The Courage of Self-Compassion – Compassion Training 5

Straddling the line between light and dark
Straddling the line between light and dark

I feel compelled to write some kind of disclaimer here. (I think this will be the end of disclaimers for a while. And maybe my last “Compassion Training” post for a while also.) I’m writing about compassion (see other posts in my Compassion Training series) not because I’m any kind of expert, but because I’m trying to figure out what compassion is and how I can bring more of it into my life. It’s something I feel compelled to learn about, especially as a teacher. I figure that by writing about my experiences I may meet other teachers who feel the same, and together we can discover where compassion fits into the art of teaching.

The following post is about my messy path toward greater compassion.

One of the interesting, and sometimes disconcerting, side effects about my meditation practice so far is that the more I meditate, the more I recall moments in my life where I was far from being compassionate. Moments of selfishness, judgment, and mindless reaction. I recall awful (truly hurtful) things I said or did when I was a teenager, a young adult, and not so long ago. I am comforted by the fact that according to Mark Coleman (and apparently many holy people and mystics) this is normal, and actually maybe something to aim for. Mark shared this quote during one of his webcasts that helped me connect to this concept:

As the light increases, we see ourselves to be worse than we thought. We are amazed at our former blindness as we see issuing forth from the depths of our heart a whole swarm of shameful feelings, like filthy reptiles crawling from a hidden cave. We never could have believed that we had harbored such things, and we stand aghast as we watch them gradually appear. But while our faults diminish, the light by which we see them waxes brighter, and we are filled with horror. Bear in mind, for your comfort, that we only perceive our malady when the cure begins. – Francois Fénelon

And it’s true. I can feel a shift already. Those ugly thoughts don’t visit even half as often as they used to. It’s as if sitting down with them, and giving them the attention and care they needed helped them find relief. They seem to have moved along. This is the power of empathy and compassion. But it’s not easy.

It takes courage to be self-compassionate. – Mark Coleman

Do we usually choose to have dinner with a person who is selfish, judgmental, and reactionary? Maybe we do, but do we sit with that person with an open heart? It’s not easy, and most often, we probably want to avoid this scenario. It’s the same thing. Why would anyone want to take a hard look at all those messy moments from your past? The only answer I can come up with is: because I don’t want them to happen again. I don’t want to be that person. I also don’t want to encourage that behaviour in others. This is what I risk doing as a teacher. So for now, and probably for a long time to come, I’ll sit with the mess. I’ll muster up the courage to do so because I’d rather see the light than be kept away in a cave. If you connect to this topic, and would like to continue getting weekly inspirations, join the Facebook group Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove.

Teacher Self-Compassion #RedThumbForLove – Compassion Training 3

I want to propose an idea to all teachers: be kind to yourself no matter what happens. No matter what. If your lessons flops, it flops. If you couldn’t answer a student’s grammar question, it happened. If you couldn’t finish correcting homework on time, so be it. If that little voice in your head creeps up and says, “you’re stupid, incompetent, and lazy,” respond to it with love. How? I will propose a strategy, but first let me tell you how I discovered it.

(Feel free to scroll down to A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove if you’d rather learn the strategy right away.)

Lovingkindness Practice – Opening to Self-compassion

During the second week of Compassion Training with Mark Coleman (see my previous posts on this topic) we transitioned from mindfulness practice to loving-kindness practice. Sharon Salzberg defines loving-kindness as follows:

“Loving kindness is a form of love that truly is an ability, and, as research scientists have show, it can be learned. It is the ability to take some risks with our awareness – to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; to include in our concern those to whom we normally pay no attention; to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.” It is the ability to gather our attention and really listen to others, even those we’ve written off as not worth our time. It is the ability to see the humanity in people we don’t know and the pain in people we find difficult.” – from Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

And how do we see this humanity, how can we look at others with kindness when we can’t do it for ourselves? Here’s an idea from Mark Coleman,

“The primary abandonment we do is with ourselves. The most healing thing we can do is to not leave ourselves; not to abandon ourselves. This practice of self-metta (self-lovingkindness) allows us to hold ourselves, to stay with ourselves, to befriend ourselves, to love ourselves.”

