On Being Gentle with Yourself

Jul 16, 2022

[Originally Published 09/08/2020]

Contributed by Sarah Rowat, MS, LMHC-P

​Many of us have an inner dialogue in our heads that I like to call the “inner critic”. These are thoughts that tell us things like “you should be working harder” or “you shouldn’t be eating that”. This inner critic could have developed in a variety of ways - internalizing the voice of an overly critical parent or societal expectations for productivity and beauty, for example. When an inner dialogue starts with “You should…”, I can almost guarantee a kind and gentle thought filled with self-compassion is not about to follow. A thought starting with “You should…” is typically rooted in anxiety or guilt that we aren’t doing enough, that we’re doing things wrong, or that we’re a failure. For many of us, our inner dialogue is much harsher than anything we would ever say to a friend.

There is a lot going on in our world and in our lives today. We are collectively and individually adjusting to new school schedules, new workplace norms, new awakenings about ourselves and our way of life, and new ways of being in relationship with each other. In the midst of these, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Know that you are doing enough, you are trying hard enough, you are enough.

I invite you to practice gentleness and self-compassion with the meditation below:
Firmly place one hand in the center of your chest and one hand on your belly. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly repeat after me: I am enough as I am. I am working hard enough. I am trying hard enough. I am doing enough. I am enough as I am. Take another slow, deep breathe, in through your nose, out through your mouth.

I invite you to try this practice of gentleness and self-compassion each morning or each night before bed.
I would also like to offer a poem by Mary Oliver to help bring gentleness into our beings.

Wild Geese
By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.