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A Powerful Lesson in Self-Compassion: Are You Allergic to Honey?

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“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama

When things don’t go as planned, is your go-to explanation that it’s because you did something wrong, or because there’s something wrong with you? For many people, self-compassion is a real challenge.

Most of us want to be kinder to ourselves, but our self-critical, perfectionistic patterns are often well-established, and it’s hard to know how to interrupt them.

When I was in graduate school, I was driving home from school one evening when I noticed that my car was overheating. Just as I arrived in front of my building, the engine stalled completely.

It was 5pm on a Friday, I was blocking the bike lane, and traffic was backed up behind me. Two cars sped past beeping their horns, and then a cyclist turned and waved his fist as he rode around me. I flipped on my hazard lights.

As I dialed Triple A, the self-critical thoughts and stories started to spin:

“Why didn’t I notice earlier that the car was overheating? I should have had it serviced. If I had been more on top of things, this wouldn’t be happening.”

I heard more car horns beeping as the woman at Triple A promised that a tow truck would be there within 30 minutes. After I thanked her and hung up, the self-critical stories resumed:

“I’m in the way; inconveniencing everyone around me. I’m taking up too much space.”

I was startled by a knock at the passenger window. A guy with a goatee and a beanie stood next to my car, and I suspected that he was going to give me a hard time for being double-parked. Reluctantly, I lowered the window.

“Hey,” he said. “I work at the cafe right here—do you want a latte or a chai or something?”

I stared at him, speechless, blinking through the beginnings of tears.

“We’ve also got hot chocolate and tea,” he said.

He actually meant it.

“Oh,” I said. “Wow. Thank you. I’d love some chamomile tea.”

“You got it,” he said and headed back to the cafe.

I sat there, stunned. This experience did not fit into the story my inner critic had been telling. All of my self-criticism had been completely silenced by this stranger’s spontaneous impulse of kindness.

Suddenly none of this was my fault; it was just something that was happening, and I could allow it. All the stories had been just that: stories.

A few moments later he reappeared with the chamomile tea and handed it to me.

“Here you go,” he said.

“Thanks.” I pulled a couple of bills from my wallet.

“Oh, no, don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” he said.

I looked at him and took the tea.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Hey, I’ve been there.”

He tapped the passenger door twice as a goodbye. I put the window back up. The tea was too hot to drink, so I held the paper cup as it warmed my hands.

I let it register some more: This wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t evidence of me having done something wrong. It was just something that was happening, and it could just be that.

And what was so wrong about taking up space, anyway?

I was startled again by another knock. He was back. I lowered the window.

“Hey, are you allergic to honey?” he said.

“Huh? Mmm, no.”

“Oh, good. I put honey in it. I didn’t think to ask if you were allergic. If you are, I can make another one.”

“Oh, no. I love honey. Thank you,” I said.

“No worries, then.” And back to the coffee shop he went.

I smiled and blinked through a few more tears. He had put honey in my tea without me even asking? This baffled my inner critic even more; it had nothing to say.

I thought about how the self-critical stories had flared up as soon as I found myself in a challenging situation, how automatic it was for me to think that the coffee shop guy was there to criticize me, and how immediately the trance of self-judgment was broken by his act of kindness.

In five minutes, he had given me a life-altering lesson in how compassion alchemizes criticism. He had no ulterior motive: he was simply being kind and generous, and he inspired me to be more kind and generous with myself.

If you struggle with self-judgment, tuck this simple phrase into your back pocket.

The next time you notice that critical thoughts are present, experiment with asking your inner judge, “Hey, are you allergic to honey?” It just might help you interrupt those all-to-familiar patterns, and start creating new, self-compassionate ones.

Photo by Ashley Campbell Photography

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About Lea Seigen Shinraku

Lea Seigen Shinraku is a therapist, writer, and long-time meditator. She loves helping people live with greater joy by transforming limiting beliefs and ending the wars they fight with themselves. Learn more about Lea and request a complimentary consultation at leaseigenshinraku.com, and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • paper tiger

    Hi, I just wanted to say that you are a really good writer, and I appreciate this article!

