When It’s Intelligent to Be a Wimp

The morning started out ordinary enough. I’m on the computer checking emails before heading off to my office to see clients. My cat noticed first: somehow a sparrow had gotten into the room, I guess through the cat door. When I opened the entire back door to let it out, it flew up on a windowsill. When I got a bowl and cardboard to capture and release it, it flew on top of a box of 9/12 envelopes and got its foot caught in the glue. When I tried to release it from the envelope it fell down behind a 4-drawer file cabinet. Not knowing if it was still alive but not wanting a dead bird to rot behind my file cabinet either, I got empty boxes from the garage, emptied all the files into the boxes, and moved the empty file cabinet. The bird, still alive, flew behind my desk. I took a moment to lock my cat in the bathroom, (I could have thought of that before) then moved the desk; in less than a minute the bird flew out the door into the garden. Whew.

My office was in a bit of a shambles, and I really had to leave to go see clients. While I’m in the kitchen hastily mixing granola, fruit and yogurt to eat in the car, the tears begin to well up, and I hear a scolding inner voice: “Now’s not the time to be a wimp.” Then another voice, quite spontaneously but with some years of self-compassion practice behind it, said, “I give myself permission to be a wimp.”

That was all. I give myself permission to be a wimp. But as soon as my inner self heard those inner words of permission and compassion, everything settled back down. I quickly realized that I had done everything I could think of to do, and that the bird was still alive. If I was a little jittery, that was okay. I remembered to let my cat out of the bathroom and headed off to work, realizing….

Things can change in an instant. The bird got into my house somehow and changed the morning’s game in an instant. I’ve fallen off my back porch and broken my foot in an instant. I had a friend fall while hiking, breaking her ankle; her entire plans for teaching fall semester at her university changing in an instant. Another friend got rear-ended while her car was stopped for traffic on a freeway and the car behind her didn’t stop. Her life, long-term, changed in an instant.

In those instants, we cope, we act as we need to, get help as we need to, we can be as resilient as we need to be. And we can also wisely drop into a moment of self-compassion:

“May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I accept this moment exactly as it is.
May I accept myself in this moment, exactly as I am.
May I give myself permission to be exactly as I am, in this moment.
May I give myself all the compassion I need.”

That’s a variation of the self-compassion phrases developed by Kristin Neff in her Mindful Self-Compassion training.

The September 2015 newsletter, Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs that posted last Monday, gives many similar suggestions about coping with truly difficult, traumatizing events in skillful, intelligent ways, including permission to take care of yourself, to allow yourself to struggle. Whenever you’re having to cope with sudden changes in the game plan, give yourself permission to be however you need to be. That permission, that allowing what is to be what it is, is an essential step in shifting the functioning of the brain from “Oh, no!” to “Okay” so it can recover the larger perspective and ride the ups and downs as need be.

We can be wimps; we can be heroes; we can be compassionate…and resilient…either way.