My Journey into Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

 
You do not have to be good. You to do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles in the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
                                                                      -
— Mary Oliver, from Wild Geese
 

It’s funny how seemingly innocuous moments we encounter can so radically shift the direction your life takes. My journey into mindfulness happened serendipitously: It was the mid-1970s, I was a senior in high school, and I needed a topic for an independent study project for my English class. The topic was due the next day, and I didn’t have a clue what to do it on. I was driving home from a friend’s house, and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small sign on the side of the road which read “Transcendental Meditation”.  I remembered hearing something about Zen Buddhism and meditation in my social studies class and it had struck a chord in me – something about it just made sense. So when I saw the “Transcendental Meditation” sign, I did a U-turn and pulled into the gravel parking lot.

This was the start of a lifelong meditation practice, first with Transcendental Meditation, then engaged in Tibetan meditation and eventually with mindfulness meditation.  For years, I practiced with a weekly sangha and attended several retreats a year. And then sometime in the 1990s a copy of a cassette tape titled  “Poetry of Self-Compassion” began circling among members of my weekly meditation group; with his delightful British accent, the poet David Whyte read poems which were all about self-compassion. At that time my children were babies, and like many mothers, I often found myself driving around at naptime trying to get them to fall asleep. With David Whyte reciting poetry from the car cassette deck, the poems became ingrained in me. In particular, the poetry of Mary Oliver spoke to me, as it still does. Through her poems, I came to realize that we don’t have to beat ourselves up in order to lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives. This was transforming. Hence my interest in self-compassion took root.

Ok, I’ll confess one more tidbit: Adolescence was a rough time for me. We psychologist-types so often study what we most want to understand. This was true – and remains true – for me also. But more than that, my life has been about trying, in my own small way, to find ways to make the road through adolescence a bit easier and less painful for teens - to maybe remove some of those treacherous boulders blocking the road and offer ways to navigate hazardous pitfalls. What we’ve learned is that adolescence doesn’t have to be so difficult – that it can be an exciting time of learning, growth, and building a foundation of lifelong tools of resilience. As one of my students said:

 
One thing I took away from the class is patience -- I’ll come from the class or come home from school or something like an extracurricular and instead of freaking out about all the things I have to get done, I recognize that I need to get them done but I recognize that there’s enough time and that there’s no reason I should be like freaking out about it --  that I should just take a deep breath and do what I need to do to get it done.

                                                                   -Teen Participant