If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

Siddhartha Gautama


Some years ago I was a member of a spiritual community with many attributes that I value including compassion for all living beings. This spiritual practice had very high standards and required a rather austere and rigorous lifestyle. At least that’s how it felt to me. I was attracted to it because it was global in nature. It is a global community.

I felt good when I managed to live up to the standards and expectations but I often found myself struggling to ‘keep up.’ And, more often than not, I found myself falling short. How paradoxical to feel like a failure in my spiritual life. Not only that, but it all seemed to be so easy, seemed to come so naturally, for many of the others in the community.

One day a wise friend and teacher who was not a member of this community objectively asked me, “Why is perfection your ‘gold standard’ for yourself? It could be anything, you know. Why not have something like self-compassion as your standard?”

In that moment, like a fish that comes to know water, I became aware of the medium within which I was living. How could I be compassionate for ALL living beings and yet be so judgmental about myself? 

In gratitude, humility, and with new possibility, I surrendered. In that moment, I felt a new acceptance for myself as I am – without having to get better or be more spiritual. And I grokked that having experienced it once meant that I could experience it again.  

There are times – like when I am creating – when self-judgment just doesn’t exist. But there are other times when I grab hold of self-judgment again and again and again. And in such times, I find myself mindfully needing to let go for what seems like at least a thousand times a day. 

The gift hidden within? Each time I let go, I experience the blessing of self-compassion. This even includes self-compassion for my judgments and beliefs about having a long-held ‘gold standard’ of perfection for myself.


When you have learned compassion for yourself,
compassion for others is automatic.
~ Henepola Gunaratana


Photo by Barbara and Photoshop
Ayutthaya, near Bangkok, Thailand, 1991
Scan of a 35mm slide.