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Finding Self-Compassion

July 30th, 2014 by Marilyn Kroplick, MD

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Giving Back to Animals

I want to tell you a true story that happened to me while on a sinking cargo ship off the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. It was a moment of life and death–when everything became clear to me.

IDA_COSA_MarilynI was onboard the Kronos, a 15,000 ton Greek cargo ship, when a huge storm, with 100-foot waves crashed against the deck, tilting the ship from left to right and back, again and again.

I raced up to the bridge and listened to a cacophony of shrieking SOSs, in Morse code, crying out from other ships as they split in half, the Captain explained, as they sank down towards the oceanic bottom of that ancient, crowded cemetery.

As I typed these words in my journal, my heart raced and pounded against my chest wall. Thump, thump, thump–the rhythm of my heartbeat mesmerizing me, so I was unaware of striking down so hard on the keys. Next, a self-indulgent thought flew into my consciousness: “Marilyn, I bet you’re the only girl from East Meadow, Long Island to drown in a sinking ship around the Cape of Good Hope”

The wildly oscillating typewriter carriage made my writing difficult. So, I looked up for a moment, and stared back shocked as a gargantuan wave crashed the glass porthole, fracturing it. Its huge momentum, like a tornado, lifted my body up into the air and hurled me across the room, finally slamming my nose into a dresser knob.

My earlier bravado dissipated and switched into a steadier stream of terror. Judgment popped into my head: “You’re irresponsible! Tonight, if you die—it’s your fault!” Nausea arose and mixed with anxiety and confusion, negating every last vestige of denial. I was truly panicky now—despair was about to overwhelm me. Without possessing denial, emotional balance was made more difficult. And suddenly, with that realization, a moment of self-acceptance arose, as a needing to know the reality of my predicament. I arrived at the point of self-acceptance and compassion triggered peace and calm.

With this tranquility, a most surprising event occurred—the unfolding of my future life plan envisioned in four simple, sequential steps:

Step one—to understand Marilyn.

Step two—to align career with values.

Step three—to grow relationships, family and friends.

Step four—at first, without detail, I feel frustrated by step four’s delayed appearance. Not knowing what to next to do, I breathed in deeply. With the exhalation, ease and calm remained, enabling the fourth step: to make a contribution to the world someday! Tears of joy and contentment filled me for now I knew that I would have enough to give back.

In one moment–that night–my life changed forever, on a sinking ship. And I have been practicing this path ever since. Forty-six years ago, with an unfolding of self-acceptance and self-compassion, my journey was illuminated. With healing, a confidence soared, knowing that in the future, I could and would heal others—other people, animals, a troubled world, and myself.

Now, in remembering this story, I realized that these inner gifts of self-acceptance and self-compassion are needed for a happy life and for successful and sustainable activism. What I mean to say is that, in order to change an abusive system or people, activists must understand themselves first—including the recognition their own inner flaws and deficits (called shadow selves) with love and compassion. Activism requires ongoing practices of discerning, self-excavating, and dismantling the self-righteousness and separateness of those people whom they demonize as bad, evil, or abusive—the animal abusers and mainstream naysayers. By realizing, and accepting, that as people, we all share similar desperate drives and hungers to a varying degree—builds an activist’s compassion, mitigates their anger, and improves the possibility of successful activism.

With new self-acceptance, activists can strike a better balance between self-care and their caring for others. The healer/activist begins their healing process. Even micro moments of self-acceptance and self-compassion—can do wonders–sometimes that’s all it takes to change a life, or lives, forever.

As animal activists, however, we do face many obstacles. One obstacle is the paradox that we want to eliminate suffering of animals, but to do so—first, we must confront our own suffering (that’s painful, so we wish to flee). However, by resisting this introspective process, suffering lingers on. However, once suffering is identified–self-acceptance can grow and enable letting go of the inner critic and outer judge, so compassion can blossom. By cultivating inner compassion, non-judgmental listening becomes easier. On the other hand, without nurturing self-compassion, the inner critic judges self and the outer judge blames other, conflict grows, and the message—lost!

In conclusion, before persuading anyone else or trying to change a social movement, activists must develop skills of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. With these tools, they can develop empathy for another and build rapport—prerequisites to successfully communicate. Listening with empathy, differs from mere agreeing; it strengthens rapport with others who could build a larger, brighter, and more cohesive future animal rights movement.

Healing your own animal activism:

1) Take time for yourself and strive for balance in your life.

2) Stay open, curious, and flexible.

3) Avoid jumping to conclusions based on assumptions.

4) Know stronger and happier people are effective activists.

5) Success in animal activism is like a marathon, not a sprint.

6) Remember when not immediately successful, you are still planting seeds.

7) Don’t judge victories based on what the outside world thinks.

8) Reward smaller victories that no one else applauds.

9) Shift fearlessly if an old approach isn’t working.

10) Foster compassion in yourself (and within your fellow activists).

11) Activists without personal agendas–are more credible.

12) Learn to resolve conflicts assertively, not aggressively.

13) Take a calculated risk, fail frequently, and then learn from your mistakes.

14) Stay calm even if frustrated.

15) Ask questions even if you anticipate dreading the answers.

16) Keep open to all possibilities, until a clearing in direction crystalizes.

17) At the beginning, learning will takes longer—so persist!

18) Act with equanimity—not impulsivity.

19) Practice mindfulness throughout the day.

20) Base behavior on your values.

21) Look within first—before judging another.

22) Take self-responsibility–don’t blame—you’ll learn more.

23) Become both leader and servant to the cause.

24) Open up to wild ideas and question tightly held assumptions.

25) Embrace experimentation to test unanswered questions.

26) Testing is an invaluable source of insight.

27) Create infectious action.

28) Embrace experimentation and fuel the fires of innovation.

29) View changes as experiments.

30) Passion demands effort.

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