Compassion or Comparison

IMG_6121My yoga teacher has said this phrase dozens of times, but one morning it went in differently and landed in the places where breath meets bone, where sinew aches with loss and the water in the pelvic bowl of my hips shimmered like a moonlit lake. The words traveled along ancient blood-lines to the place where ancestral memory digs a spade into foreign soil, where the grandmothers and great-grandmothers hummed the melodies of their lineage while baking the day’s bread and folded their pain in the flour.

Compassion rather than comparison. Connect to what’s needed in this moment instead of to what everyone else is doing or what you think you “should” be doing.

She cued a pose and I did something else. She cued another pose and I remained where I was, following my breath into the places that needed attention. The beginning of a poem filtered into consciousness, landing on the windowsill of soul. I opened the window and let it in.

Yoga, like life, is a practice of self-trust. A good teacher will say quite often, sometimes every class, “Follow your own body’s needs rather than my cues. I will cue the poses, but if you’re feeling the need to be challenged, challenge yourself. If you’re feeling exhaustion, honor the exhaustion. And most importantly, follow your breath.” To think that twenty or thirty bodies would have the same needs and breath rhythm every minute of the class doesn’t make sense. If everyone were to follow their own body’s rhythm, the beautiful synchrony of moving together would shift into a beautiful cacophony of various poses held for different lengths of time.

Yet I rarely see that. What I see is most people being good boys and good girls and following the teacher’s cues. I see perfect students striving for greater levels of perfection, despite the teacher repeatedly saying, “Yoga isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about strength or flexibility or the physical postures at all. It’s about connecting to your breath, to yourself, and to your spirit.” She can say over and over again, yet until someone learns to make a different choice regarding how they approach the class, her truthful words will fall on deaf ears.

What I see in yoga, so I see in life. I see a culture comprised primarily of good girls and boys trying to keep up with the expectations at each stage: Adolescents trying to be cool; 20-somethings trying to keep up with their peers; 30-somethings believing they should be having babies. I see people panting to get to the finish line, yet once they arrive they realize that the finish line has moved ten feet. At some point, the illusion of “there” starts to break down, and we realize that life is here, in this body, with this breath, with this temperament and personality type and unique set of needs. That’s when we start to learn how to live from compassion instead of comparison.

Compassion, as I understand it, means meeting yourself exactly where you are. It means turning inward long enough to know what you’re feeling or experiencing, then meeting yourself there. What does it mean to “meet yourself”? It means that you bring kindness to whatever is churning and brewing, that you bring the attention of your breath directly into the heart of the pain, joy, or anything in between. It means acceptance. It means learning to be your own kind friend. It means a willingness to let it be.

Most people don’t come from a bloodline of self-compassion. We learn to consider others from an early age (“Be nice and share your toys”) and watch our mothers and fathers putting their own needs aside in order to care for others or meet others’ expectations. We learn from what is role-modeled as much, if not more than, what we’re explicitly taught. If we don’t see self-compassion, we don’t usually learn self-compassion even if we had a parent or parents who were compassionate toward us.

Yet self-compassion is the first step toward healing and change. If we’re judging ourselves and listening to the incessant running commentary that says, “You’re not enough. You’re broken. There’s something terribly wrong with you. You’ll never feel better. You’ll never change. Everyone else knows what they’re doing; you’re the only one who’s lost,” we will, indeed, remain stuck and lost and find ourselves trying to keep up with the colloquial neighbors. But when we learn to bring compassion to ourselves, even and especially to that bully-voice who is convinced that we’re doomed to a life of misery, inner and outer worlds begin to open up.

Let me be clear: The final fruit of healing ourselves is to bring that healing out into the world. The world needs our actions that can work toward repair of the brokenness that cracks through our earth like a ragged fissure. Whatever we can do to repair the fissure must be done. But we offer best when it comes from the overflowing waters that fill our own well of Self. And we fill this well of Self by learning to take loving actions that result in knowing ourselves, liking and loving ourselves, and, then, trusting ourselves. And the fundamental piece that informs this work is compassion. This is what I teach in Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The next round will begin on June 11th, 2016. I’ll see you there.

