TTC: When you’re frightened how to do you stop your monkey mind chattering and making things worse? For many of us, our fears come screeching up like a troop of wild monkeys, distracting our mind and filling us with a sense of dis-ease.
Within the monkey mind family there is a big boss. The Fear Monkey. She hates it when you mess with her. She’s great at listing your faults and focusing on the negatives. She’s persistent and won’t be silenced. She loves it when you’re frightened because she becomes bigger, bolder. Fear feeds her. When you focus on your difficulties, the ways in which you stumble, when you mess up, when you get things wrong, she becomes more chest-beating than ever. Not surprisingly, being kind and compassionate when she around is extremely difficult…unless you have some compassion tools in your ttc backpack to assist you.
3 types of compassion
I was listening to a podcast this week by the eternally wise Buddhist American teacher Pema Chödron. She gave a teaching about compassion which I loved. She talked about three distinct types of compassion and I found it very helpful to get clear about the differences. As she spoke further it made me think about how being compassionate might help me to quiet my Fear Monkey and soften her rhetoric. I hope it helps you too, particularly if she’s been bossing you around bit lately and you’ve not been feeling very kind towards yourself or others.
1. Compassionate for yourself
When I speak to women, many of us feel that our fertility issues have ‘stopped us in our tracks’. Up till now you may have experienced normal life adversity, but this may be is the first big challenge you’ve faced. It’s tough. Rather than thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” can you reframe it and ask yourself “What can this teach me?” When we look at our struggles in this way, as a chance to work on ourselves and find out how we tick, we slowly begin to understand ourselves a little better. We notice our habits, our patterns, our fixations, the ways in which we escalate. We are then able to feel more compassion for others because we’re less blocked. When we recognise that we’re hooked and thinking in that same old way, can you consciously make a different choice because of the work that you’ve done? Can it be a kinder choice? A gentler choice? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you’re on to something, something powerfully good. When your heart starts to open and soften, you are much more able to be more compassion towards yourself. Pema says,“It’s like an education of the heart, that begins with cleaning up your own act”.
2. Compassion through connection with others
When things are tough it’s easy to think that we are the only ones to feel this way. When we notice our habitual patterns and realise the emotions that we’re feeling eg. fear, anger, inadequacy, jealousy (you add yours here too) are universal feelings for many millions of us around the globe, we start to realise we are part of something bigger. Pema says, “The things you are most embarrassed about in yourself become the very means for developing compassion for other people who are equally embarrassed about themselves. It’s compassion based on our sameness.”
We are part of a human family. Rather than getting caught up in the story around your fear, can you bring the feeling towards you instead. I know this might seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. If you can allow it to surface in all it’s rawness, and feel it’s vulnerability, you’re feeling the fear of all sentient beings. As you do this you know that you’re not alone. When I start to think in this way I feel great connection and comfort. Our stories, personalities and backgrounds may be different, but what we feel is the same.
When your Fear Monkey crops up and you feel a deep sense of despair or unease that you’ve messed up and you’re not sure how to cope, Pema says, “Instead of that being a problem, that’s like gold in the bank, that’s what you use to connect with other beings.” This really speaks to me.
3. Compassion through supporting others
“This is the type of compassion everyone thinks they ‘should’ be doing,” says Pema, “Where you put others ahead of yourself.” This can result in both positive or negative outcomes, for example the sister that’s just got pregnant who’s having a hard time with morning sickness and needs you there for support; the mother in law who won’t stop talking about her ailments but never asks you about what you’re going through; that woman in your support group who sucks up all the air talking about her problems and you don’t get your turn to share. It’s feeling that other peoples problems are more important than your own. But for me, this isn’t compassion, it’s extortion. You feel used because the intension is not about helping, but about their neediness.
On the other hand, if you’re compassionately supporting people who really need your help, for example your #ttcsisters on Insta; your friend who’s going through a divorce; your brothers break up with his girlfriend, this type of compassion is expansive. It allows you to feel what others feel but also makes you want to help.
It’s important to remember that all three types of compassion are valid. One is not ‘better’ than the others. If you are only able to be compassionate with yourself right now, that’s fine. Pema says, “Compassion for yourself is the foundation for all the other kinds of compassion. There is nothing ‘lesser’ about it.” Compassion is compassion. If you’ve been hard on yourself recently and your Fear Monkey has taken over, remember these wise words and act on them. Start today.
*TTC: Trying To Conceive