Jan 16 2013

Self-Compassion

bighorn-3582Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  I think I’ve known that for a long time but have only recently come to realize how much that is true in my own life.  Last month Rob told me about a book he was reading and said he thought I’d find it helpful.  It is by Kristin Neff and is called Self-Compassion.  I purchased the book and read it.  Rob was right; I found it to be tremendously helpful.

Neff writes extensively about how a lot of people beat up on themselves when they mess up.  They do not extend to themselves the same patience, gentleness, encouragement and support they would to their friends who made the same mistake or mess.  The end result of such self-criticism is a lot of frustration, anger, discontentment and depression.  Many people actually make their lives miserable by failing to love themselves in appropriate ways.  I have been guilty of doing this for years.  Neff offers lots of wonderful insight into this problem and also ways we can avoid it.  I commend the book to you.

DT3186Some folks may have trouble with the concept of self-compassion.  It might seem strange, and perhaps even selfish, to love oneself.   Others may feel that loving oneself would lead to inordinate pride or narcissism.  In reality, loving oneself is a very healthy and spiritual thing to do.  In fact, when Jesus spoke of “the greatest commandment” he mentioned it.  A lot of people seem to recall only that he said we should love God with all our “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27) and that we should love our neighbor.  He qualified the second part of this commandment by adding “love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are supposed to love ourselves.  In fact, I’m not sure how well we can love our neighbor, or even God, if we do not love ourselves.  Loving oneself is very important.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m writing about this on a site dedicated to “reflections on God and nature.”  There are two reasons I do so.  First, as already indicated, loving oneself is a vital part of Christian spirituality.  I wanted to mention this issue and Neff’s book because I feel that there are likely a lot of other people who are sick and tired of their self-critic beating up on them.  I’d like to encourage such people to extend the same grace and mercy they give to others to themselves.

WC3850Second, in Neff’s book she mentions taking walks in the woods or out in nature as one example of practicing self-compassion.  When you discover that you are beating up on yourself it is important to find ways to give yourself a break.  Nature can help.  Many studies have revealed that exposure to nature has both physical and emotional benefits.  Richard Louv talks a good bit about this in his book The Nature Principle.  As Rob and I have noted numerous times, exposure to nature also has many spiritual benefits.  It does a soul good to be out in God’s Creation.  It can also be a way to show yourself some love.

I hope you’ll give some thought to how you might practice self-compassion.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that God already loves you completely and unconditionally.  Perhaps it is time we followed God’s lead and started loving ourselves as well.

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures above on my trip to South Dakota this past fall.)