30 comments to Compassion or Comparison

  • priscilla

    what a insightful post sheryl, as someone who frequents yoga, I never thought of comparing it to life that way. Looking forward to joining you in June for trust yourself!

  • M

    Do you have any articles about relationship anxiety and pregnancy? My husband and I are going to start trying for a baby in Septmeber and this causes my relationship anxiety to flare up. Why is this? I have been doing better but I am worried what will happen to me when I am pregnant. Any advise would we great. Thank your for all you do!

    • Karen

      M, have you taken one of Sheryl’s courses to help with the relationship anxiety? I had a problem with it myself following my wedding but took her course, read her blogs (like this one) and the stories of so many others going through the same thing and it truly saved me. I realized my fears were unfounded and I just don’t deal well with change. I still battle with those feelings occasionally, but now I’m better equipped to deal with them. After Sheryl’s course and some work on my part (including lots of self-reflexion and bathtime reading… I highly recommend “The Untethered Soul”), I felt good enough to start trying for a baby 5 months after our wedding. Now my little boy is 7 months old and I have to say, there is SO much joy in creating a life and bringing a baby into this world that you will probably find it makes your anxiety go away and makes your relationship stronger! Plus, as my doctor told me when I was worried my OCD would be a problem once baby was here… “you’ll be too busy to even think about it!” (He was right). I was just in your shoes and was so worried myself, but if you spend the next few months facing your fears and realizing you’re creating stress because of these fears, I think you’ll be fine. Instead of focusing on the negatives (which means fixing your self-talk), start focusing on moving forward with your loving partner who wants to start a family with you (for which you are blessed) and pour your emotions and love into your new baby. Wishing you all the best!

      • M

        Hi Karen,
        I just want to say thank you so much for your comment! It helps so much knowing that others have felt the same way and that you said having a baby has helped the anxiety go away and made your relationship stronger. I will have to check out the book you recommend. I have not taken a course yet but I have thought about it. I read this blog weekly and it helps. Thank you again!

    • Sophie

      Hi M,
      You say ‘I am worried what will happen to me…’
      May I invite you to ask yourself why you allow yourself to worry? What is your worry [fear] about? Who is your fear? Where did this fear/worry first appear? Can you give your fear a name/talk with him/her/it, (journal/meditate/sit with and breathe into that emotion) ask what your fear wants to teach you? Can you choose to replace your worry/fear with a different emotion and experience?

      I have learned (through CBT [cognitive behaviour therapy to assist with PTSD symptoms, and chronic depression I now realise was my internalised ‘unacceptable to me’ anger [taught not to express anger or any emotion other than a smile] following an accident which allowed the experience of paralysis) and through Sheryl’s Trust Yourself course last summer, that we can choose our own feelings and thoughts and therefore our own actions and be self-responsible and thus not have previous anxiety, or be aware when anxious thoughts occur that we can choose to explore and heal the hurt little self behind the fear and thereby fill our well so that our future interactions with ourself and with others are emotionally honest 🙂
      May this help you M. Love and light to you on your journey 🙂

      • M

        Hi Sophie,
        Thanks for your reply! When I say I am worried about what will happen to me, I am worried my relationship anxiety will be very bad while pregnant, and I don’t want my anxiety to cause problems for me or my baby. I wonder if the increased commitment of having a child with someone (even if you are married to them) can cause a spike in anxiety.

  • Sugar Pea

    Oof. This hits me right in the soft spot. After years of running away from myself — pushing myself to go, be, do, keep up, put out in ways not in alignment with my core self — well, I’m in the dirt now, half-crying, half-laughing. I wish someone would have told me early on, “Look, you don’t have to put all this pressure on yourself… You don’t need to be perfect. Your imperfection doesn’t need to be perfect. Just go with it. Change. Fail. Grow. Heal. Repeat. It’s all okay.” But more so — I really wish someone would have taught me self-compassion. I wish that had been a choice for an elective. Geography of the heart.

