Gentle living is personal to everybody. It means different things to different people and has different ways of showing up or manifesting in our lives. One person’s yoga is another’s Netflix. Someone’s meditation is another person’s alcohol. What you decide to do daily to feel more gentle isn’t actually the point – as long as it makes you feel gentle and is right for you and your family, if needs be.
Living gently isn’t just about the daily actions we partake in though. It’s a way of feeling, planning, behaving, communicating, and more. It’s really living it. Which can feel pressured and like it’s too much to change. All in one or full stop.
Yet what I’ve learnt is vital to the concept and change involved in living more gently are the thoughts, feelings, and emotions behind whatever action we’re taking – the things that help you feel kinder, happier, and more focused. And after working with hundreds of people on my Gentle Life course, I started to notice some themes. A framework, if you like, within which I’ve found people can start to live more gently.
This is where the Gentle Life manifesto comes in – a five-part guide to leading a more gentle life. And in this post, I want to explore the first part of this framework, which is around holding more self-compassion.
Manifesto part one: Hold less self-judgment and more self-compassion
You and I may or may not have met (yet!), but I do know this about many of us – that we walk around with a lot of self-criticism going on inside our heads.
- ‘I didn’t do that well enough’
- Or, ‘I am a terrible parent’
- ‘I’m totally different to everyone else’
- ‘I’m not able to do this’
- And ‘I’m not the kind of person who does that’
- ‘Why do I always get things wrong?’
- ‘Surely, I’ve got to achieve more’
- ‘I’m not successful enough’
The list could go on.
There’s no judgment there. This is many of us. Even if what we’re criticising ourselves with isn’t obvious, we’ve usually got a form of it going on subconsciously. It’s what likes to hold us back and tell us that we should keep doing more and that we haven’t achieved enough. And that self-judgement is probably what makes us stay busy, keep pushing, and doesn’t allow us space for fear we will continue to not be good enough, achieve enough, have enough, ad nauseum.
But what if we could cultivate to a more compassionate voice instead?
Self-compassion, on the other hand, means we’re choosing a way that’s kinder. It allows us to bring kindness and peace to ourselves, whatever the situation is. Self-compassion asks us to like ourselves even when we think we can’t. When we think that we haven’t done enough, or that we shouldn’t stop or that we didn’t go something well. No small feat.
A big objection that arises in here is this: if I don’t push myself or tell myself off, I’ll never get anything done. If this comes up for you, I’d invite you to read my post about some of the myths around gentle living. But I’d also invite you to think about the idea of changing our beliefs. Because although we may believe that pushing ourselves and telling ourselves off is what has led to our achievements and success, it’s very likely that our accomplishments come from many other factors too. And those other factors are probably a lot kinder than this self-critical voice we’re listening to!
How do you hold more self-compassion?
Bringing compassion to ourselves when we’re not used to doing it can be tricky. Believe me, I know. The way we do it is through trying to turn the volume down on that inner critic voice that we’re so used to listening to, and instead, turning the volume up on the feelings, the emotions, and the idea of bringing love to ourselves when we really need it. And that can be really hard. It’s about tuning in internally and saying to yourself that you’re going to give yourself love, peace, kindness or similar, even when you’ve done something you didn’t like, are going through something really hard, or you feel stressed and out of control.
Turning the volume down on the inner critic doesn’t mean we squash it and tell ourselves it’s not really there by the way. We actually bring compassion to that part of ourselves too. We say hey thanks dude for being there I hear you and acknowledge that but I also want to do this thing anyway. You see? Whatever your sentence might be, it would enable you to not fight the feelings you feel because we all feel them too, but to say I’m OK despite having these things, which actually creates space for the more compassionate voice to swoop in quicker and more efficiently anyway.
Oh, and also…this is life long work. Great hey? Not only am I telling you it won’t be easy but I’m saying you’ve got to do it forever to get it right.
But when you think about it, that’s exactly what gentle living is all about. To live more gently, more in alignment with who we want to be, we find we do have to do the hard work to get there. We do have to ask hard questions that don’t always feel comfortable. We do have to push back on habits and thoughts we’ve had for years. We do have to question when our gut is shouting louder than ever before despite us wanting to shut it up please stop talking to me so much.
Likewise, the many breakthroughs that happen as a result of this work keep us learning and transforming as we continue through life. So, accepting this is just a part of the journey, that we will all ‘fail’ at it many times (and of course they’re not really failures), that you will also learn so much more as a result AND bringing compassion to all of that…that can be our first step.