In my last years as a professor, I saw something clearly: we give students little space to make mistakes; to mess things up in a safe environment; to experiment, fail, and try again. And now, away from academia, I still see this pattern. We don't often come as we are, we come as we think we should be.
We live in uncertain times. Amid groundlessness, it’s natural to feel fear. Specific fear about circumstances or vague, roving fear about life. The mental storyline of fear is “something is wrong.” And this wrong-ness is projected inward at self or outward at other. Either way, it constricts our mind and heart.
When I volunteer in prison, it includes both group and individual sessions. The pastorals are rich, meaningful, and sometimes difficult. The stories I hear—real stories from real people—are heartbreaking. I try to be a mirror for the inmates. I let them know where they’ve grown and changed and how their meditation practice inspires me.
Recently, I perused old journals. It was painful to read the vicious words I wrote about myself. Pages and pages of self-judgment (at times, self-hatred) followed by pages of halfhearted self-encouragement, all of this on a repetitive loop. I longed for something different yet wasn't sure how to proceed. In the 20 years since those journal entries, I became unstuck, moving from self-hatred to self-compassion.