    I recently discovered Inner Bonding. Wowzers. Again — wish I’d learned it sooner. It’s been one of the most useful tools in becoming aware of my inner landscape and learning how to cultivate it. Like yoga, it’s a practice. I’m not perfect; I’m practicing. Listening to the waves within, discerning what needs what, and how to sink down and be there. Just be there for myself.

    I signed up for the Trust Yourself course and I could.not.be more excited. It’s been a long time coming.

    Thanks for all you do, Sheryl. Thrilled to have found this community of soul-warriors.

    <3

  • priscilla

    M — great question same thing happened to me. It flared around trying to concieve as well, as well as joining finances, and talking about end of life issues (where buried, buried together) very strange.

    • M

      How did you handle the anxiety while pregnant and in other situations (like the joined finances, end of life issues, etc.)?

      • priscilla

        Im not pregnant yet actually, TTC now. My anxiety is still there and I’d love to know how to work through it. But it has gotten better. I think when I took the focus off of him, and thought of him as father, I realized there is noone I’d rather be the father to my children. We both share the same love for children. For changing my name, I plan to do it soon. I think changing the way I think about it helps. First I thought that I was going to loose my identify, ny name. But then I thought about it and how much my husband and his family loved me, and how honored I feel that they want me to share their family name with them. So I think Im going to make my last name my middle name and add his name as my last name.

        I just have to get out of the fear of doing these things (ie having a child, changing name) as being equal to trapped, A big part of me thinks that these experiences – ie changing names, having baby, deciding end of life, is all part of being more committed to the marriage. For awhile now I think I’ve suffered from “one foot out the door syndrome” as reva seeth would put it in her “first comes marriage” book. Like yeah I was married and could always get a divorce. But by not changing my name or having kids,it made it easier. Reeva says that when we have these back up plans it acually prevents us from being fully engaged in our relationship and experiencing love fully I think seeing my marriage as a way to learn about love, instead of having to be the perfect love right now does help too.

  • Philippa

    This was exactly what I needed to hear today. I have been trying to conceive for 14 months now and have bad endometriosis. I find myself swinging between acceptance and resistance. Today I was feeling so much resistance to my situation, so much stress and fear that I will never conceive and I was noticing gorgeous babies and pregnant women everywhere…but when I read the part about ‘good girls’ believing they ‘should’ be having babies in their 30s I felt my shoulders noticeably release their clenching and my head felt lighter and less cluttered. It really helped my regain acceptance of my situation as it reminded me that life is happening right now and that I don’t have to have children in order to be fully human. I am human already and so lucky to be able to breathe in and out and learn and grow everyday. I’m sure I’ll still have resistance to deal with but I really enjoyed the feeling of peace I felt when I read this post and I’ve taken a screen shot of it to remind myself when I get caught up again.

  • Olga

    Hi Sheryl,

    I just wanted to say that your blogs have been very helpful for me in the last couple of weeks. I’m experiencing relationship anxiety with my new partner, and I can honestly say that I felt like giving up completely. It has been so reassuring to know that I’m not alone!

    My new partner is everything I ever looked for in a man, and there are no red flags or problems between us. But still there was this feeling – is this the one for me? Do I really love him? What am I supposed to feel? I have been hurt a lot in the past and I think that is the reason why a ‘perfect guy’ makes me question everything. I feel so guilty towards him. Luckily he gives me all the space to figure out what I’m experiencing.

    I still need to save up a bit, but I will definitely join you on the Relationship anxiety eCourse. Thank you again for giving me some peace of mind on the way.

    • I’m so glad you found your way here, Olga. Yes, it’s past hurt is often one of the root causes of relationship anxiety. It’s great that you can identify that already.

