How the Sun became my teacher
I am one of those people who could live in eighty degree sun all year. Nope, no change of seasons needed. I live for sun, thrive off it, can feel the difference when I am infused with it regularly. My children started calling me "Girasole," the Italian word for sunflower after we saw so many fields of them last summer. They all turn to the sun, whichever direction it might be, almost in deep reverence. My kids are right. I feel like a sunflower, turning as if in prayer to catch the beautiful light of the sun. So, of course, it is logical I could easily count the sun in my daily gratitude practice. It is a source of true joy. It shows up in my gratitude journal regularly. But it has been in the recent couple of years that I have learned so much more FROM the sun, as a teacher for me. And for that, I am even MORE grateful.
If there is one tool for joy I use daily, it is self-compassion. Giving myself love, understanding and acceptance may be the hardest thing I have learned to do. It's funny how simple it is to give all of that to our good friend, our partner or children. But when it comes to ourselves, it gets much harder. At least that's my personal experience and the experience I have had clinically with countless patients. I tell my patients that if they had someone in their life who talked to and berated them the way they do to themselves, I would ask them to let go of that toxic relationship. And they always agree that this is a negative experience, listening to the trail of their own thoughts.
How many times have you heard the broken record in your own head of "I am not good enough" or "Why do I even try?" or "I will never be able to do this?" It plays repeatedly like a bad radio station you want to turn off. But you can change the station by reframing with self-compassion. I am not good enough becomes "This feels hard for me but I am proud I tried" or even simply put, "This is a challenge for me." Definitely more gentle, more nurturing and still affirming that what lies before us is difficult but we don't need to live in a critical, self-degrading state.
The neuroscience shows us that in fact, those who practice regular self-compassion are less depressed and anxious than those who do not. And contrary to belief, those who are self compassionate are more likely to achieve their goals. It does not make us "soft" or complacent. It gives us space to accept not only what we are going through but also more importantly, the space and capacity to accept ourselves. We can see ourselves as human which means we have flaws and we err. None of us are perfect even though that is often the standard that we falsely hold ourselves to.
Self-compassion is one of our most trusted tools to be joyful.
And that's where the sun comes in...Have you noticed that the sun may be the most powerful teacher of self-compassion there is? It shines all day on whomever or whatever lies beneath it. It does not discriminate based on gender, race or socioeconomic status. No ranking is immune. It gives out life to all who seek it. I had a powerful moment one day while meditating outside. I was quite grief stricken, lost in sadness and in addition, I was feeling frustrated with myself for being sad. "Why can't I just accept," was playing in my head. I closed my eyes, tilted my face upwards and it was as if the sun's light was exponentially more powerful on my closed eyes. I had to get silent to notice but once I did, I realized if the sun could shed light on everyone and everything, I could at the least, shine light on myself. I could give myself the love and compassion I needed. I was in a state of suffering and I felt nurtured and cared for in that light. It held me when I couldn't do it for myself. But then it showed me that I must be that for myself. And I must do that daily.
This is a powerful idea to remember also when you feel alone. Suffering of all kinds leaves us often disconnected as we think no one can understand us in that moment. And it is quite possibly true. But it is not true that we cannot get tender care from another even if they do not walk in our shoes. We all have the capacity to be that for each other...and that for ourselves. Because the sun's same light shines on so many, it is a way to feel connected to this world around us. A way to remember we are never alone, just isolated from that which we need. Next time you feel alone, turn towards the sun and feel its warmth on you. It is the same warmth other humans are feeling at exactly the same moment.
The sun has been my teacher. The best kind. One who just keeps teaching patiently, compassionately, until I am ready to learn.
Hafiz, a great Sufi poet said it best I think... (Remember my blog post, A Poem A day...?!)
Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth,
"You owe me."
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.
Next time you feel the sun's warmth on you, it might feel different. You might notice it has been there your whole life and never gives up on you. You might notice it gives its gifts to anyone and everyone. It has no conditions.
This is compassion.
This is acceptance.
And you can have it for yourself.
You must have it for yourself.
Change the conversation in your mind to one that feeds you.