Updated: May 21, 2021
By Maureen Kalbus
Sheltering at home in recent times, I have been immersed in the twenty-sixth Women’s Retreat. Initially, I and my Organizing Team were planning, then replanning it in the wake of the Covid Pandemic and the resulting restrictions, hosting it on Zoom, and now reflecting. Retreating via Zoom, people interstate could attend. We had forty-three registered, and it was heartening to see a lovely mix of familiar and new faces. Everyone was excited being together and focusing on “Self-Compassion”, and Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem “The Hill we Climb”. Times when we were broken into small groups were affirming, and it was valuable hearing summaries from the Group Leaders. After the opening welcome and prayer, participants were invited to introduce themselves, and share their most comforting place during the quarantine.
Where has been your most comforting place during the restrictions of this past year?
Rev. Charlotte Russell led us through our deliberations, defining Self-Compassion as “extending to ourselves the kindness, empathy and care we give to others”, and quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” She based her presentation on the work of Kristin Neff, referring to “Three Elements of Self-Compassion”:
Self kindness instead of self judgment
Common humanity instead of isolation
Mindfulness instead of over identifying with pain
Charlotte said that self-compassion is not self focus, and being selfish, nor self improvement.
It is: being our own best friend
an antidote to harsh self-criticism
being present during struggles
feeling connected to others
caring for ourselves
Without tender self-compassion, we are critical and cast blame. Without fierce self-compassion, complacency may result.
The questions Charlotte posed for discussion in small groups were:
How have these past months of Covid concern and restrictions been for you?
What are the ways in which continued isolation and Zoom meetings have affected
In what ways have you been hard on yourself, critical or unkind?
In what ways have you been gentler and kinder to yourself?
How have you expressed this self-care?
What are your responses to these questions?
Following the feedback from each group, Charlotte guided us through a five minute exercise which may be enjoyed any time we feel stressed or tightening up:
Standing up, or seated, plant your feet flat on the floor. Become aware of your feet on the floor, noticing any sensations in your legs, your thighs, your buttocks, your torso, your hands, fingers, arms, your neck and shoulders. Is there tightness or tingling? Tilt your head slowly to the left, roll your head in a circle to the right, then roll it to the left.
Notice any tightness or discomfort. Place your hand on your heart. Now gently become
aware of your breath, without changing its rhythm. Let your breath continue ite natural
breathing, envisioning it bathing your areas of soreness, tightness or discomfort. Stay
with your breath for several minutes, letting your mind rest in rhythm. As your mind wanders, as it will, gently guide it back to focus on your breath. Give yourself words of affirmation, such as: “May I be kind to myself. May I accept all of myself, light and shadow. May I offer myself compassion, as I do for others. May I be at peace this day with myself, and those I am with today.”
In the New Testament, Jesus practised self-compassion:
“Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray.” Mark 1 v 35
“ In those days, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God.” Luke 9 v 28
Jesus felt a close bond with the family living in Bethany. A beautiful friendship existed with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and He visited them as often as He could. The fact that He loved them is stated three times in one chapter John 11 v 3, 5, 36
Jesus called to self and others’ compassion:
“ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13 v 34
“For I was hungry and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me...as you [do] this to the least of these brethren, you [do] it to me.” Matt. 25
A self-compassion poem “Compassion” by Miller Williams, adapted by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer:
“ Have compassion for yourself, even if you don’t want it.
What appears bad manners,
an ill temper or cynicism may be a sign of things
your ears could no longer hear,
your eyes have since overlooked.
You may not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
“The Guest House” by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:
This being human is a guest house.
“ Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
As we move forward into new stages and encounter new realities, in our church and in our own lives, take time to assimilate them, how they are affecting you, and be kind to yourself.
From John O’Donohue’s “Belonging”,
“ May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you never place walls between the light and yourself.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you,
mind you, and embrace you in belonging.”