Self-Compassion and “Reality”

When we entered the Sapara community we were ceremonially cleansed, our faces painted, and given names.  (Mine was Tobacco Woman, the healer.)  Then we were welcomed by one of the Shamans.  He said that the goal of the Shamans was to get into our heads and to teach us “that what you think is reality isn’t real.”

I’ve thought about that statement a lot since that day.  In our culture we are bombarded with messages about what is or isn’t real, important, or essential to our well-being. 

Most of the messages have an underlying theme of “not-enough” or somehow “insufficient.”  We need the “right” job, house, friends, car, income, body type, etc., etc., etc.  It’s no wonder that many of us walk around with a sense that “there is something wrong with me.”

Tara Brach calls this the “trance of unworthiness.”  That underlying sense that we are falling short somehow.  It’s as if there were a huge gap (the size of the Grand Canyon) between the person we believe we should be and our actual experience.  Each day we move through our schedule of activities simply unaware of the underlying pervasive sense of “I’m not enough.”

Our culture contributes to our sense of “something is wrong with me” through our highly competitive, information over-loaded, over-consuming and unwritten/spoken but known standards for what is preferred (titles, achievements, income, relationships, accent, color, gender, possessions, beliefs, etc.)

When you add the natural tendency of the brain to search for what is wrong or what will/could go wrong (an evolutionary survival mechanism), this bias toward negativity is pervasive in our lives.  Unfortunately, most of us translate, something is wrong out there to “something is wrong with me.”

However, as the Shaman said; “what we think is real, isn’t real.”  Other than traveling to the Amazon rainforest and engaging with a Shaman, how does one wake up from the “trance of unworthiness?” 

We begin by pausing and noticing.  Bringing into our conscious awareness our repetitive thoughts or the story we create based upon those thoughts.  “My partner left me because I wasn’t interesting enough.”  “I’m unworthy because I let other people down all the time.”  “I’m not smart enough or as smart as _________.”

Just pause and become aware of the inner dialogue.  (Warning: this can be surprising and painful.)  When we wake up from the trance and realize the message we are sending to ourselves, it can feel a bit overwhelming.  You may feel a deep sense of sadness.

Try to stay with the feelings rather than distract yourself or try to minimize them.  It is only when we are consciously aware of our thoughts and feelings (as painful as they may be) that we can begin to shift them.

When you feel the effects of your “trance of unworthiness,” place a hand over your heart, breathe deeply and focus your attention on being kind to yourself.  If that is too difficult, imagine someone who is gentle and wise enveloping you in a healing embrace.

This process of pausing, noticing, placing your hand on your heart and practicing self-compassion is a powerful step toward transforming from “not-enough” to “I am enough.”  It is the movement toward freedom from the trance.

There is real power in placing your hand over your heart as you practice self-compassion.  This simple action helps to connect your thoughts of self-compassion to your body. 

When we are operating from trance, we are not aware of how and where our body is holding tension.  Bringing our focus to our heart is a small step in connecting to the sensations of our body (and tapping into the wisdom of our heart).

Most of the suffering we experience originates in our heads, it is our thoughts and our stories.  When we pause, notice, and shift our awareness we can practice self-compassion, give ourselves grace, and remember we are human.  It is through this process that we discover that what we think is reality, isn’t real.