How to Bloom in the Dark: Self-Compassion, Compost, and Nature

    —
December 3, 2021

Compassion is the magic ingredient that turns our personal “compost” into personal evolution.

 Some time ago, I found a strange bloom in the kitchen. It was elegantly twisted, like a dragon at a Chinese New Year celebration. It was frilled, purple, and pungent. This exquisite thing grew out of a chunk of purple cabbage that I’d put under the sink to go out for compost. Instead of fading quietly however, it burst into new life in the dark grotto of my cabinetry. It blossomed into something unexpected, unusual, and fiercely beautiful.

Reflecting on the discovery of this “flower” in the shadows, I’m reminded of, and heartened by, the fertility of dark times. Many people are feeling a collective spiritual darkness now, exhausted and frustrated, maybe also angry and scared. Having compassion for ourselves and others is especially important in times of literal and metaphorical darkness. How can we do this if we already feel overloaded?

Nature is our ultimate model and guide—in the light, in the dark, and in the most surprising and gorgeous ways. Cue the weird, glorious cabbage flower which came to life in the dark. What was being shown there?

There is the clear compost metaphor. Compost is the stuff we reject, the moldy, wilted, too hard, too soft, nasty bits that don’t make it to the table. It’s also the leftovers from delicious things we appreciate and enjoy, silky mango skins, green tea leaves, dark coffee grounds.

It all transforms into a rich sloop that eventually nourishes future plants. Our personal work includes processing our own “dark” sides, the parts we’d like to hide or discard. Self-compassion (and compassion for others) holds both the rejected and respected parts of who we are. Like composting, it isn’t always pretty, but it’s potent. Research shows self-compassion helps us stay present and kindhearted without sinking into absorptive empathy, which can lead to overload and burnout. This meditation is part of the toolkit in the audio course Shining Bright Without Burning Out.

The cycles of the natural world, into which we are interwoven, take time. It’s hard to be patient, to let everything, both scorned and enjoyed, stew in our symbolic personal compost piles. The speed with which that brew changes from nasty to nourishing varies widely with the internal and external conditions. Sometimes all those different elements take a long time to dissolve and break down. Sometimes it turns around faster than we think possible, like time-lapse photography of a log rotting on the forest floor with new green shoots springing to life overnight. Compassion is the magic ingredient that turns our personal “compost” into personal evolution.

The dark supports transformation. Times of literal darkness are needed for regeneration. Roots, seeds, and bulbs prepare. People and animals sleep. Times of symbolic darkness are also helpful. In darkness, transformative processes happen without spectators, often below the level of our conscious awareness. These are periods of catharsis, healing after trauma, cocooning in preparation for the next version of ourselves and our world.

We sometimes feel hopeless and helpless in the dark. Our society avoids sinking into it. Instead, we gravitate towards purveyors of easy “love and light!” spirituality, shying away from the deep, gooey work that happens to the larval versions of ourselves (and those around us) when we’re in the darkness of the cocoon. Self-compassion is most needed when we’re a mess.

The dark is a vital part of the wheel of our days, our years, our lifetimes. We need it to survive and be healthy in the long term. So, let’s embrace it, explore it, and be gentle with ourselves as we confront our fear of it. From this darkness we are nourished to bloom into the light.

@ 2021 Mara Bishop MA

Order Shining Bright Without Burning Out now! 

Mara Bishop has
over 25 years of experience helping people find spiritual health and
well-being. Her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method blends shamanism,
psychology, intuition, energy healing, and nature-based practices. She
lives in Durham, NC with a beloved family of people, animals, and
plants.

More information about Mara is at www.WholeSpirit.com

Mara Bishop

Mara Bishop is a shamanic practitioner, intuitive consultant, teacher, author, and artist. In private practice, she uses her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method to provide an integrated approach to spiritual healing, personal growth, and emotional well-being. Her books Shamanism for Every Day: 365 Journeys and Inner Divinity: Crafting Your Life with Sacred Intelligence are resource guides for spiritual practice. She resides in Durham, North Carolina. For more, visit wholespirit.com.

Author photo © Sarah Jane Kenner

Also By Author

Are You Suffering from Empathic Distress? How to Recla...

