Witnessing yourself with kindness – the ultimate act of compassion

Imagine a time when a friend asks you to hear them out, to listen and be around for them when they need support. Validation when uncertain and trying to make sense of something. Celebration when really happy about an achievement. A calm and considered take on the times when your whole world seems a catastrophe.

You’d do that, wouldn’t you?

You’d listen, you’d notice when your friend was being too hard on themselves, when they were in a muddle and didn’t know which way was up. And equally important, when they were rightly taking credit for a job well done, when they were coping with challenging times and managing pretty well.

You’d offer some thoughts (if asked). Observations, context, explanation, reassurance, unravelling of confusion. You might challenge the story they have about themselves, knowing they were being unkind to themselves. You might point out a different way of looking at things. You might cheer them on from the sidelines and offer congratulations.

However it played out you’d intend to be compassionate, kind. That’s what a good friend does….

And yet….to do that for yourself? Really, how is that possible?

It’s a simple, subtle and yet extraordinary concept – that we can be the compassionate witness to ourselves, and our own lives. That we can be active in our world, busy, engaged. Happy, feeling accomplished, or totally overwhelmed and beating ourselves up. And every shade of existence and emotion in between. Yet we can also be that little bit separate, stepping back from the noise in our worlds, in our heads, and notice, just notice, ourselves with kindness, and without harsh judgment.

How can you become aware of the negative chatter in your head when you’re stressed and having a bad day?

When you get in a panic and think you’re rubbish at speaking up at the work meeting, when the kids have a temper tantrum in the supermarket queue and you just want to disappear, when you see yourself in a mirror and think ‘yes, my bum actually does look HUGE in that’?

I never particularly gave the concept of being kind to myself, being my own compassionate witness, much thought at all until I began doing workshops with Shakti Tantra. I always knew I could almost step out of myself, as if quietly watching on the sidelines. That I could settle into what I was doing to such an extent that I was in flow, relaxed and comfortable, listening to myself and others, aware of reactions and responses, without getting emotionally involved.

And that at other times I could appreciate that when I was anxious, in the grip of a powerful challenging experience that I could completely lose sight of myself, I could only feel like a lost child.

That’s the nub of it for me. The golden nugget of understanding and insight. When we are overwhelmed it’s easy to tumble headlong into old patterns. The discipline is to step into a calmer, more considered place of witnessing to offer reassurance to that anxious version of ourselves, and to take on the mantle of true self-confidence, awareness and agency.

To honour every aspect of ourselves.

Our terrors, our triumphs, our messy lives.

With kindness and love.

To compassionately witness our lives, to give ourselves the gift of our own presence. Moment by moment. During all the ups and downs. And to become adept at being truly supportive of ourselves – recognising the patterns, the ways we trip ourselves up, the times we can, or cannot say to ourselves “well done”.

And….here’s the true challenge. The discipline….

To also become aware, as that compassionate witness of self, of witnessing others as we interact with them. To honour and respect their uniqueness, as we honour and respect that uniqueness in ourselves. To respond in truth, with awareness of our own self-interest, biases and beliefs, as we are aware of theirs.

To intend finding a way to a middle path, a meeting, a balance point. With humour, with kindness, with intelligent and intuitive understanding. Of self, and other.

Here we have union. This is compassionate witnessing.