From Cranky to Compassionate

There are times in our lives when we all just need to say: “I’m having a bad day.” Yesterday was a perfect example of that for me. Missing a loved one + a poor night of sleep + a theft at work = all of my emotions came bubbling to the surface. I became very angry and very cranky.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that I am extremely hard on myself when a “bad day” happens. I tell myself that I don’t have the right to complain when others are suffering far more than I am. I also assume that my yoga and meditation practice is insurance that I will never have a bad day again. (Or that when I come up against stress, I’ll know just how to handle it.) But, by denying myself the right to have a less-than-perfect day, I become even more frustrated.

Whether one’s “bad day” involves something as insignificant as spilling coffee all over the desk or as significant as losing a loved one, there is the unfortunate tendency to close ourselves off, withdraw, and lose all compassion for ourselves and others.

It’s what you might call the “horse blinder” effect.

In Compassion in Action, Anne Cushman writes:

“It’s an insidious force in spiritual practice–the myth that if we just practice hard enough, our lives will be perfect. Yoga is sometimes sold as a surefire path to a body that never breaks down, a temper that never snaps, a heart that never shatters. Compounding the pain of spiritual perfectionism, an internal voice often scolds us that it’s selfish to attend to our relatively tiny pains, given the vastness of suffering in the world.

But from the point of view of yogic philosophy, it’s more useful to view our personal breakdowns, addictions, losses, and errors not as failures of, or distractions from, our spiritual journey but as potent invitations to crack our hearts open.”

Cushman also mentiones karuna, the Buddhist practice of compassion. It doesn’t ask us to take on others’ pain or to wallow in our own, but rather it encourages us to face it head on without closing our hearts to the discomfort and agony.

“When we stop pushing away our own humanity–in all of its darkness and glory–we become more able to embrace other people with compassion as well.”

So after a long week of neglecting my practice and an even longer day of feeling sorry for myself, I finally sat down and meditated. I knew all along that was what I needed to do…and yet, I put it off. Why? Was I testing my limits to see what would happen if I went back to the way I felt before yoga and meditation came into my life? Perhaps. But what’s undeniable is the fact that my yoga practice is why I feel compassion on a daily basis and why I want to help others feel it too.

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