  • Elaine

    Hello Sheryl,

    I was, once again, telling someone in my circle about your writings and how much they’ve helped me transition from dating to engagement to marriage. I told them I don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t encountered your writings at the right time. While dating, I would often wake up a the “witching hour”, feeling stressed about my decision to date my then boyfriend, wondering if he was ‘good enough’, then if I was good enough, and mostly worried that I’d end up in a relationship like my parents. I’m self-employed, so the worry would overlap those life decisions as well, feeling like I’m a mess and don’t know how to make decisions correctly. THANKFULLY your writings, stable people advising me, and time talking to God and learning how to surrender again have silenced the screaming little voice more and more all the time. Anyway, that person asked if I ever told you how much it meant, and I realized I hadn’t yet.
    So this is me, stopping in to say thank you! Thanks for sharing your gift with the world. It’s meant the world to me!

  • k

    I read your blog this morning (as I’ve done every Monday for the last year or so). You’ve learnt me more about relationships and self-trust than I’ve ever thought possible.

    Whenever I’ve panicked, I’ve entered your site and I go: yeah, thats whats it’s all about. You speak truth. Thank you.

  • Luis

    Hi Sheryl my wife has mentioned so much about you, I admire your work!!! I dont know who to talk about this that is as wise as you, and that’s why I wanted to write in your blog!!!
    When I was little about 10 years old I was walking back from school and sll of a sudden In my head I started to see my grandfather being pulled down of a tree but this was sll like a vision happening in my head, he hanged himself and when i got home everyone was across the street where my grandfather lived, he indeed had done that and it seems to me as if I was actually connected to that at the moment it was happening and when I got home From school confirmed it with my eyes that what I had seen in my vision had just happened at my grandfathers home….. After that soon after I started having a vision of my father doing the same thing that lasted for many years until it became truth with my father doing the same thing that his father had done, he hanged himself as well and I actually was the one who cutted the rope to bring him down from the place he had committed suicide, this happened 2013 and aften times I see other people who things will happen to snd it scares me because thibgs that I have visions sbout happen, not all but a lot, i mean a lot!!!! I often have this fear that I will die and I feel or see that I will die and I see it happening me being old sometimes and others me dying young!!! !!!
    My wife told me that you work with dreams and the psyque and also i see how spiritual you are and I need help, would you please share with me some of your wisdom on what you think it is??
    Thank you and god bless

    • Thank you for your comment, Luis, and I’m so so sorry for your losses and extreme traumas. This is more than I can respond to through a comment. If you would like to schedule a coaching session, please let me know.

      • Luis

        Thank you Sheryl I appreciate your reply and I do wish to have a session where I would be able to talk more!!!
        I will contact you soon!!!!

        Blessings!!!

  • hayley

    Can’t believe how much this page has helped me. Just reading the articles, absorbing all the information and unlearning all the shitty ideas and stories that we’ve been made to believe. The biggest lesson for me has been learning that happiness comes from you, not your partner. I went from straight up believing it was over to feeling more stable and like im in a real relationship. Fear is so convincing it has shocked me, although my fear has moved from my relationship to my new job (telling me to quit aftee my 2nd shift). I am far more mature and togetherthan I was! Good luck everyone you can do it! !!!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I havent been feeling well the last couple of weeks, I have the cold and virus. I now work fulltime and its not easy to go to work when ur not feeling good. I took one day off so that helped a bit. I feel a bit stressed with work, all the high expectations is so unrealistic. I miss the good old days where life was simple, these days its all about paper work. Im a preschool teacher and I love children but i feel their our first priority interacting with them not observing and writing everything down there is no time. Management dont care that staff are overworked and pay stays the same. Where is the compassion. I do work hard as everyone knows looking after children is not any easy task, we some children that have behaviour problems. I keep telling myself where is the compassion. Im not happy with how management treat people like their robots.

