázs

compassionMallory Whitfield