Are you exhausted, anxious, or overwhelmed? Maybe your life is challenging. Or perhaps the state of the world and others’ suffering feels unbearable. If your life is going well, but you still feel miserable, maybe you have some guilt or shame. You are not alone. You may be suffering from empathic distress.

Most of us have been taught that empathy is wholly positive and should be fostered in children and revered in adults. This idea is partly correct. The absence of empathy is clearly problematic. When the ability to sense or care about others’ feelings or pain is missing, we edge into sociopathy. However, empathy is experiencing another person’s pain as our own. In small doses and for short periods, it allows us a deeper understanding of our fellow beings. But it can also make it harder to help, because the pain is spread around, not diminished. If your friend breaks their leg and you experience genuine empathy, it might feel like your leg is broken too. This makes it harder for you to function and definitely harder for you to help them.

Empathy can make us sick, overwhelmed, and burned out.

Many people feel helpless in the face of the magnitude of suffering in the world today. It can result in what appears to be apathy at first but is actually empathic distress, which means “hurting for others while feeling unable to help.” An op-ed in the New York Times titled “That Numbness You’re Feeling? There’s a Word for It” described this phenomenon and cited some of the research I used to create the Sounds True audio course Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World.

The Research

Neuroscientists Olga Klimecki and Tania Singer identified empathy as a contributing factor to burnout, primarily but not exclusively, among healthcare workers and therapists. The older term compassion fatigue is a “misnomer.” Compassion and empathy have distinctly different impacts on our bodies and psyches. Compassion is witnessing and being willing to help when possible and appropriate. Empathy is taking on others’ pain as our own. Empathy often creates “more distress.” It is a huge distinction.

Empathy is overrated and fatiguing. Compassion is what we need. Unfortunately, we often confuse the two. This dynamic is one reason why developing healthy energetic boundaries is essential.

Decreasing Empathic Distress

Being unable to adjust between compassion and empathy is a big reason many people feel drained and overwhelmed. Research about the critical difference between compassion and empathy aligns with many spiritual concepts of energetic boundaries. It also challenges some. One of the ways we inadvertently make things difficult for ourselves is when we believe that to be good, kind, “spiritual” people, we must always be wide open. We must be at one with the universe, be open to everyone, and say yes to everything. There is a paradox here. We are all one on some level, but we need to embrace the ability to differentiate ourselves from others at times to steward our own health.

We have reached a tipping point with empathic distress; it is a crisis within the crises.

Klimecki and Singer focus on how training in compassion meditation can help reduce empathic distress, shifting from an experience of absorbing others’ energy to a state of kindness toward others with clear self-differentiation. The distinction between empathy and compassion is one of the first things we cover in Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World. The course also includes a full set of tools for addressing empathic distress from the perspective of energetic boundaries.

Here are a few additional steps you can take today to begin reducing empathic distress:

  1. Be clear about your direct responsibilities and what is not yours.
  2. Pause before entering new situations: conversations, appointments with clients, meetings, etc. Take a moment to reset yourself with a breath and an intention for how you want to engage.
  3. Pay attention to how you feel after interactions with people, places, and media. Note over time when your mood or body feels drained so that you can prepare more thoroughly in the future, consider how to minimize those interactions if they are optional, and take time to reset after engaging.

 

Mara Bishop

Mara Bishop is a shamanic practitioner, intuitive consultant, teacher, author, and artist. In private practice, she uses her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method to provide an integrated approach to spiritual healing, personal growth, and emotional well-being. Her books Shamanism for Every Day: 365 Journeys and Inner Divinity: Crafting Your Life with Sacred Intelligence are resource guides for spiritual practice. She resides in Durham, North Carolina. For more, visit wholespirit.com.

