Self-compassion–A lived experience

Poster stating it is lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion for others

I’m still chuckling at myself for what happened before I learned self compassion.  Sometimes, the most powerful lessons aren’t learned at the course, but in the course of life.

I registered for the workshop hosted by the Compassion Project, Klinik, and the Manitoba Trauma Information and Education Resource Center that featured Dr. Kristin Neff that was happening in March 2013.  I’d spent time on Kristin’s website describing self compassion in the past months, and registered immediately when I heard she was coming.  I viewed her TEDx talk a few times to become familiar with some of her most basic principles to really prepare me to get the most out of the two day workshop.

I got some information earlier in the week of the workshop about what to expect…and it said to wear comfortable clothes and to bring a mat.


I love learning…but I like to learn with my head when I’m around other people…and I like to do my heart learning on my own, or with a few safe and trusted folk. I am a contemplative type, and have deliberate contemplative practices that I find deeply meaningful and significant, but I’m not a regular yoga/meditation type.

The idea of the mat suggested we would be doing exercise/meditations that would explore our inner world, have us practice self compassion at the workshop, and just, generally, have unknown degrees of vulnerability. I mean, it would only make sense that a workshop on self-compassion would include elements of experiencing, practicing and exploring self-compassion…but, gosh, that didn’t mean I was gonna like it!

So…I was nervous…and the therapists at the office that week chuckled at my anxiety as I gnashed my teeth and complained about the need for a mat, when all I really wanted to do was use pen and paper to take notes.

On my way home from work the day before the course, I decided I would be proactive and head into my vulnerability head on.  Though the info sheet said there would be a limited number of mats available, folks were encouraged to bring their own.  I told myself I would purchase a mat…ostensibly to make the mats they had available for others as an act of generosity…but in actuality, I was armoring up against my vulnerability. I was gonna saunter in there like a pro, with a mat under my arm like it belonged there.

Just before heading to the store, I looked once more at the instructions…what I remembered as saying “yoga mat” actually said, “meditation mat and cushion”.  I googled that, to make sure that yoga mats and meditation mats are the same thing.

They. So. Aren’t.

I felt the warm rush of heat crawl up my neck and fill my cheeks as I sat there, humiiliated.  I had very nearly prepared myself incorrectly…I had very nearly purchased a yoga mat when what was called for was a meditation mat…much rounder and fluffier and very different.

I had a chorus of lines rushing through my head:


  • do you realize how close you came to making a fool, no, make that a complete fool, of yourself?
  • what were you trying to pull, making it look like you belonged at this workshop?
  • what kind of mental health professional can’t tell the difference between a yoga mat and a mediation mat?
  • it would be sooooo much easier not to go…wait a  minute, is that a cough coming on? (please?)

…all coming down to…“Who do you think you are?”

So, while one part of my brain is berating me, there is another part of my brain able to find the humour in how hard I was being as I was preparing myself for a workshop on, duh, “Self compassion“.  I could see I was in a shame spiral, and I had already seen the video so I worked on: 

  1. recognized that I was hurting, and trying to understand what was happening inside myself–being mindful–the embarrassment, shyness, desire-to-fit-in, etc.
  2. trying to be a kind and gentle friend to myself, extending compassion and kindness with soft and gentle tone with soothing words of comfort–“you were trying to do something good for yourself, and that’s important”, “you were smart enough to check before you got the wrong mat–good on you”, “this is hard, isn’t it”, “this is often how you get worked up before a workshop, and it is often ok…but you’re just doing what you do…no big deal”
  3. reminding myself that this was part of the human condition, that we all make mistakes and I was not uniquely ignorant about yoga vs meditation mats

It. Didn’t. Work.

I was still feeling pretty awful about the whole thing…and completely out of proportion to what the situation called for. (In the middle of my shame and self-berating, a friend called me and I told her this story…we laughed at me–she gets this–she does it too–it didn’t have it go away, but it helped with perspective)

But then, I began berating myself for having the audacity to go to a workshop on self compassion, believing firmly already in its value, and using the approach with clients and at this moment, being spectacularly unsuccessful in being able to use it effectively for myself.

With this, the intensity of self criticism ratcheted up exponentially. (Even as another part of me could see how I was quite over the top on my reaction).

And then, all of a sudden, somehow in one corner of my brain…and it slowly started to spread over the rest of my noggin…I remembered…

I hadn’t taken the workshop yet.

I was going to go to learn about these principles.  I always get nervous before going to a two day event where i don’t know if I will know anybody there, and interaction with others will be a part of the experience…who will I sit with, will it be ok, will they like me, will they think I’m good enough, etc. etc…and the anxiety was coming out over this ridiculous mat. This was shame having a party inside of Carolyn.

Like many, I’m a wee bit (OK, maybe a lot) of a perfectionist.  Like all, I struggle with shame…the feeling of not being worthy of love and belonging.  And like usual, I was expecting myself to be really excellent at it, right away…even before I’d gone to the workshop.

And at this realization, I found myself able to soothe myself with understanding and compassion and loving kindness…I didn’t have to be good at this yet.  I could go as someone who had something to learn. It was OK to have room to grow at this…and suddenly I saw this silver lining…it was going to be money well spent because I just showed myself how I really needed to learn this stuff for myself, not only to use with my clients!   🙂

I can’t say I wasn’t still a little nervous and apprehensive about the whole thing that evening.  I was, but I showed up the next morning. It was great.  I learned a lot.  Met some great people and had some fabulous conversation in our groups exploring our experience.  A fantastic experience.

…and to my surprise, I discovered something that really tickled my sense of humour, and will be a lifelong lesson in gentle with myself and not making critical assumptions…a few people brought “meditation mats” but many, many more brought the good old conventional yoga mats…the kind I was convinced would have been utterly humiliating for me to have brought in.

Kristin Neff at the Compassion Project workshop on self compassion in Winnipeg Manitoba March 2013

Thanx Kristin, for your compassionate style of teaching us self compassion.  For a really quick grasp of the concepts of self-compassion, take a peek at the video:

One of the things that came through so powerfully to me is that self compassion isn’t selfish, but rather sets a person up to be much more able to open up their heart to others in ways that are life giving to those around. When we are in a good place, we are able to be more fully present and compassionate to those around us. As a member of a family, or a local and world wide community, it behooves us to be self compassionate to be better able to connect with those around us.

Is there room in your life to practice a l’il self-compassion?

I thought so. Give it a go?


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