Why Am I Kind to Others But Horrible to Myself?

As my wife Amy and I walk through the woods on a crystal cold winter’s day, we talk about the end and the beginning. The woods are easily navigable in the winter, the sun warming to the skin even though it’s only just above freezing. It’s a wonderful feeling, a bit like coming into cold water after being in the steam room or sauna.

What significance can we give to the entrance of a new decade that would be significant and sustainable?

We have just spent two days in southern Tuscany showing a retreat centre we are thinking of buying with a friend who flew in from Bali.

It fulfils our vision of a conscious community, as the town above is over half empty, and the mayor is eager to embrace an initiative that could revive its fortunes.

The potential of this decade is quite obvious really, and very compelling as well. But our walk today is about making sure the inner garden is in order before planting new seeds of hope outside our own being. It is New Year’s day afterall, which is not really a moment for striving or grinding, but the perfect time to contemplate the bigger questions.

I reflect on what I want to leave behind – the habit of pushing toward purpose, driving myself and being unkind. I breathe as I walk, deep inhalations of clean crisp air which I welcome into my body. The questions come clearly into view:

Why am I so patient, compassionate and kind to others, when I am so hard on myself?

Who is it in me that is never satisfied with what I do?

Who is it that says “It’s not enough?”

I need a sign. I need a signal. I need something to understand, as I’m feeling quite lost. And then I come upon a rock, huge and anomalous in this forest of oaks and chestnuts, one side furry soft with moss, the other warmed by the sun. I lean against it and look through the trees at the pale blue sky. The naked branches make wonderful shapes, and I am feeling so appreciative for this special season, when enough slows down for me to catch up with it; the lighting of the fire so we can have heat and hot water, the gathering of kindling, the silence of the woods…

My gaze has softened and I notice not the branches now, but the spaces in between them. I make out the shape of an Ogoh-Ogoh, arms raised as if to pounce on me.

I think nothing of it until we get home and resume our talk about what we need to leave behind. The image of Ogoh-Ogoh comes back to me from my years in Bali, and I recognize the ogre inside me that can never be sated. I sense him as scowling, long-fanged, and sitting behind the judgment table, ever-hungry for proof of my worth. His insatiable desire to criticize, keep me small, devour my innocence and dull my courage can be crushing.

What sort of monster is this part of me? And what would it look like to engage with him in a different way altogether, like to cuddle him? Or to laugh at him with the compassion I have for others? If he were a grumpy child would I not envelope him with unconditional love until he melted into a harmless giggle? He is nothing more than my shadow, after all!

Now I am clear of what I need to leave behind – and what can be born as a result. Each time I seek to build my worth with what I do, I can take a few breaths, let the ogre come into view, and find a way to love him, and hold him in the same gentle embrace that I would anyone else.

As Amy and I contemplate this massive decision that looms before us, I can decide from a healthier place, one that is free from the drive to satisfy the eternal hungry ogre.

January 22nd is the day of the auction, at 9 am in Rome. Watch this space, and maybe hold the intention with us that this may be the first step to a new conscious community?!

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