Throughout the decades that I’ve been guiding others in their personal development, one of the things I’ve taught about is learning to develop self-compassion rather than live with the perpetually nagging inner self-critic driven by self-hatred. Along the way of teaching others I have also dedicated myself to continuing my own learning, inner work and expanding my horizons. Cancer showing up big-time in my reality has inspired me to further intensify and expand my personal explorations. At first, I didn’t think that self-compassion would be one of those explorations.

This cancer journey has brought me face to face with the enormous difficulty I have opening to receive assistance from others. When assistance is offered, on the one hand I feel pleasure, warmth and deep gratitude yet on the other hand my inner-critic begins blaring at me with alarming volume.   As one aspect of waking up and growing up, I am committing myself to walk the pathway of self-compassion for being in the position to receive assistance as an important contributor to my whole-person health and wellbeing.

For a while now a group of amazing, caring and generous people have been asking me to say yes to a magnitude of receiving assistance that never entered my dreams as possible. I met their offer with hesitation and procrastinated as best I could, eventually realizing how deeply resistant, and literally terrified I am to saying yes to accepting help.

I’m well aware of my fierce independence, and many of the related patterns. However now I have woken up to a new and deeper dimension of the issue.

Gobsmacking insights related to my relationship with receiving assistance have come galloping in with a vengeance. Shame, guilt, fear all stirring to a surprising degree.

For a few months now I have been doing some illuminating inner work, sometimes agonizing and also liberating. On a positive note, of course I have not been able to do this inner work without opening myself to significant and priceless input from the remarkable community of caring, skilled and generous people that I am so fortunate to have around me. I am happy and relieved that I’ve opened to listen to others and consider their different perspectives. Valuable first steps.

Although I may not have gotten to the core nugget, I’ve unearthed some understanding about the origins of why receiving assistance is such a challenge for me.

According to Albert Einstein, defining the problem is 90% of the solution. He said that if he had one hour to solve a problem, he spent 55 minutes defining it and only 5 minutes on the solution. Einstein appears to have had much more confidence in his problem-solving ability than I do in mine. What I have observed, however, is that often the problem that appears obvious at the beginning is probably not the real problem and that digging deeper is necessary to reveal the genuine problem.

Not being Albert, and maybe because the complexity and unpredictability of the human emotional landscape is very different from science, I find that understanding is just not enough. To truly let go, shift and transform the grip of this pattern is my desire. I am working toward sincerely opening and gladly receiving, without my inner-critic snapping at my heels and heart, blaming myself for being in the position to be offered assistance.

And where do I begin? Self-compassion.

One thing I am working with is the Haven path to self-compassion, a step and a day at a time. Many of you who have studied at Haven will recognize this. When teaching about self-compassion as an alternative to being driven by the ever-vigilant, self-critical internal nag I talk about:

Breathe:                     breathing deeply to heighten awareness – when I am not breathing I am stuck in my head only, cut off from my heart and my guts

Aware:                        wake up to being caught in the cycle and what is actually going on

Acknowledge:            be willing to acknowledge what I am now aware of as the first step toward moving in a different direction, becoming present rather than locked in the past rut

Accept:                        accept the actual reality of the circumstance of whatever is occurring. Unless I am awake enough to clearly see and genuinely accept the sometimes painful, sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable reality of what is, I disable myself from accessing my deeper wisdom and full faculties to make the most intelligent and informed choice of what action to take.

Act:                              understanding just isn’t enough. Step into and act on the choice.

Appreciate:                 consciously and glad-heartedly appreciate myself for quieting the self-critic and following through on my action. Celebrate!

About acceptance:     easy to say! It sounds simple enough, however genuine acceptance of something difficult is elusive, even profoundly painful and frightening. I find that genuine acceptance runs deep into the bones and cannot be faked. Genuine acceptance is tricky. I can fool myself that I have accepted something, but the tentacles of the painfulness, the profound desire for it to be different, the stark reality is so gut-wrenching that I’ll do whatever I can to distract myself from sinking in. Such as going into confusion, procrastinating, making excuses, apologizing, getting sick, tired, obsessing, blaming, eating and a slew of other creative diversions.

For many of us, our vigilant inner-critic is a life-time companion and often a source of motivation toward achievement and success, thank you very much, so not to be dismissed without sincere appreciation! However, it is also the jailer, keeping us locked into past, familiar, obstructive patterns. In order to mature, and shift deeply engrained patterns it is essential to have a different direction to move toward. Otherwise I can tell myself over and over that I want to change and yet I stall without having a clear new destination to focus on. Staying in even the most uncomfortable rut is usually preferable to stepping into the unknown. As painful as the familiar is, the unknown is more terrifying.

The attitude rut that I’ve been operating from includes a belief that being in a position to receive assistance is humiliating and proof of my inadequacy as a person and failure in life. Another belief is that accepting assistance is an unbearable burden of obligation because I will never be able to repay the debt. A belief such as I will never be able to repay the debt because I am not adequate or capable. Another insight, with a blush: my giving is voluntary therefore I have more control, receiving calls for opening in a different way and is much more vulnerable.

My challenge is to open-heartedly receive with delight the assistance being offered. Repeatedly acting on Breathe, Aware, Acknowledge, Accept, Act and Appreciate over and over and over. And I now have more to add to Accept — I don’t think I would be as close as I am to acceptance and self-compassion without being willing to unlock my curiosity, my heart and my mind to listen to others and try on new perspectives. As ever, learning, growth and expansion become possible through openly relating with others. Their wisdom and fresh viewpoint has been illuminating and nurturing.

Now I am embracing the kindly offered perspective that struck me awake: by being unwilling to receive their assistance I am actually putting up a barrier that obstructs the current of caring and loving energy that is flowing my way gladly and freely.

This is not all about me! To refuse is to close a door to a mutually enriching relationship. To refuse is a rejection of the other and a dismissal of their heartfelt offering. I am being asked to wake up to an aspect of interrelatedness that is less familiar to me. Our entire existence is one of dynamic reciprocity. To forget that is perilous, to honour it is life-affirming.

So, here I am faced with living the path of self-compassion that cancer has dropped on my doorstep. Learning to open-heartedly receive assistance and drink in with delight, relief and loving acceptance the energy of caring and loving that is flowing my way. Without putting restrictions and caveats on the form of the flow! Wow, that was quite the thought that just rolled out.

Is saying a simple “yes” the solution? Surrendering into receiving what is flowing my way, therefore “being” in the flow.

In moments such as when I am writing this right now, when I recognize the magnitude of this learning and this energy I am in sheer awe and wonder — existing in a stunningly beautiful, expansive, unified field, a state of being that we are all held in together. A sense of awe and wonder that I, none of us, are alone.

And, remembering, all of this is possible through community. I am overflowing with abundant gratitude.