Lose the Blues Gap through Self-Compassion

by | Jan 4, 2016 | 3 Meek

DSCN4867Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
When you catch cold, at what point do you pause, sigh, and admit, “I have a cold?” What tips you off that it’s not just fatigue or hay fever? Scratchy throat? Low grade fever? General grunginess?
For me, it’s the blues. I cling to alternative explanations like mold spores and a bad night’s sleep until I realize that I can barely stand myself and have even less patience for anything or anyone else. The dark cloud won’t pass. I blow my nose and slump.
Granted, most people recognize a cold with a physical symptom or two before getting down. But if we zero in on my peculiar process of facing it, we can learn something about depression, yours and mine, both the normal blues that accompany a cold and the crippling kind that can kill.
The tasks on my daily to-do list carry implicit images of me. For each counseling or spiritual direction session, I anticipate a fully present, caring me; for each moment with my wife, an affectionate, helpful me; for every household chore at home or administrative task, an efficient, prudent me; for every post I write, a wise, creative me.
The energy drop and distracting discomforts of a cold’s onset confound not only my effectiveness in those undertakings, but the accompanying images of me. My actual presence, helpfulness, efficiency, and all the rest drift further from the ideal, and that discrepancy between the ideal and real gets in my face and won’t bug off.
It’s not the reality that gets me down. It’s the discrepancy. Ironically, this blues gap grows with well-intentioned efforts to fix depressing problems. I gaze at the ideal and try to figure out how get there from my current hobbled or hapless state. Maybe one more attempt to solve a frustrating problem. Maybe more positive thinking or taking a break for some exercise. All good ideas, but none will suffice unless I face my state here and now with loving acceptance.[1]
In his teachings on the spiritual quest, Howard Thurman often spoke of “accepting your fact,” looking in the mirror literally and figuratively and saying, “This is it!”[2] But look too with the eyes of faith, trusting that whatever image of the real you looks back, you see a unique child of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The Maker sees no discrepancy between your particular self and an ideal. Ultimately, you can only disappoint God not from failure to live up to an ideal but failure to accept God’s merciful love. Failures to discern and do the right thing more likely derive from that.
So today I resolve to ramp up compassion for myself, joining God in seeing myself through loving eyes. As the blues gap arises again and again, I will take it as a cue for self-compassion. I invite you to join me.
[1] For a helpful book on recognizing the discrepancy and addressing it with self-acceptance, see Mark Williams, et al., The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2007).
[2] Howard Thurman, “Growing in the Love of Self,” in the CD set, The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time, Vincent G. Harding, Liza J. Rankow, Luther E. Smith, Jr., and Olive Thurman Wong, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2010).


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