Learn More
Sounds True

Shining Bright Without Burning Out

Mara Bishop is a shamanic practitioner, intuitive consultant, teacher, author, and artist. In private practice, she uses her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method to provide an integrated approach to spiritual healing, personal growth, and emotional well-being. She is the author of the books Shamanism for Every Day: 365 Journeys and Inner Divinity: Crafting Your Life with Sacred Intelligence, and, with Sounds True, she is the author of the audio learning program Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World

In this podcast, Mara speaks with Sounds True’s founder, Tami Simon, about how in today’s world we can learn to value our sensitivity instead of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Mara and Tami also discuss shamanism as a path of direct revelation, accessing non-ordinary consciousness for insight and healing, the three phases of creating healthy energetic boundaries, the difference between “just plain stress” and burnout, discovering your energy personality archetypes, understanding your energy ecosystems and how they interact, working on yourself and bringing light to the shadow aspects of your personality, the difference between compassion and empathy, energetic cleansing methods, the paradox of “one and all one,” Mara’s concept of “powering on” to amplify and shine our inner light, how our world has become “overconnected” and how to avoid the burnout this can create, the shamanic practitioner as someone who can “see through the eyes of the heart,” and more.

How to Bloom in the Dark: Self-Compassion, Compost, an...

Compassion is the magic ingredient that turns our personal “compost” into personal evolution.

 Some time ago, I found a strange bloom in the kitchen. It was elegantly twisted, like a dragon at a Chinese New Year celebration. It was frilled, purple, and pungent. This exquisite thing grew out of a chunk of purple cabbage that I’d put under the sink to go out for compost. Instead of fading quietly however, it burst into new life in the dark grotto of my cabinetry. It blossomed into something unexpected, unusual, and fiercely beautiful.

Reflecting on the discovery of this “flower” in the shadows, I’m reminded of, and heartened by, the fertility of dark times. Many people are feeling a collective spiritual darkness now, exhausted and frustrated, maybe also angry and scared. Having compassion for ourselves and others is especially important in times of literal and metaphorical darkness. How can we do this if we already feel overloaded?

Nature is our ultimate model and guide—in the light, in the dark, and in the most surprising and gorgeous ways. Cue the weird, glorious cabbage flower which came to life in the dark. What was being shown there?

There is the clear compost metaphor. Compost is the stuff we reject, the moldy, wilted, too hard, too soft, nasty bits that don’t make it to the table. It’s also the leftovers from delicious things we appreciate and enjoy, silky mango skins, green tea leaves, dark coffee grounds.

It all transforms into a rich sloop that eventually nourishes future plants. Our personal work includes processing our own “dark” sides, the parts we’d like to hide or discard. Self-compassion (and compassion for others) holds both the rejected and respected parts of who we are. Like composting, it isn’t always pretty, but it’s potent. Research shows self-compassion helps us stay present and kindhearted without sinking into absorptive empathy, which can lead to overload and burnout. This meditation is part of the toolkit in the audio course Shining Bright Without Burning Out.

The cycles of the natural world, into which we are interwoven, take time. It’s hard to be patient, to let everything, both scorned and enjoyed, stew in our symbolic personal compost piles. The speed with which that brew changes from nasty to nourishing varies widely with the internal and external conditions. Sometimes all those different elements take a long time to dissolve and break down. Sometimes it turns around faster than we think possible, like time-lapse photography of a log rotting on the forest floor with new green shoots springing to life overnight. Compassion is the magic ingredient that turns our personal “compost” into personal evolution.

The dark supports transformation. Times of literal darkness are needed for regeneration. Roots, seeds, and bulbs prepare. People and animals sleep. Times of symbolic darkness are also helpful. In darkness, transformative processes happen without spectators, often below the level of our conscious awareness. These are periods of catharsis, healing after trauma, cocooning in preparation for the next version of ourselves and our world.

We sometimes feel hopeless and helpless in the dark. Our society avoids sinking into it. Instead, we gravitate towards purveyors of easy “love and light!” spirituality, shying away from the deep, gooey work that happens to the larval versions of ourselves (and those around us) when we’re in the darkness of the cocoon. Self-compassion is most needed when we’re a mess.

The dark is a vital part of the wheel of our days, our years, our lifetimes. We need it to survive and be healthy in the long term. So, let’s embrace it, explore it, and be gentle with ourselves as we confront our fear of it. From this darkness we are nourished to bloom into the light.

@ 2021 Mara Bishop MA

Order Shining Bright Without Burning Out now! 

Mara Bishop has
over 25 years of experience helping people find spiritual health and
well-being. Her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method blends shamanism,
psychology, intuition, energy healing, and nature-based practices. She
lives in Durham, NC with a beloved family of people, animals, and
plants.

More information about Mara is at www.WholeSpirit.com

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