In recent years, I have realized that a common thread of most religions is the belief that each human being possesses an infinite amount of potential.
Of course, that's where this short thread ends, as people from different backgrounds explain the reasons for this potential and how it should be used. For example, Buddhists take this common belief even further and propose that all sentient beings possess an infinite amount of positive potential.
But for the sake of simplicity, for now let's stick to humans. I have often wondered, "If it is the case that all people have an infinite amount of potential, what is preventing us from realizing it?" To approach this question, I recently came up with this simple, hypothetical example:
Let's say a Buddhist layperson is 'practicing well'. They understand the Four Noble Truths, adhere strictly to the Five Moral Precepts, meditate everyday, and earnestly practice compassion towards other sentient beings. But for some reason, they still feel hopelessly stuck. What could be wrong?
Looking deeply, it seems to me that the answer is in the phrase 'other sentient beings'. It seems that in order to truly love and have compassion for others, we must also have love and compassion for ourselves. At face value, this might seem selfish, but just think, would we promise to help someone prepare for an important biology exam if we didn't know the subject? Probably not.
To give compassion we must know compassion. Knowing compassion is giving it to ourselves, because only then can we be certain of our ability to generate compassion unconditionally. Once we master our self-doubt with self-acceptance, we can be confident in showing unconditional love and compassion towards others.
Of course, I have found that this is easier said than done. I may not want to criticize or belittle myself, but it happens, sometimes a lot. Despite the natural, brilliant luminosity of our minds, most minds are obscured by many layers of delusion and bad habits. It's a process, and the correct response is being a little more gentle with ourselves.
One thing I have begun to realize that while it is natural to have emotions, we are not our feelings. Nor are we our reputation, likes, dislikes, occupation, or family history. We are something entirely different, and actually, much, much more precious. Only when we realize this (and behave accordingly towards ourselves), can we be truly compassionate towards others. Certainly though, there is also much merit in committing to not harming others (or ourselves) while we strive everyday to develop and practice compassion.
Once we have these ideas and intentions in mind, we can begin to ask questions like, 'Who am I?' and 'What is my true nature?' For this, I found a great article that walks people interested in beginning the journey of self-acceptance through 10 steps, completing one each day. Finally, I also appreciated this article, that explains self-love and how compassion blossoms from it. There is also a section on Metta, or 'loving-kindness' meditation, which we can do towards others and ourselves.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it has benefitted you in some way. Disclaimer: I am neither a spiritual guide nor a mental-health professional. I myself have not mastered self-compassion, but have only compiled and written about what I have learned, leading from the great universal belief that human beings possess infinite positive potential. Please post any thoughts you have in the comments below.
May all beings be happy!