If there’s one thing Covid-19 has shown us, it’s that what happens in one part of the world affects what happens in another.
The choices I make today may affect you tomorrow, which is why we’re practicing “social distancing” to prevent the spread of the virus.
This interconnectedness has got me thinking. Suppose I were to imagine the earth as one entity containing all beings, just like I think of myself as one entity with one body containing all of me. How would that change the way I treat other people? If we are all parts of one entity, then what I do to you, I’m also doing to myself.
From this perspective, kindness is the only thing that makes sense.
I like to think of myself as a kind person, but when it comes to unkind people, I must admit I have a hard time. I can get so full of righteous indignation at people who are righteously unkind. How can I not be? Do I really have to be kind to them? Isn’t that just condoning their behavior?
In the same way, there are parts of myself that I dislike because they are unkind, my inner critic for one. But what I’ve found is that rejecting any of these parts of myself only serves to make them stronger. The more I resist, the more they persist.
Rumi says, “This being human is a guest house.”
So many guests, knocking on the door of my psyche every day—joy, worry, love, shame. I welcome them all; if I don’t, their knocking just gets louder.
What if I were to welcome the people who cross my path in the same way? What if I didn’t fuel anger with anger and instead channeled this anger into acts of kindness? It seems like a tall order, but when I think of the world as one entity, my perspective shifts.
Being unkind to others and being unkind to myself become the same thing.
Likewise, compassion and self-compassion become two sides of the same coin.
Some of us are quite good at being kind to others but struggle with being kind to ourselves. Perhaps we’ve been taught to “love your neighbor” and we’ve forgotten the second part of that line, “love your neighbor as yourself.” The fact is, to truly love someone else, we must love ourselves first.
Rumi closes the poem The Guest House with these words:
“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
What guests do I want to welcome today, and what gifts might they bring? For they all bring gifts, whether we like those gifts or not.
One of the gifts Covid-19 has given me is the gift of a new perspective. Now I understand what Rumi meant when he said there’s a field “beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing” where “even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”
Beyond these black-and-white ideas of self and other, there is simply life—one living organism.
Marianne Ingheim is the author of Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion.
Marianne Ingheim knows what it means to face adversity and tragedy. Raised in a rigid religious household, depression and anxiety were constants in her life. Diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy at 41. After that her husband, whom she had decided to divorce, committed suicide. These challenges prompted her to probe her own psychological patterns and coping mechanisms. She soon realized that her brutal inner dialog and lack of self-compassion were under-recognized sources of suffering. They undermined her ability to face tough circumstances and made her feel as though happiness—even when life took turns for the positive—was out of reach. She committed to self-compassion, collected and customized a number of exercises to practice it, and saw changes in almost every area of her life. “What’s so amazing about self-compassion is that I can be the container for myself, taking care of me even when the world around me seems to be falling apart,” says Ingheim.
In Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion (She Writes Press, May 2020, paperback) she shows readers how to be as kind to themselves at they are to others. It is written in 67 vignettes, which share stories from her personal journey and offer exercises, tips and insights for cultivating self-compassion.