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The Yang of Self Compassion

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be amongst 100+ Mindful Self Compassion teachers at the first Mindful Self Compassion Teacher’s Festival in the Netherlands this past July. Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff offered captivating presentations, along with emerging insights about the various aspects of self-compassion. For instance, we commonly think of self-compassion as having soft/comforting/”yin” qualities. But self-compassion also contains active/protective/”yang” qualities. “Yin,” Kristin reminded us, “is being with ourselves in a compassionate way – comforting, soothing, validating. Yang, on the other hand, is acting in the world in a compassionate way: protecting, providing, motivating.” Kristin demonstrated the horse stance, a position of power and stability, and with hand outstretched, we too assumed the position and together shouted a firm “No!”

And as I continued to ponder the meaning of the yang aspect of self-compassion following the festival, I reflected upon the different ways that it shows up in my life. Yes, at times self-compassion has needed to be fierce when I have set clear boundaries in response to someone crossing my personal or professional lines. Other times, I might describe the yang of self-compassion as tenacious, as when I took on the system and the registrar’s office of a large university, challenging their new admission procedure which had unfairly limited accessibility for a family member. And it has been assertive — as when I encouraged and supported an elderly friend to initiate a call to her bank manager in response to a teller who had twice been less than helpful. And sometimes it’s firm, as when I persisted with the return of a simple food order that wasn’t quite to my liking.

Sometimes we need to practice self-compassion by taking action in the world – fiercely, tenaciously, assertively, and firmly. And maybe, if we are tentative about being in the world in this way, we can bring in the yin to comfort, soothe, validate and encourage us to take a brave step out into the world, perhaps beginning with a quiet but audible “No.”

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