By Dr. Mari Janowsky
I’ve come to realize that the “default” education we receive from our parents, our schools, and our society-at-large is that we should always be striving for perfection. We are programmed to believe that “Failure is not an option” (who remembers hearing that slogan at least one point in their life?). We are infused with toxic positivity through phrases like, “Don’t worry, be happy,” or “Look at the bright side.” How many times have we all been told “Never give up,” “It could be worse,” and “Just stay positive”?
At one point or another, each of those phrases helped me push through a difficult time. But now that I have decided to live instead of push, I realize that phrases like these led me to love only the parts of myself that are happy, shiny, positive, and vibrant. In fact, these were the parts of me that I would share with most people in my life. Meanwhile, I was left to navigate my other, darker emotions on my own, wondering what was wrong with me, hating those parts of myself, stuffing the “negative” emotions to the point that they’d show up in unconscious, destructive ways. Ultimately, I realized I had some problems and that the only way through was to love all of me, even with my many imperfections.
When I took a deeper dive into my inner world, I noticed that my inner voice was kind of a bully! I was sad when I realized this was how I was treating myself. But through practice and reconnecting with my inner nurturer, I have been able to change my inner voice so that I talk to myself similarly to the way I would talk to the people that I love most in this world. A puppy named Ozzie really helped me hone this voice. Of course, I have encountered my own blocks and resistances to giving myself the same love that I would give a puppy. Puppies are so sweet and innocent and I… well, I make mistakes and can even hurt people at times. But when I let go of my self-sabotaging desire to be perfect and embrace that I am an imperfect human, the resistance to adopting a kinder interior voice softens.
The idea of “planting seeds” was first introduced to me in a yoga workshop, where the instructor asked us to envision holding “seeds of intention” in our hands—not so loosely that they would fall out and not so tightly that they would suffocate. This perspective has challenged my old tendency to rigidly approach tasks and has brought more compassion and flow to my inner world.
Self-compassion is about goodwill, not about good feelings. Instead of suppressing/fighting against our feelings during times of suffering, self-compassion is about nurturing ourselves through the suffering in a way that embraces and honors all of our feelings. And when these feelings become overwhelming, the seed of self-compassion starts with taking a pause, whether that be taking a conscious breath, cozying up in a robe and fluffy socks, drinking a soothing cup of tea, or doing whatever else you need to do to nurture yourself in that moment. Only when we support ourselves through the feelings, rather than pushing against, will we start to see self-compassion take root.