I woke up with this discomfort one morning. I carried it with me to the cushion. I tried to infuse my heart with curiosity and care, and massage these tender places with warm breath. The tender places began to relax, to feel welcome and loved.
The jackhammer of shoulds began to drill again.
What about tonglen practice? Shouldn’t you be taking in the suffering of so and so who has bigger problems than you do? Shouldn’t you breathe in and out for these beings? Isn’t your practice of self-compassion here a little SELF-INDULGENT!
I felt the boulder wedge itself more deeply into the space between my shoulder blades, and my jaw lock in place. The throbbing in my temples began to pulsate once more.
I was also aware of something outside my body, a presence that simply noticed the struggle between self-compassion and endless judgements. I heard another voice.
Sweetheart, let go of your thoughts. Come back to the sensations, your warm loving breath. Soften, soothe, and allow.
I will probably hear both voices, the critical and kind my voice my whole life. The critical voice doesn’t scare me anymore, because I’ve heard the kind voice. I’m beginning to trust it a heck of a lot more than the critical one. I also don’t hate the critical voice, because I know it is the kind voice in disguise.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (Rilke)
Maybe guilt is compassion in disguise – a scaly, fire breathing dragon threatening us with a zillion shoulds until we can hold it tenderly and transform it with our loving attention into a beautiful princess. This princess understands the suffering of the world and how she wants to meet it because she knows her own suffering intimately. Her compassion is not born from a constricted canal of bloody shoulds, but an open lotus canal where roots are anchored deep in the mud of her own suffering to know theirs.