Remember those newsletters that people used to send out over the holiday season? The ones that highlighted everybody’s perfect life and family? Well, one year I got a true gift. A friend of mine sent out the most hilarious holiday newsletter, which listed out every single one of her family’s “failings” throughout the year. It was long and very detailed, and chronicled some truly over-the-top failings. The letter ended with an account of her many traffic infractions, and the honest conclusion that her driver’s license should probably be revoked. She didn’t necessarily intend it to be comedy, it’s just that many of us find it funny when someone unabashedly bucks the expectation that they should be perfect, and just speaks the truth instead. The rest of us are relieved to be reminded that we’re not alone, that we’re not supposed to be having a perfect time, and that all this imperfection is normal. So, we laugh. We lighten up and let go a bit.
We don’t feel so stressed or alone.
Throughout this holiday season, I’ve received a lot of phone calls and emails from patients, friends and treasured colleagues about all the particular challenges that arise during this time. ‘Tis the season, I like to say. There is something about the way we think things “should” be that leads to increased suffering about how things actually are. You know, the idea that everyone else is in a loving relationship or family situation, with joyful connection and plenty of resources … just partying their way through the holidays and into the New Year.
These phone conversations often begin with the details of a particular situation, and the suffering that ensues. In those moments, I’ve noticed that when I can open to things as they are, and find that place in me that relates to their experience – and let them know that I hear and see them, believe them – things often shift. It’s not about fixing anything. It’s more about bearing witness to someone’s lived experience, in all its drama and messiness. It’s about holding space for that person, and their experience, with a genuine respect and care. That’s all. Just seeing someone, believing them, and caring about them. It seems to make all of the difference. And often, by the end of these conversations, things have inevitably lightened and we might even share some laughter. Which doesn’t mean issues are resolved. Usually they’re not, the situation is still the same. The only change is that they’ve been seen, validated, and accepted.
But that change can transform everything.
So what about ourselves? Same thing applies! When I’m in the midst of difficulty I don’t need to be fixed or judged. What I really need is to be seen, validated and accepted. Can I look at the reactivity arising in me and see the underlying pain? Underneath that pain is usually some sort of universal need that is not currently being met. If the wise and compassionate part of myself can see and understand the part that hurts, then I can begin to give myself that same sense of being seen, validated and accepted. We can pause and access that wise and warm part of ourselves, instead of being overtaken by the fearful or lonely part that hurts.
One way of accessing this part is to ask yourself what you would say to a dear friend who was in your same situation. What would you say to them? We get much more practice offering compassion to others than we do to ourselves. So, we investigate … how would we soothe a dear friend in a similar predicament? When we do this, we can tap into the warm and wise part of ourselves.
And once we have, it’s a small step to turn our own warmth and wisdom inward.
We can offer ourselves a supportive touch – like holding our own hand, or placing our hand on our heart – and we can offer ourselves a kind and reassuring presence, maybe even some kind words. It doesn’t mean we won’t still want to hear reassuring words from others as well, it’s just an addition to that. Our loved ones also get caught up in their reactive selves, they get sick, go to sleep, and go away. For whatever reason, they aren’t always available every time we need them. Thank goodness the warm and wise, compassionate part of ourselves is always available. We don’t need to be fixed. We don’t need to be shamed or criticized. We just need to be seen and loved. Don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself! We never have to go through the holiday season, or any season, alone.
Wishing each of you the peace and ease of kind presence in this New Year.
© Michelle Becker, WiseCompassion.com