This practice of self-lovingkindness has a long history, and the premise is simple: send yourself loving thoughts and from here you will open yourself to loving others more easily. First, it starts with yourself. Then, you move on to people who are easy love, and from there you move on to more distant and challenging people. During my first week I found it hard to extend my thoughts to others. I would lose focus, and my mind would drift off towards more enticing ideas. After talking this through with Mark, I learned that maybe I just needed to focus on myself for a while. It seemed that I needed the most care at that moment. Trusting that this was not a selfish act ,but something that would actually help me connect more to others in the end, I kept sending myself thoughts of lovingkindness, or another way to look at it, self-compassion.

Loving myself - a work in progress
Loving myself – a work in progress

Lovingkindness starts at home and our relationship with ourselves. – Mark Coleman

But this isn’t the strategy I want to propose to teachers — though, I still recommend it. The strategy first came to me after Mark asked the question, “What are one or two ways that you could realistically and practically begin to practice more kindness towards yourself?”, and then after seeing Chuck Sandy‘s Facebook post where he shared:

How often do we poison our own spirit with negative thoughts about ourselves? That’s why I painted my thumb red today – to remind myself to push away unloving thoughts about myself & to practice love for others more.

A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove

From Chuck’s red thumb sprang more colourful pictures of teachers’ nails. And so this is what I propose to you: paint your thumbnail red or any colour of the rainbow so that each time you see it you are reminded to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate with yourself.

Teaching can be a lonely profession. Often, we don’t have anyone to turn to who understands the challenges we face. Self-care may be the only strategy we can turn to when the job gets too hard. When you feel overwhelmed, this little self-compassion reminder may just be the thing to bring you a little ease. Each time you look at your coloured nail, check your state of mind to see if you’re in your old pattern of blame or shame, and remember that you are doing the best you can at that moment. Acknowledge what you are feeling: don’t push it away and don’t dwell in it. Just feel it.

A Community of Self-Compassionate Teachers

Post your picture, and a story of how your nail helped you, on the Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove Facebook page. You can also send the picture directly to me via Twitter @josettelb or tag me on Instagram @josettelb. If you use Tumblr use the #redthumbforlove hashtag and I’ll load it up on our blog redthumbforlove.tumblr.com.  Use the #redthumbforlove hashtag anytime you post a picture. By doing this, we can help each other stay motivated in being self-compassionate.

The more I teach and work with teachers, the more I realize how important self-compassion is. If you connect to this idea too, I look forward to seeing your loving colours shine.

For more about self-compassion, I recommend visiting:

For more about “whole” teaching, please visit:

And for more about Lovingkindness:

Compassion Training: Trying not to fall in the hole

I think I’m between chapter  2 and 3. It all depends on the circumstances.

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson (excerpt from her book “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery“)

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

walking down the sidewalk

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the side walk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I fall in….it’s a habit…but my eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down a different street.

This is why I’ve decided to take this course: Compassion Training with Mark Coleman (you can listen to the podcasts here). I made this decision after recently noticing myself being less than compassionate with someone and myself. Something which should have been simple to deal with left me thinking, “Wow, I am really a bitch.” Now, that is not the type of language I want fermenting in my mind, and my behaviour is not the kind I want to continue cycling; because looking back, it is a reaction (both the action and the thought) that continually reemerges.

So why am I writing about this on my teaching blog and not my personal blog? Because as you’ll see from the tagline under my blog’s title, I am passionate about compassionate communication. I think the world needs a lot more compassion and as a teacher of language, I think I’m in a position to make this happen. As language teachers, we are all in this position. I’ve always thought that the first step in creating this change should come from me (see a post on this by my friend and fellow teacher: In Order to Change the World). But I didn’t truly understand what that meant.

I think I’m closer to understanding it. My understanding is I can’t teach kindness if I’m not kind with myself. I can’t be compassionate with students and other teachers if I’m not compassionate with myself. Once I do that for myself, I’ll be ready for the world.

Awareness is the foundation of kindness. Kindness is the expression of awareness. – Buddhist verse

So for now I’ll sit and do my best to be mindful of what arises because that is the kindest thing I can do.

*I’d also like to take this chance to let my dear readers know that I am starting the WordPress “Post a Week” blog challenge. The fancy new badge you see on the right makes this official. I took this challenge back in 2011 (check out my “Post a Week 2011” posts) and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about myself, my teaching, and my learners. I hope to gain similar positive results. And it wouldn’t be a real challenge without challenge without challenging you too! Are you up for it?

Thank you for reading and your continued support,

Josette