  • M

    Hi Sheryl,

    I have been following your blog for over a year but have never had the courage to comment!!.. My boyfriend and I have been dating since February of last year and I’ve had my doubts since the very beginning. I knew he was a great guy and has no red flags but I can’t stop focusing on his flaws. There are times when I feel great and we are so comfortable together, then other times I’m filled with anxiety and don’t even feel like I like him! Something is keeping me with him though, no matter how bad the anxiety gets. I found your website in the middle of the night after about a month into our relationship and felt so much relief after reading all of the comments. I read most of the posts in the next few days. I felt like I could totally relate to so many people and your blog has been so comforting to me.

    We’ve been talking about getting married and I have honestly been keeping all the anxiety bottled up inside and going along with everything. He knows I have been having anxiety and he knows I come to this blog, but he has no idea what kinds of thoughts I’ve been having about him or that I doubt our relationship at all. I feel like I literally judge everything he does. I’m super paranoid about what my friends and family think of him even though they all say they love him! He’s shy and doesn’t speak much around them. I also worry that he’s not “deep” enough and can’t hold good conversations. He’s a pretty straight forward person, and isn’t sensitive like I am. But sometimes that gives me the impression that he is insensitive and doesn’t know how to show compassion. He doesn’t find anything wrong with me, but I pick apart everything!! I feel like I’ve learned so much from your articles, and I’ve stopped watching any type of rom-coms so that I have a more realistic view of what relationships should be like. But I always wonder if there’s a better match for me and if I’m settling. It’s torture!

    I’m starting to have a better understanding of why I might be feeling this way. He is from across the country, and has been living here for a few years, but has always told me he doesn’t want to stay here. I’m fine with moving away from my family even though we are super close. I’m just terrified of getting married, moving away and still having all of these negative thoughts about him! I’ve also been in a few bad relationships before him, the last serious relationship was mentally abusive and I don’t think I’ve ever really healed completely from that. My parents have been divorced for almost 20 years, and my dad left my mom because he basically felt like he outgrew the relationship and wanted someone who was more outgoing and social. I have this weird fixation on finding someone who is outgoing and “charming” which I know are not really important qualities. My mom still wears her wedding ring and wants to be with my dad even though he’s been remarried for 10 years now! It’s been so hard to watch and deal with since I was in my teenage years.

    I really want to take one of your e-courses, I just can’t afford it. I know I can’t get married until I take your course and figure out how to manage these thoughts. I want to be happy and excited about getting married. I want to feel like I am making the right decision. Would you suggest I take the conscious weddings e-course? or the break free from anxiety course?

    Thank you so much for your help! I appreciate your blog so much and I am forever grateful to you for sharing so much with us!

  • Rosie

    Hi Sheryl,

    I have been following your blogs for a couple of weeks and I am going through a bad time. I met a wonderful man two months ago. Everything about him is perfect and I felt very much in love on our first dates. But afterwards the doubts started kicking in. And every day that I wake up there is a voice that tells me: ‘Is this it?’ ‘Are you sure you love him?’ ‘Are you staying with him because you don’t want to hurt him?’

    I have shared this with my boyfriend and he is very supportive of my healing process. And there are days when I feel so much love and gratitude for not walking away. But on days like today I am completely consumed by doubt and anxiety. It feels like I am in a dark place and I don’t know how to get out. I feel like avoiding my family/friends because I am scared they will tell me to leave him. But I just don’t want to! I love him so much that I start crying every time I say it.

    Right now I am just reading through your blogs and holding on to positive thoughts. Me and him have so much in common that it’s almost insane. And we can talk to each other until 2 AM without getting bored. I am just stuck in this loop of stressful thoughts and I can’t break out of it.

    Much love and light to everyone currently going through this!

  • H

    Compassion rather than comparison. Connect to what’s needed in this moment instead of to what everyone else is doing or what you think you “should” be doing.

