Practicing the invitation of self to self.
While I was attending that international gathering of spiritual directors last week, I had a chance to spend about an hour one evening with the woman who served as my supervisor while I was an intern spiritual director several years back.
During that hour, I shared with her my present journey.
That conversation was such an impactful one for me, as it helped me take a couple steps forward on this current healing journey. And this week, I’d like to unpack those steps — as well as some other observations that came throughout the week and as a result of the conference content — with you here, in the trust, again, that if you’re going through an intentional formation process in your own life, you’ll find these learnings helpful too.
First, I’ll share that the conference theme was compassion.
When I first learned this was the case, I was ecstatic. The person in me who has come to care deeply about issues of peace and nonviolence the last four years couldn’t wait to learn some new perspectives on this topic. I signed up for workshops like, “A Spirituality of Welcome: Compassion in a Troubled World,” “Forgiveness as the Restoration of Love, Justice, and Power,” and “From Enemy to Friend: The Inner Work of Peacemaking.” I couldn’t wait to load up my mind and heart with more resources in order to further equip my feet to keep walking this path of compassion, nonviolence, and peace.
But when I registered for the conference, I didn’t know that by the time I reached St. Paul for the gathering several months later, I would primarily need to experience the conference theme through the lens of self-compassion more than anything else.
Embracing self-compassion in this new place, I’ve been finding, is hard.
And when I met with Kay for that hour-long conversation we shared in the lobby one night, I told her so. “The first time I went through my intentional formation,” I told her, “I was fierce about it. Stubborn. Not one person could talk me out of it. I sat down and determinedly told God I wasn’t going to get up until I learned what I needed to learn.” I walked a journey that has unfolded for 15 years, and the continuous unfolding of this story I’ve lived is precious to me.
I couldn’t seem to access the same kind of fierceness and solidarity toward this new part of my journey. Yes, I am doing the things I know I should be doing. Yes, I am committed to walking the process. But my heart hasn’t been fully in it.
More than anything, I’ve resented this new turn in my journey.
I looked at Kay that night in the lobby and said, “I don’t know how to be fierce about this. I don’t know how to muster up the fierceness. I don’t know how to get firmly on the side of this part of my story. I don’t know how to stop pushing it away, just wishing it wasn’t there.”
And then, through the course of that conversation, I found help in doing so.
It came about — not surprisingly — through an image. When I look into my mind’s eye at the time in my life I’m revisiting through this new part of my journey, I can see myself so clearly. Fifteen years old. Long, curly brown hair. Thin. Wearing comfortable 26-inch 501 jeans and a scratchy, dark blue fitted blouse. White canvas shoes. A quiet way of inhabiting my life.
I can see her. Me.
In that moment in time, I see that 15-year-old me walking into my bedroom. It’s the afternoon hours, and I’ve recently returned home from a day of high school. I’m walking into the room as if to put something—my journal, I think—down on my nightstand, or perhaps I’m coming to retrieve it. Whatever the case, I seem to be entering the room with purposefulness, and yet I can see a loneliness there. Like the girl that I was had carefully curled up inside herself but was careful not to let anyone see.
In my conversation with Kay in the conference lobby this past Friday night, I began to wonder: What if I just spent time seeing that 15-year-old me? Really seeing her? What if I sat inside that bedroom, propped up on the bed, back against the wall, waiting quietly for her return every day? Being present to her whenever she was there, even if that presence included no words at all for a really long time?
Perhaps that 15-year-old me could experience the presence of my 34-year-old self being present and a friend to her in a way she’d not yet experienced in her whole life. What might that be like?
And I saw how the fierceness could, through that process, grow.
Staring at that 15-year-old image of myself carries the potential to help me fall in love with her. To grow fierce and protective of her. To fight for her. To fight on her behalf.
This is self-compassion, I think. A willingness to be present to ourselves in friendship. A friendship that grows fierce.
Are there ways you might need to receive self-compassion in your own journey? Are there ways you practice self-compassion already in your life?