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Having compassion for yourself

By L. B.

The word 'compassion' engraved into silver metal.
I am making changes in my life for the better and this will benefit others. (Photo by Kirsten Skiles

L. B. writes about the importance of having compassion for ourselves instead of judging ourselves for not being perfect.

There is a quote on a small white piece of paper on my writing desk. It reads, “There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within. No real insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose!”

This statement inspires me because it awakens the part of me that never gives up, no matter what the odds or the situation. However, as I sit here writing this, I am in one of those “head spaces” where everything around me is depressing and I really have a hard time getting through the day. It is usually at these times of depression that I think of all of the bad I have done in my life, and I start telling myself that I am no good, a fake, or a phony.

I call it my “self-sabotaging cycle,” and it is a real screwed-up, “hard to get out of” place in my mind. It seems like it would be really easy to give up at this point. I mean why not? After all I have wasted my life and scared so many people; what is the point?

The point is (at least for me) that I would be giving up, and it would mean that I failed, that I was no longer trying, that the insurmountable barrier I had reached was my own weakness.

I have read of how the monks in Tibet were killed when the communist Chinese government cracked down on Buddhist practitioners. I have read how they did not resist, how they sat fast and faced their deaths with calm understanding that all was not lost. They were not giving up. They showed to their last breath that they could surmount any barrier with compassion and love not only for those taking their lives from them, but also for themselves. I believe that you must come to understand yourself, love yourself, and forgive yourself if you are to endure and change your surroundings for the better.

If you are in prison reading this article, you know how hard it is to love yourself. You may acknowledge to your peers or partners, “Yes I love myself and accept myself.” But you also know there are times when you are by yourself and you start running those “old tapes” in your head of how you have done this or that, said this or that to loved ones or even strangers. Then the guilt starts coming in waves.

By reminding myself that even though I have hurt others I do not have to continue to do so, I reinforce the belief that I am making changes in my life for the better and that this will benefit others. It also takes my focus off of my guilt and self-pity and onto helping others to overcome their suffering and to bring happiness into their lives.

Imprisonment does not have to be a place of self-torture and guilt-ridden confinement. We can bring peace and compassion to others and ourselves behind these walls and fences by transforming ourselves into loving, compassionate beings. We can also reach out to others by sharing our fears and shortcomings. Eventually our self-acceptance of the pain we have caused and our determination to use compassion, instead of hate and guilt, enables us overcome our surroundings.

Now that I’m finishing this essay, I realize that writing it has been a way to share with myself that I am hurting inside and I don’t need to suffer. I also realize that those who will read this are a part of my healing. This brings a smile to my face and gratitude in my heart for those of you sharing my thoughts. Ultimately, you are helping me to transform my self-doubt and guilt into love and acceptance of myself. Thank you for the compassion that grows in your heart and the kindness you show to others.

Incarcerated people

Many incarcerated people from all over the United States correspond with Venerable Thubten Chodron and monastics from Sravasti Abbey. They offer great insights into how they are applying the Dharma and striving to be of benefit to themselves and others in even the most difficult of situations.