    I love this. I went to a wedding on Friday and my partner said that the bride and groom are an inspiration and be wishes our relationship was like theirs, this upset because I thought he meant our relationship wasn’t good enough. So I started to compare our relationship instead of bringing in compassion. This hasn’t helped me in the slightest as I am having major anxiety around a soon to be engagment. I used to be so sure that I wanted to marry him but now it’s getting closer and more real I am very scared and questioning everything! My relationship cannot be that bad as I would of left years ago but as this is coming up soon all this anxiety is popping up. Do you have any advice on what I can do? I just want to feel sure that I want to marry him, I used to be, but not now. Is it okay to choose someone logically rather than based on feelings? My feelings of love and excitement are totally gone and I ‘feel’ like I don’t want to marry him but when I think of reasons logically it feels nice and my anxiey drops dramatically. Is there any advice you can give? I am struggling a lot!

  • Mani

    Hi, Sheryl!
    I am a 27 year old girl living abroad and far from everyone i know and love. I started a relationship with this sweet sweet, kind, smart, silly, beautiful-hearted guy that loves me crazily since 5 months ago. It started a little bit funny, as we just met and immediately started going out and at some point he started calling me his girlfriend. As i was thinking it was all moving too fast, eventually i found myself crazy for him too, spending every weekend together and wanting to do absolutely everything with him. However, at some point, something crazy happened, i just suddenly, one day, convinced myself that somehow he didnt love me (cause he is a very quiet person, and i am a super talkative girl and felt like he didnt care cause he doesnt talk all the time or neither responds with a long conversation when i try to initiate one; and he is not so affectionate all the time, sometimes he can be a bit blunt). So i, in a matter of 2 days, made myself completely depressed and made up my mind i needed to break up with him, but deep inside, i couldnt, cause i knew i didnt actually want to. One month went by with my mood going down and down and with me showing all the symptoms of relationship anxiety and even having several panic attacks. It has been 2 months since the first break down, and i was coming out of it, or so i thought, but then, this sunday, after a super happy weekend together with him, a small tiny thing happened, he made a joke comment about how he dreams of being a “housewife” (cause i am the one with the huge professional dreams, so he wants to be there for me he says), but this makes me a bit upset all the time, cause i want us to work together for our future. Anyways, i know he only jokes about this, and that it doesnt mean he wont do anything for the rest of his life, however, when this small joke happened in the conversation with his friends, i just immediately felt like crying in desperation and all of the bad thoughts i had for this past 2 months came back and my anxiety started again. I just realized it is like this how this 2 tortous months started, somehow, my mind focused only on the small bad things and that is how i ended up with all this crazyness going on…. is there any advice i can get? I know i really want to be with him, but i just need to find a way to deal with this crazy crying that emerges with a tiny thing he does that i am not completely happy about, cause i make him sad and wondering what kind of terrible thing has he done, when he actually hasnt “committed any capital sin”, and i am so scared i will ruin my relationship and that i am hurting him so much, cause i love him soo freaking much, but i can’t seem to stop this, please help!

  • Sarah

    Hi Sheryl, I have been doing the break free course and have found it useful already. I have these moments of clarity and so much love for my partner, even though it’s hard for me to feel from my heart sometimes. I am still flipping and flopping though. I have days of no anxiety, which is great and even though I have some thoughts, I am able to identify that it’s just fear and when I think about him when I am by myself, I do have a fear of losing him as he is the best guy that I have ever met. There is one thing that keeps popping up though and its that I have had these thoughts from day one. Does that mean they will always be with me? I keep thinking that maybe I need someone a bit more blokey (even though they haven’t ever worked out for me) or that my partner is a bit quirky and we don’t have the same sense of humour all the time. Are these issues I should dig deeper into or is that just fear trying to get me to run away? I didn’t have the best role models going up and while my parents are still together, they emotionally unavailable and both worriers. Is that what I should focus more of my work on? Thanks so much.