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40k for 40 days

February 19: Day 34

Day 34 - What's the Difference Between Self-Compassion and Inner Peace?

When looking at the practice and exploration of self-compassion or inner peace, I see them very much as the same thing on a personal level. I am investigating the 'why what, & how' when it comes to causes of inner suffering or conflict, how to understand and mitigate them but also explore the causes of inner peace, contentment, and joy and how to cultivate them in my life.

Sounds easy!!

Unfortunately, it's not so easy from my experience but I find the net results of practicing this skill help to bring the other three skills involved in self-cultivation together, before moving on to start practicing skills involving others and the bigger systems that I am interdependent on.

Calming my body and mind, ethical mindfulness, emotional awareness, and now self-compassion make up the four practices and skills of self-cultivation and inner peace. What makes them even more powerful I feel at least, is to explore them while moving and gaining the physical and mental benefits of the movement of mind and body.

I've come to realize that a lot of the reasons for my own suffering or internal conflicts come from inside and how I respond to what's going on on the outside. Hence, understanding my own mental states is crucial for creating my own happiness. It's like the ancient Indian metaphor of the man who was worried about going out into the forest because he might get a thorn in his foot, his additional fear was that there would not be enough leather in the world for him to cover up the entire forest to prevent him from being hurt. Rather than simply covering his own feet with leather to negate injury. At times, I feel the same, and it causes me stress or anxiety, I need to create peace in the world so as not to be hurt, or for my loved ones to be hurt. Rather than starting with cultivating and harnessing my inner peace, I start with the whole forest and of course, this can quickly become overwhelming and is an unrealistic expectation.

With the practice of self-compassion, today I am allowing myself space and reflection to look to and challenge any other mind (cognitive) distortions, or thinking traps as they are often referred to, that I may be gripping to and potentially causing me harm. Even before I started my cycle and daily introspection, I knew that managing and challenging perfectionism, as well as the negativity bias that we all possess, were two such thinking traps that I could start with.

Another model that assists me when looking at where my mind can create harm is the 8 worldly concerns or Dharma's, coming from Buddhist philosophy. These are things that we can often strive for at any cost or desperately try to avoid at every cost, thinking and believing that this may actually bring us happiness but in fact, in reality, they can lead us towards the opposite and cause a lot of suffering and harm.

They include physical pleasure or physical pain, material gain or loss, praise or blame, and status or obscurity and insignificance. 

I'm not suggesting that all of these or any of these areas of our lives are not important, as they may well be but it's when they distort reality for me or become all-consuming. If I invest too much in any of these, to levels of afflictive attachment, I get gripped to the point where is it almost cramps my mind, as it would a muscle of my body if I was over-tensing it for too long. 

Material gain may be useful at times but not at every cost, praise may be lovely from time to time but if I'm unhappy when I don't receive praise then it may not be healthy and likewise with status, pleasure etc. or indeed if I am constantly trying to avoid blame, obscurity, physical pain or discomfort and material loss, it can clearly distort and influence my reality in a detrimental way and quite possibly, means that I bend my values in order to accommodate the pursuit of these distortions. 

This is also where the practice from the previous skill, of being able to pause, breathe, and gain a sense of equanimity is so valuable for me. My cycle today offered this space and opportunity to assess how any of these areas of my life that may be throwing me off course and disconnecting me from my true aspirations and values. The fact that it is a cycle in nature in one of the national parks, the sun is shining here and I am here with my daughter who is engaged with activities she loves, with people she flourishes around, is certainly aiding this practice of inner peace (self-compassion), offers a bonus and feels like a great gift.

I've been zoning into the two pillars of inner peace today. The first is, understanding how much my inner world affects my happiness versus my outer world as we tend to think of having more power and influence than it actually does. And the second pillar is the fact that I tend to set quite unrealistic expectations of myself (and I know I am not alone here as this is common with so so many others). I also compare myself to many others and feel that I need to be good or above average at many things in order to be content. This is not reality though and can again lead me towards unneeded suffering. The Reality is, that in 50% of the things that I do, I should be below average, that's just the way it is, and accepting this and acknowledging this as reality can reduce unrealistic pressures I put on myself. It doesn't mean I can't be ambitious but instead set aspirations for myself and if they come to fruition, that's fantastic and if they don't, at least I don't become unrealistically attached to their outcome and constantly disappointed or worse, self-loathing or even hatred towards myself. Again I mention the idea of progress and not perfection as a goal, adding in, aspirations rather than expectations as an additional act of self-compassion.

Happiness and contentment with what I have in this very moment and deep gratitude for this, even the challenging experiences that I've had can be a strong antidote to all the multiple thinking traps and distorted realities for me.
In this moment on this morning, in this place, physically in nature but also place in my life, I feel a sense of immense gratitude. Does this mean all is perfect and will remain that way? Does this mean I won't need to constantly work hard to feel this inner peace again? Does this mean I am almost finished and have no more aspirations to improve more?

I think not. 

Shane O'Connor



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