The Self Compassion of Honoring What You Need

So many times, I’ve written about how the messages I share with you are the ones I need the most myself. For this month’s theme of self-compassion, this is true yet again.

When we think about self-compassion, it is often associated with the ideas of being kind to oneself and letting go of our inner critic. These are unquestionably important elements, but not really related to the insight I recently had.

The form of self-compassion that I’m thinking about is when we listen to our hearts and honor what we need, even if this is different from what we think we want.

This was all inspired by my recent fall break. Without plans to travel anywhere, I was really looking forward to getting some writing done and taking care of lots of Teaching Balance business.

That first Saturday, I took it easy, knowing that I’d be doing some filming of video practices on Sunday. Sunday was productive, and it eased my mind to know that I had several videos stockpiled for upcoming member emails. So far so good.

Then Monday arrived.

I thought I would dive head-first into a whirlwind of productivity, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I did all the other things, like working out, starting the latest Brené Brown book, doing errands and general house chores. I chalked it up to needing a break and hoped the productivity muse would arrive the next day.

No such luck.

Another day of uninspired puttering around the house.

Same the next day.

Now I was freaking out. The thoughts that came to me were things like the following:

“I have a book to work on!”

“I am wasting this precious time off!”

“Why am I not getting as much done as I did all summer?!”

As difficult as it was to accept, I had to surrender to the fact that I just needed some rest. My body and my heart wanted to slow down and just “be,” even though my mind wanted me to “do.” I intentionally stopped resisting this fact and allowed myself to honor what it appeared I needed.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking that this is just a way for me to rationalize procrastination. Procrastination is an old friend of mine, and I know him well. All I can say is that this felt different.

Maybe you’re thinking “It must be nice to not have to be productive all the time.” Fair enough. I don’t have that luxury of doing work when I feel like it in my other job as a teacher. We do what we’ve got to do when we’ve got to do it and that’s that.

All the writing and work I do for Teaching Balance is based on a self-imposed schedule with deadlines that I control. Because I had the option (at least temporarily) to let go of my workhorse mentality, doing so actually gave me the rest and spaciousness that I truly needed.

Thursday I woke up and knew the tide had turned. I wouldn’t go far as to say that I was feeling inspired (that came later), but I was motivated and finally “feeling” the excitement and enthusiasm to get down to business, which I did.

Later that day, inspiration struck and I got a fantastic idea about how to restructure my book to make it even more accessible to educators and align it with the rhythms of the school year. I was beside myself with joy.

Did I tirelessly write and produce nonstop for the rest of fall break?

Not at all.

But the epiphany I had about my book has ignited a fire that will burn for a long time as I continue to work on it bit by bit. I’ve realized that maintaining the spaciousness is what allows this fire to burn so well, and it reminds me of the poem “Fire” by Judy Brown that illustrates this beautifully:

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

My invitation to you is to reflect on what kinds of spaciousness you would benefit from.

What do you actually have some control over?

What choices can you make to bring some ease to in your life and work?

How can you make space to help fuel your fire and prevent too much “doing” from suffocating your inherent need to just be?

As I mentioned earlier, I realize that there are elements of our work and life that we can’t control. I would offer, however, that you do have more control over how you make your way in the world than you may realize.