Have you ever had success making sustainable changes in your life by being mean to yourself? Have you ever bullied yourself into change? Has white-knuckling it or an attitude of deprivation ever served you well?
Let me guess your answer: Of course not. You might have been able to modify behavior for a time through one of those strategies. But sustainable change—the union of intentions and right actions—needs to be grounded in radical self-compassion.
I tried for many years to control my use of alcohol and drugs. I negotiated every possible bargain with myself. I controlled, I limited, I rationed, I swore allegiance to my intentions. I was pretty mean. And it never worked.
What worked was finally accepting that I needed help, and gratefully allowing myself to be supported.
Sustainable change needs two wings—radical compassion coupled with the right use of will. This formula, based in our Kripalu self-discovery model, has proven powerfully effective to create sustainable transformation.
Our tendency as humans, it seems, is to jump on the bandwagon of willful action. Change needed? Will do. We take charge. We diet, we constrict, we restrict. We do that part pretty well. That was my experience in those last years of my active addiction. But, as soon as the pledge wore off, the old behavior flooded in. As soon as the diet ends, the old patterns reemerge.
If you’ve explored dieting, you might have experienced this phenomenon. Dieting is a losing battle. You might lose weight—but those pounds, and others, will find you when the diet ends. The question that emerges on a mindful weight-loss journey is, What am I really hungry for?
Radical compassion, the practice of being present right where we are, is an essential component of change. What great cosmic irony—you need to be where you are in order to get to somewhere else! As we practice being in the moment, as we allow ourselves to feel what is, the doorway to transmutation opens. Transformational life energy, the energy of healing, is available to us, and we’re no longer alone on the journey of change.
The American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, talks about “coming as you are.” It’s not about losing the weight so your life can start, or meditating more so you’ll become a better person. The journey is about accepting where you are, right here and right now. As we practice this, all the healing power in the universe is available to us.
And yet, if you want something to change, you have to do something differently. The right use of will is essential for change. When we take right action, in which our thoughts and actions are in alignment with our intentions, we can induce behavior change. Actions are necessary, but they are only as effective as the earth of radical compassion in which they’re planted.