Courageous Self-Kindness

Post by Kristin Noelle for the Kind Kindred series.


photo by LifeRefocused on etsy

Courageous Self-Kindness

I never set out to lose my religion.

If you’d have asked me into my 20s whether it could ever happen to me I’d have smiled. I’d have shaken my head in quiet conviction that this – this devotion to Jesus and marriage to some form of community gathered ‘round him – was my calling. Was as certain as the rising of the sun.

So when stars realigned and I began to recognize threads from my life-long worldview unraveling, it took years to admit it was true.

How could someone so devout, so deeply connected to her God, have everything unravel? – everything and every relationship she’d held dear (they were nearly all connected to her faith) fall apart?

As I flailed through dissolution, I got master’s degrees in Theology and New Testament. I read shelves full of books on world religions, psychology, physics, neuroscience, philosophy, feminism, myth. I filled journal after journal with words; tissue after tissue with tears; hour upon hour in my therapist’s chair.

There was nothing flippant about what went on in me.

And paradoxically maybe, in my quiet moments, in the feelings just beneath all my flailing, was a crystal clear knowing: this is my integrous Way.

This is the only path I can take that’s a yes to the call of my heart.

This – though it feels like death, like an erasure of my past, my plans, my whole *world* and an ushering in of much pain – is my most courageous act of self-kindness.

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Fifteen years have passed since that unraveling and as I look at the whole of my spiritual path, which has continued beyond the walls of religion, and which I see, now, as a lifelong trek to heal and to wake up (which, surely, is true for folks inside and outside all around religion), I recognize many forms that self-kindness has taken.

For a swath of years it was giving myself permission to be angry – angry at injustices committed in the name of Love. Angry that my devotion hadn’t been met with clearer explanations from God/Source/Spirit all along about how the world works, who or what God/Source/Spirit even is, what in heck we’re all doing here anyway. Angry that people I loved saw my path as indication of a heart turning hard, rather than the blessed torment of a heart cracking open.

As anger mellowed and healing continued, self-kindness meant blessing myself to avoid the people and conversations and environments that scratched at tender places inside…to trust that in time, as I healed and found my new bearings, some of those things (people, conversations, environments) could healthfully season my life again.

And for many years it meant recognizing that though trusting life and Source and my own dear self was the path I wanted to take (so desperately I wanted this!), the “ouch” of having my world fall apart, of having all I’d held dear fall to pieces, was still so present that my capacity to open to such trust, to soften into it, to treat it as my compass and my guide…was minuscule. Non-existent sometimes.

Self-kindness meant recognizing this and offering my still-afraid self-compassion and patience and time, rather than hurrying her into what might look like trust – into what happy, confident parts of myself knew were the actions and directions I ultimately wanted to take – but would have been, at the time, a disingenuous facade had they been taken.

This is the kindness that taught me to trust. That continues teaching me still. This is the kindness that’s given me the work I offer the world today.

Sometimes self-kindness feels soft in the moment, like a cushion around life’s rough edges. But there are times when it takes a much broader view, and looks for months or even years like the choice to walk rocky, perilous, unpaved paths. Sometimes it looks like the choice to step into a fearsome unknown – not because we know where we’re going, or what in the world it all means, but because we’re saying yes to some deep call. Yes to our yearning to trust. Yes to our wish to go home.

Kristin is an artist and healer whose work all orbits trust: what trust is, how it can be cultivated, how it shapes our lives into what we wish, deep down, they could be. Her weekly blog series, Heart to Art, turns readers’ stories into trust-nourishing illustrations. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and son.

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