Self Compassion and Silver Linings

The summer after we first moved to Des Moines, Iowa, I was having a difficult time adjusting to our new world and was feeling sad and homesick for our lifetime of friends and family back in Texas. One day the four of us traveled back from Red Rock Lake from a fun day on our “new” lake. Because it was just our immediate family in the boat, unlike the usual boat full of cousins or a boat full of friends (we didn’t have any friends in Iowa yet), I had extra time for reflection and was feeling a bit pensive. But as we were driving home, a magical moment occurred for me when I spotted a sign of hope.  I quickly rolled down the window and tried to catch the image on the camera of the beautiful silver lining in the cloud.  I was sure the picture would not be the best as the car was moving, but I wanted to capture the image, just as a reminder to my hurting heart of the picture of hope.

The phrase "silver lining," meaning something good has its origin in a poem by John Milton. In 1634 he wrote Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle . It contains the lines, "Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud / Turn forth her silver lining on the night?" While the poem does not say "every cloud has a silver lining" or have any version of that phrase, it does mention "a sable cloud." In the poem, sable is used as an adjective, meaning "black," "dark," or "gloomy."

I have cherished the silver lining picture over the last 12 years as a reminder of the value of perspective: the perspective in our thinking, the perspective in our heart, the perspective with ourselves and the perspective towards others.

What I have learned more vividly in the last several years is the importance of self-compassion as an element of perspective and how that relates to my ability to listen more closely and love more deeply with others.  Kristen Neff, a researcher on compassion at The University of Texas and author of Self-Compassion, writes, “Self-kindness, by definition, means that we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal.  It requires us to understand our foibles and failures instead of condemning them.  It entails clearly seeing the extent to which we harm ourselves through relentless self-criticism, and ending our internal war….it involves actively comforting ourselves, responding just as we would to a dear friend in need.  It means we allow ourselves to be emotionally moved by our own pain, stopping to say, “This is really difficult right now.  How can I care for and comfort myself in this moment?”

As we challenge ourselves to be a friend to our own heart, to cultivate self-compassion, I am reminded of a line that can correlate the connection between the relationship we have with our own heart in addition to the relationship we have with others:

Make new friends but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.