Beginning the Work Again :: The Practice of Self-Compassion

Always welcome.

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?

Sending Love, Through the Science of Compassion, to Boston

Under grace.

Light of love and compassion.

It’s not lost on me today — in the aftermath of the Boston marathon explosions — that I just returned from a conference whose theme was compassion. 

I am compelled to put into practice what I learned. 

So, here’s one thing I learned. 

I learned about morphogenetic fields, entrainment, and mirror neurons. It was a session on the science of compassion and how, at the root of all matter, we find bundles of energy — light and heat constantly moving. I learned that when subatomic particles meet, they are forever changed by one another. I learned that energy fields influence one another — that entrainment is what happens when two energy fields get in tune with each other, simply by being in each other’s presence.

Our beings literally radiate energy, both positive and negative, and the energy we radiate carries the power to change the world around us.

I pray, and I trust that God hears my prayers and carries them to Boston. And in the physical place I belong, I seek to live as a person of love, care, and compassion, trusting that the energy emitted from my physical being affects the world around me with a positive force, too, and can potentially continue and continue from field to field to field.

And so I’m emitting love. I’m emitting care. I’m emitting compassion. 

Here’s to the creation of a ripple effect that carries love, care, and compassion all the way to Boston, along with our prayers to God. This is one way those of us who live far away can become the answer to our own prayers.

Will you join me in this practice of emitting love and compassion today?

Prayer Can Be ... "Please"

I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.

The last few days, into the wee hours of the night and morning, I’ve been transcribing interviews with individuals living deep inside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Christians. Jews. Muslims. 

Scholars. Farmers. Refugees. 

Government officials. Bedouin natives.  

They tell a story that will absolutely break your heart.

There is so much of this conflict I’m not sure many of us really know. We hear the news headlines and sound bytes, but we rarely hear the stories. We rarely hear of day-to-day life for everyday people living there. We rarely hear the narrative arc, as both sides tell it, of this small but always simmering and often explosive corner of our delicate world. 

When I hear the stories of land lost, houses demolished, families separated, roads blocked, curfews instated, IDs revoked, and barbed wire and walls put up, my heart cries out with one plea: 


When I hear of displacement, dispossession, and oppression, my heart cries out: 


When I hear of the despair, the suicide attempts, the lost grip on the value of one’s own life, my heart cries:


When I hear of nonviolent resistance, of peace petitions, of generous concessions met with violence or silence, my heart cries out: 


When I see the international response of apathy or ignorance or pigeon-holing or blind-eyeing, I cry out in sadness: 


These are cries of prayer for peace. For resolution. For mercy. For wisdom to know my part. For pain at the hardness of hearts. For pain at this whole wide world’s suffering soul. 

What makes your heart cry, “Please”?

The Charter for Compassion

Early this morning, I read a post by the lovely Karen Walrond that informed me of the Charter for Compassion launching today. This charter is part of the “One Wish to Change the World” articulated by a woman named Karen Armstrong when she was selected in 2008 as a TED Prize winner. (You can watch Ms. Armstrong’s full 20-minute presentation at the TED conference by clicking here.)

Below, you can watch the 2-minute video that articulates the charter. You can also click here to affirm the charter yourself and read stories of compassion others are now beginning to share.

I first learned of Karen Armstrong’s work in late 2007, when I stumbled upon her book The Spiral Staircase. It is a book that moved me deeply, mostly because of the deep honesty and humanity Ms. Armstrong evidenced in her ongoing interior reflections. Here’s one small snippet of the review I wrote when I finished reading it: 

Because Armstrong met with so much personal injustice in her own life, saw the effects of hard-heartedness and an unwillingness to listen and receive vulnerable pilgrims in their quests for love and understanding through the unfolding of her own story, the momentum of this theme builds through the book until it makes perfect sense that she ultimately embraces something which she calls the science of compassion: a so-high regard for the dignity of other human beings that it asks for our sincere attempt to get inside their skin, to see the world from their eyes so that we can truly understand and receive them where they are.

Over this past year, compassion and peace have become more central to my story than ever before. I hope to share more stories about this development soon. But for now, I’ll simply affirm with Karen Armstrong and the thousands of others who are joining in to say, “Yes. This is right and good. This is what the human experience is meant to be. This is how we are meant to love one another.”