For a while, I’ve felt inspired to write about the topic I’ve been immersed in all year. You could call it mindful self-compassion. Or self-love. Or tender loving self-care. I still haven’t settled on a term that feels just right, but I think you get the gist.
Since my mom passed away 3 1/2 years ago, I’ve noticed a loving, motherly voice growing stronger in me. It arises in my heart and reminds me to be kind and true to myself. I’ve been on an intentional journey of self-love for the past 11 months and in that time have learned to be my own best friend and to treat myself the way I would want my children to treat themselves: with kindness and compassion. Whereas I used to have a really strong Inner Critic, in recent years, that gentle, loving, nurturing voice has overshadowed it. It’s not just because my mom passed away. It’s because I’ve set an intention to feel better about myself. Because the old way wasn’t working. Something had to give.
And the great news is that IT DID! I took all the love, kindness and nurturing I’d given to others for so long and turned it on myself, and it has made such a positive difference! I’m eager to share my journey of self-compassion because I realize so many people struggle with it and know from my own experience that it doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s why I was really caught off-guard a couple weeks ago when my Inner Critic paid me a visit.
One night, I was working on a project that took longer than anticipated and had some late night momentum going. After completing each step in the process, I asked myself if I should go to bed and continue in the morning or push through and get more done. Each time, I chose to keep going, though I knew better. By the time I finished, it was 12:30AM, and I was tired!
The next thing I knew, it was 1:15, and I was still awake in bed. 1:30…2:00.
Finally, I realized a familiar tape was playing over and over in my mind. My Inner Critic had slipped in and made herself at home, or as Eckhart Tolle would put it, my pain-body was becoming active after a period of dormancy. It seemed like she had been waiting patiently in the shadows for me to leave the door open unintentionally so she could slip in and feed on my suffering. In a nutshell, here’s what she said:
You have no value and nothing worthwhile to offer.
Your life has been a series of mistakes.
You are unlikeable.
Nobody is interested in anything you have to offer.
You are invisible and forgettable. Nobody notices or remembers you.
It’s not that I totally believed these cruel messages, but I was overtired and didn’t have the energy to defend myself against them. The voice caught me by surprise in the middle of the night, and I just wanted it to stop! But I was too tired to open up my toolbox and be resourceful. Where was that kind and loving voice that didn’t allow the Inner Critic to get through the door? Asleep, apparently.
The next morning, I was still exhausted, vulnerable, and at the mercy of my unwelcome visitor. When the bill for having my son’s car towed from another part of the state came to more than three times what I expected (because I miscalculated the mileage), it was too much. The critical voice became even louder.
I’d already been feeling disheartened because my calendar sales have been down this year. In addition to investing quite a bit of money to produce a beautiful calendar, I paid for a Constant Contact subscription to improve communication with my mailing list subscribers – which seems to have reduced my mailing list by 75% because my heartfelt emails now end up in promotions/spam/junk folders. In addition, creating Facebook promotional ads was exasperating!
This probably sounds really boring, but it’s the stuff I wake up fretting about in the middle of the night. I felt like I’d been doing everything I should be doing, and it just wasn’t working. That disempowered attitude, combined with inadequate rest, set the table for a visit from my Inner Critic.
Contrast that to the prior weekend: I woke up Sunday morning determined to take good care of myself but didn’t get any exercise before I had to go to work. I drove to work wondering why I didn’t make time for self-care. Was I on a mission of self-sabotage? I wondered. But I was well rested and assured myself that although I can’t do anything about how I spent my time that morning, I’d do my best going forward because it feels bad when I let myself down, and I don’t want to feel bad. In other words, when the Inner Critic knocked, I met her at the door, told her I wasn’t interested in what she had to offer, and sent her away.
I didn’t invite her in and let her drain my energy and convince me of my unworthiness. Didn’t go there at all because I realized it’s counterproductive and had the energy to choose a better response. During my half-hour lunch break, I put on my sneakers and got fresh air and a vigorous walk. And it felt amazing because there were so many other things I could have done with that time, and I chose the best thing of all.
Recalling the previous weekend’s experience was enough to remind me that I could disengage my attention from the rude visitor and ask: What is the best thing I can do right now? Then I dried my tears and somehow mustered up the energy to deliver my greeting cards, calendars, and a few framed photos to a totally awesome shop that expressed interest in them. Because I remembered how good it felt to do the best thing I could do, and I wanted to feel that way again.
The following night, I went to bed earlier but woke up again in the middle of the night to that awful voice. This time, I was a little more rested and challenged my Inner Critic by asking: Is that really true?
Um, no. Unequivocally NO.
There was nothing left to say. With that answer, I escorted my uninvited guest to the door. Soon I was snuggled under a blanket of peace and fell asleep.
What is the best thing I can do right now?
Is that really true?
These questions can cut through all the woe-is-me, I’m-a-loser nonsense and bring your focus back to the present moment, which is where your power lies. As I see it, the only reason to revisit the past is to learn from it (with an attitude of curiosity, not self-judgment) or to reframe it and create a new, more empowering story.
The visit from my Inner Critic was an occasion to set aside the shoulds. Instead of pressuring myself to write a blog post, for example, I took walks and baths because those activities ultimately were more important and nourishing and helped me find my way back to my center. When I’m not adequately rested, I don’t have the strength to defend myself effectively from the Inner Critic. At such times, the best I can do is to assure myself that I will be stronger after I’ve had some good sleep. I realized, once again, the importance of getting plenty of rest because I don’t like feeling so defenseless! I want to feel good!
Once I had a couple nights of good sleep, I felt like my empowered, self-compassionate self again. I woke up and, standing at the river’s edge, photographed the sunrise. I greeted the rising sun as if it were a great teacher I was excited and grateful to meet. Each morning, we receive the gift of a new day, a fresh slate, and that is no small thing.
I stood at the riverside and promised to allow it to be its own, unique day and not superimpose any of yesterday‘s patterns on it. Allow it to unfold as it is, and with gratitude, give to this new day the best possible, rested and resourceful, version of myself.
© 2017 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.