by Sara Notenboom
We are often told, either explicitly or implicitly that we must be “better than” and that life is a fight. A fight to be perfect. A fight to outshine. To outdo. To get ahead. To get to the top. After all, we are often implicitly told that it is only through this fight to outshine that we earn the right to feel valued and worthy. The notion that we are not good enough as we are is perpetuated, and the idea that we come to this world as empty vessels void of worth is fostered. Consequently, we often dedicate ourselves to the idea that we must spend our entire lives proving to ourselves and others that we are deserving of love, acceptance and belonging, putting us on a perpetual chase that makes us fearful, separates us from others and paradoxically moves us away from that which we yearn for most. It can lead us to make inauthentic choices, betraying ourselves for the sake of attaining approval of others, because we begin to believe that approval is the same thing as unconditional acceptance. And yes, this pattern can work for a while. It works until the cost outweighs the benefits. Until the burden of confinement and restraint of self becomes too much to bear. Until we get tired. Until we realize that we only get one life and that it is not be wasted devoting oneself to the constraint of self-judgement and harsh self-criticism. Until we realize sacrificing ourselves to fit our perception of society’s ideal simply isn’t worth it.
Enter fierce compassion. Compassion is a radical and courageous choice. It requires that one suspends the confines of hierarchical thinking – doing away with the notion of separation and disconnection. Inherent in the practice of compassion is the notion of equality. It requires that we devote ourselves to the notion that we are all worthy love, acceptance, belonging regardless of the various filters through which we often judge ourselves and others. The filters of social standing, socioeconomic status, ability, level of education and so on, make no difference, because at a core level we are the same. It requires us to do away the ways that we are conditioned to measure our worth and settle with the fact that worth is inherent in ourselves and others. Ultimately, it requires us to settle with the fact that this fight we have devoted ourselves to for so long is an illusion. We don’t need to fight because we already have what we are so desperately fighting for. It’s okay to disarm and to devote yourself to your truth, because as you do so, you will give others the permission to do so as well.
For me, fierce compassion is about:
- Owning your authentic truth: Embracing yourself completely, recognizing that what makes you “different” is what makes you awesome. You are the only you on this planet and you were given this life with the sole purpose of becoming who you are. You have gifts to share and lessons to teach. You bring value to this world simply because of who you are.
- Vulnerability (Courage): Settling with the fact that you are imperfect and that others are as well. Imperfection is synonymous with being human. We are all fallible, and fragile. Life itself is an act of vulnerability. It asks to risk, to fall, to fail, to make mistakes and then to get up each day and do it again.
- Unconditional acceptance: Detaching from the outcome of the many risks that we take. Knowing that if we fail that’s okay. Our failures do not define us. Our mistakes do not define us. Recognizing the pure courage that is tied to each and every risk we take, and that this courage is worthy of praise alone.
- Openness: Practicing unconditional openness toward all of our feelings, regardless of the fear they may evoke, remembering that all feelings are okay. We are not supposed to be happy and joyful all the time, and subscribing to the belief that we are only serves to perpetuate judgement. It’s about allowing your experience to be what it is, remembering that they only path to happiness and contentment is through an acceptance and experience of all feelings, not through the denial of the ones that are uncomfortable to sit with.
- Recognizing innocence: Recognizing that at our core, we are all just doing the best that we can. We are all tender beings. None of us come into this world with a guidebook. We are all just learning as we go, all striving to be heard and to feel that we matter. We all make mistakes and do things that we’re not proud of, but that does not make us bad.
As cliche as it may sound, self-love is a crucial component to loving others. If we don’t extend compassion to ourselves first, it is almost impossible to give to others, because it becomes act of judgement rather than true compassion. If we don’t recognize that we are the same as every other person on the planet, it implies that we don’t see ourselves as equal. Rather, it implies that we see ourselves as different and disconnected, and feeling this way can pull us into the trap of helping others to ascertain a sense of self-worth which can imply subtle judgement rooted in hierarchical thinking. However, once we recognize that we too need help from time to time (and that this is totally okay), extending compassion becomes a radical act – an act of radical openness, vulnerability and fearlessness. It signifies a willingness to sit with another person in their pain while simultaneously holding yours in your consciousness, using it as a means to connect and foster empathy. It signifies that we are willing to extend compassion to each and every person who crosses our path, always remaining cognizant of the fact that we never know what’s going on beneath exterior.
Compassion is a fearless choice. Compassion is a courageous commitment to recognizing the beauty that resides within each and every person on this planet, including our own self. Compassion is love in its rawest form.
Sara holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English Literature, and is currently completing her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She has a particular interest in the area of grief and bereavement, and is an experienced bereavement support facilitator. Sara regards her work as her calling, and is passionate about empowering people to embrace their lives fearlessly. Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraANotenboom.