How often do tapes play in your head like a radio playing in the background, saying, “I’m not perfect enough, successful enough, or smart enough.”
Brené Brown calls these “scarcity” tapes. Do you have one of these scarcity tapes playing in your head? Or another scarcity tape? Can you think of a time when a scarcity tape got the better of you and kept you from doing something you really wanted to do?
The good news is that we can deal with our scarcity tapes by bearing witness to them and responding with kindness to ourselves. Self-compassion doesn’t mean self-pity or self-indulgence. Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche identified a syndrome he termed “idiot compassion.” Toward the self, idiot compassion is self-pity, self-absorption, or self-indulgence. Toward others, idiot compassion is more an enabling behavior. It manifests as the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. In other words, you are more concerned with your own feelings than with attending to what will be helpful to another.
You could think of self-compassion as a putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping another approach. Doesn’t it make sense that we can’t relate with others’ suffering if we can’t deal with our own first?
So, how do we create a more open and loving relationship with ourselves? We start by treating ourselves as we would treat a dear friend. When we notice we are playing a scarcity tape in our head, we hold it as an object. With an open and curious mind, we ask ourselves, “What if this scarcity tape were not a problem to resist, but something I could actually learn from and accept as it is?”
It’s important to remember that what we resist persists. Examining whatever we notice without judgment and with an open and curious mind, is practicing self-kindness. By practicing self-kindness in this way, we’re able to actively soothe, comfort, and care for ourselves—just like we would for a dear friend.
One way to cultivate our capacity for self-kindness is through mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness meditation practice enables us to see our habitual mental and emotional patterns, including the scarcity tapes we may not normally be aware of. Mindfulness meditation also helps us cultivate our connection to our inherently aware, basic nature which is a direct portal to our deeper qualities like self-kindness.
By practicing mindfulness and gathering our attention in the present moment, we gain familiarity with our basic nature. We begin to see ourselves more clearly, including those parts of ourselves we do not normally see. And, with confidence in our basic nature of inherent awareness, we make the invisible visible. By doing this, we bring awareness even to those parts of ourselves we may have been ashamed of.
The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?” He then went on to explain, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.” By cultivating familiarity with how our mind works and fostering self-kindness, we can actually do something about the second arrow.
Think of mindfulness meditation as mental hygiene, not unlike dental hygiene. You wouldn’t leave your house in the morning without brushing your teeth. Once mindfulness becomes part of your routine, you’ll find taking a few minutes to check in with yourself—see how you are, just as you are, each day—will come to feel just as indispensable as you prepare to go out into the world and interact with other people. And if you keep up the practice, you may even find that scarcity tapes aren’t playing in your mind quite so often.