Self-Compassion and Carpet Stains
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Imagine for a moment that a friend is introducing you to an acquaintance, and you are entering the living room of this family's home for the first time, without knowing anything about them other than that they are human beings. As you step into the foyer, you notice a pile of pine needles and dry leaves collected in the corner, near a shoe rack. The house is in a heavily wooded neighborhood, and every driveway on the street is full of autumn's evidence. The carpet ahead is clearly worn from decades of use, and was probably a light green when first installed. It has collected quite a few stains over those years. You even spot a few paw prints in black paint near the coffee table. There are toys and books and science experiments across various surfaces. The sink is full of dishes. The walls are covered in a child's artwork, and you notice a memorial to a dog who appeared to grow quite old before passing. Overall, in what can be ascertained in under a minute of entering the space, one can easily see that the room is light and welcoming. It's cluttered but cozy, full of love and laughter.
Do you feel inclined to judge this family over the condition of their carpet? Observing what you can on the surface and acknowledging the elements of Nature that are to be inevitably trekked inside, the less-than-fun realities of an ill and aging pet, the magic in a space that fosters creativity, and the pure and simple fact that not many people can afford regular carpet steamings let alone replacement...
I did. Well, not the entire family. I judged the heck out of the woman of the house. Why didn't she know the carpet cleaning solution she used would somehow attract dirt and darken the stains from when her beagle was sick? Even with the shoes by the front door, couldn't she control the amount of leaves, pine needles, and dirt got inside? How did she not lay down enough tablecloths when her daughter was painting a refrigerator box to look like a house? She was only doing dishes, cooking a meal, teaching a lesson, making a list, and planning dinner in her mind. She could have done one or two more things around the kitchen. She was in there, anyway. She could have put stuff away off the counter between dishes, and played a bit with her kid while she stirred. She shouldn't have *just* played, though. That wasn't a good enough use of time by itself. How would anything get done? If the chronic pain ever got too bad to stand for cleaning, she could have folded some clothes on the couch or in bed, or even sat in a chair in the bathroom to clean the sink. If she could lean, she could clean!
If this woman was you, of course, I never would have thought any of those things. I wouldn't have had to think twice about understanding how quickly the mess that is life can spread throughout a house, with or without an 8-year-old. I would have been happy to see that you like to cook meals for your family, perhaps even as a family, for mine does, as well. I would have enjoyed looking at all of the artwork your child created, and noticed the joy behind the images depicted, for my daughter spends every waking moment she can creating art. I would have offered condolences for the loss of your pet, having lost a beloved old man named Jack a few years ago, after many months of being unwell. I would have recognized the carpet stains for the evidence of life being lived that they are, and not given them another moment's thought; short of, perhaps, finding shapes in the stains. Fun fact: There is a red wine stain in the shape of a Brontosaurus (not to be confused with the Apatosaurus) in the center of my living room.
So much judgment for this other woman. So little patience and understanding for someone whose story I know essentially every detail of. I am intimately familiar with the pressure the woman of the house puts on herself. I know the sheer rage that can arise from restriction, fed by frustrations over the simplest of limitations in one task. I know pain that can become so excruciating at times, that every cellular response - physically, mentally, and emotionally - is dedicated in full attention to it. How can I be so sure that I would not judge you as I have this other woman? So certain that I would hold space for you? Because you are not me.
Holding space for that other woman, for my Self, was not a habit easily built. It took a lot of work. For me, part of that work was the constant reminder that I do not wish for my daughter to be kind to everyone but her Self. I also offered my Self comfort and compassion when my body presented with human-ness, as it is riddled with inflammation by way of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, endometriosis, arthritis, Lyme Disease, and PTSD (trauma and anxiety are inflammatories). Not weakness, not brokenness, but human-ness. True story: Before exploring gentler options for pain management, I have more than once brought a chair into the bathroom so I could sit while I scrubbed the sink and organized the drawers. I couldn't sit still for writhing from the flare-up, but I sat while I shined the faucet. With mindfulness and self-compassion, I respond to my urge to scrub through the pain with the same attitude of friendship I would show anyone else.
I exercise that mindfulness and understanding when I look at the stains in my carpet. There is space for the positive spins, of course; for thinking of how grateful I am that I have a family to make messes with, that my daughter feels so encouraged to express herself, that my partner is so supportive - particularly when I am in pain - and carries cooking and cleaning responsibilities, too... Sure, I can take a moment to find my breath and look on the very bright side of every woe, but this in itself took time, practice, and preparation. At first, such an approach often sent me spinning into guilt, shame, and blame spirals for "needing to be reminded to feel grateful," or for feeling any resistance to gratitude when I know I am so fortunate to even have a home to live in, let alone be messy in. I needed to prime my Self for the positive. I had to first hold space for the grief I felt over my aches, pains, and the limitations they inflict. I had to practice single-tasking, which is no easy feat, and work through the shadows that made me feel as though less than two things being done at a time is laziness - again, not if it's you....only me. I had to see that for what it was...a habit. My habit of not cutting my Self an inch of slack anywhere, and demanding extra when I was really hurting. For what reason? As a "screw you" to my inflammation? I only screwed my Self.
Now when I see my carpet stains, when I see Bordeaux the Brontosaurus and black paint paw prints in my living room and pine needles by the front door, I take the opportunity to practice self-compassion. I ask my Self, "What do I want my life to be about? What example do I want to set for anyone who walks through the front door? Do I want them to be full of judgment and shame or warmth and space?" After all, I set the example for my own treatment when I choose to welcome someone into my home as opposed to apologizing for its condition. My focus decides my focus, and my attitude decides the attitude of others regarding that focus. I can say with the upmost enthusiasm that life is far more enjoyable when not constantly being disgusted with one's Self because some outdated belief dictates the suppression of human-ness. To be human with another, one must first be human with their Self.
How does this all resonate with you? Do you show others more kindness, understanding, and patience than you show your Self? Does the idea of showing your Self more compassion and grace sound easy or challenging? How will your life better when you respond to your own human-ness the way you do others? Perhaps you have a few questions and could use a little helping getting started. Book your free Discovery Session with me today, and let's see where you can apply some self-compassion, and how you can find a little more appreciation for life's carpet stains.