Life can sometimes be exhausting, and sometimes I’m reminded of that when I scroll through my social media feeds. From seeing others’ successes to being reminded by “motivational” Instagram posts that I’m not working hard enough, there is never an end to the number of ways to make yourself feel like you’re not good enough. And not feeling good enough has created multi-million dollar self-help industries, fueled consumerism and created a cycle of inescapable debt for some. I often get caught up in the “never enough” cycle as well.
There are times in my life where despite how well things may be going and how much progress I have made, I still feel this inner voice criticizing me. I’m sure many of you can relate, and despite our abundance, we still focus on what we lack, either materially or emotionally.
But here’s the good news, the cure for “never enough” brain is simple: It’s self-compassion. More than a buzzword and overnight fix to your problems, though, learning how to cultivate self-compassion is a daily, proactive process.
Before we can get into self-compassion, we need to understand what compassion is. Compassion is a term we hear often, but can we truly articulate what it means?
I urge you to think back to a time when you saw someone in need, heard about a tragedy, or when you saw a loved one suffering. What do those moments have in common? More often than not those moments moved you to have your heart respond to the pain of someone else’s suffering. Moreover, the word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” Compassion is showing kindness, love, and forgiveness even when someone makes a mistake. It is also a way of embracing human imperfections.
Self-compassion is just that but directed towards yourself. Often when we face difficulties or become more attuned to our insecurities, we tend to double-down and become very self-critical. When we face challenges, we tell ourselves that it’s because of our lack of aptitude or strength that prevents us from overcoming obstacles. When there is a lack of self-compassion, we belittle, blame, criticize, or accuse ourselves of our failures. What self-compassion does is to reframe the perspective of “Toughen up,” to one that says, “This is a difficult moment for you. How do you care for yourself?” Self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence. The goal of cultivating self-compassion is not to ignore the pain but rather to embrace and soothe yourself.
How to Cultivate Self-Compassion
As I mentioned earlier, self-compassion is the cure to the “never enough,” mentality that plagues our social media timelines and alone time. While the answer is simple, the practice of self-compassion is a daily one.
There are many ways to cultivate self-compassion and what works for one person might not work for another. Below are a few suggestions to help you embrace rather than accuse yourself.
1. Be More Grateful
It is easy to focus on what you lack, and a gratitude journal helps you to take stock of the things that are going well in your life. From the mundane to the sublime, everyone has something that they can point to as a source of gratitude. So even something as small as writing in a gratitude journal as little as three times a week can not only boost your mood, but it can also increase your compassion for yourself.
2. Embrace Imperfection
Part of the human experience is being imperfectly perfect. I think in theory that people know it’s okay to be imperfect, but in practice, we spend so much energy masking our vulnerabilities to no avail. When our loved ones make mistakes, we are quick to forgive them or embrace them with kindness, because after all, they’re only human. Embracing imperfection is doing the same for ourselves. It is reminding ourselves that life is not about perfection but doing your best given your capacity and giving it your all. An excellent way to practice this is by thinking of what you would say to a good friend if he or she was facing a difficult situation and then direct these compassionate responses toward yourself. Some days we succeed, and other days we fail, and the quicker we embrace that attitude, the more love we’ll give to ourselves.
Often our egos can get the better of us and tell us that we’re the only ones in the world suffering or going through our set of seemingly unique problems. More often than not, though, millions of other people around the world can relate to whatever we’re going through. That’s not to say your problems aren’t important, but it is a reminder that, in fact, you are not alone. When the inner critic in us gets into accusation mode, we begin to feel isolated and unworthy of human connection. The quicker we accept that no one is perfect and that other people are suffering as well, the quicker we recognize our shared humanity and find belonging with others.
4. Comfort Your Body
When we are stressed, many of us often turn to food, alcohol, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to meet our needs. Personal experience and research have demonstrated that anything we can do to improve how we feel physically, from eating better, getting a massage, or being physically active can give us a boost of endorphins and boost our self-confidence.
Learning to cultivate self-compassion comes naturally for some, but for many, it’s a learnable skill. Self-compassion allows us to have greater connectedness with others because if we hold ourselves to impossible standards and never embrace compassion towards ourselves, chances are that we will have difficulty doing so for others. Additionally, self-compassion is correlated with less mental health distress and greater overall life satisfaction.
At the end of the day, self-compassion is accepting our humanness. Although things will not always go the way we expect and mistakes will happen, rather than criticizing ourselves for shortcomings we embrace our imperfections and remind ourselves that it is okay.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.