  • Lily

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. Definitely will be asking myself if I’m allergic to honey from now on :0)

  • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

    Wow, that is such a beautiful story. Whenever I come across awesome people like this I do my best to imitate them because they are the true role models of the world. Thanks for sharing this Leah :)

  • http://www.lifeskillstoolkits.com/ Jehangir Mehentee

    Thanks Lea(h?). This example of compassion towards another facilitating self-compassion is my lesson for the day!

  • Razwana

    Lea! This post made my day :-)

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, paper tiger!

  • Greek goddess

    This is a beautiful story Lea and a lesson for us all. Thank you so much for sharing. Namaste.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, Lily ~ I’m glad to hear that you’ll be experimenting with it!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Patrik, thank you! Yes, his simple act of compassion was a great reminder.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    How great, Jehangir! And thank you!

  • Thinkgrowlive.com

    Thank you for this post Lea I really needed to hear your message as I have been tough on myself today. Isn’t it good when the universe makes us stop and take stock of the wonderful world that is around us? That is what you have just done for me:) Thank you

  • KB

    This is the loveliest thing I’ve read all day!!! Thank You!!!

  • Just A. Guy

    Great story, great metaphor- I may be repeating this one!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.fraser.946 Stephen Fraser

    Good one… :)

  • lv2terp

    Fantastic experience/story, gave me a smile on my face and a warm heart! I love when life throws in beautiful lessons/reminders like this, thank you for sharing! :)

  • DanielFletcher

    That’s an amazing story but the barista was totally hitting on ya, still a form of compassion nonetheless. If he was cute, I’d go back and get his number :D

  • Alexey Sunly

    Self-compassion is the only viable path to practice and develop compassion for everyone else around you. A necessary and wonderful step to a more exciting and beautiful future :-)

    Well done, Lea!

  • Rosario Martin

    It was very up lifting see how others compassion could change out comes of miserable day’s, thanks for sharing!!!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, Razwana!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, Greek goddess! Thanks for your kind words.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, KB ~ and Thanks!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hi Thinkgrowlive ~ I’m so glad that you found it supportive! Yes, it’s great when experience itself teaches that things aren’t what our minds would have us believe. Thank you for your comment!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, lv2terp! So glad to hear that this warmed your heart and made you smile. :)

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hey DanielFletcher ~ I wondered about that, too. But it honestly didn’t seem that way. Thanks for your comment!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hi Alexey ~ Thanks so much!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, Rosario!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, Just A. Guy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregorydmoore Greg Moore

    Heh, the tea’s always too hot at those places. But they’re not always staffed by those with compassion. Great story.

  • Joy

    i do this all the time and until I read your article didn’t realise it was a form of self-attack. Thanks Lea, i’ll try to be nicer to myself :)

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, Greg!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, Joy. Sometimes, just seeing what’s happening can make a big difference.

  • Sam

    This made me tear up. Compassion and self-compassion are both very important – sometimes we are better at one than the other.

  • Sara

    It’s great to see that someone helped you without expecting anything in return. To me, I can see that this person sees his reflection in you, hence why he said ‘I’ve been there’. Sometimes when these things happen to us, it can make us feel more fear because people are being nice to us in sensitive moments, often people promote this to be an opportunity to “run” away incase they do something to you. We are all here for eachother, and this experience proves it. Namaste to you.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Thanks, Sam. I feel touched by your comment.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hi Sara, Yes ~ at times it can be hard to trust the kindness we’re offered. Thank you for your comment.

  • Sara

    I know, I’ve had similar experiences, not from complete strangers, but from people who I don’t really know and I sometimes feel even more anxious when I get help; sometimes I feel I don’t deserve it? But I know that it isn’t true, but it all comes down to how much you believe in yourself. You’re welcome for the comment, and thank you for replying :)

  • http://wandertoconnect.org/ Kristen

    Who knew such a simple act on behalf of a stranger would make such an impact, but that’s the way it usually goes, right? :)

    Reminds me of this quote (which happens to be one of my favorites) by Leo Buscaglia:

    “The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.”

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Yes, and what a beautiful quote! Thank you, Kristen.

  • christina

    this story is making me grin ear to ear. there is hope for humanity!

    and it is a great testament that we must take care and be compassionate towards ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Jim

    Nice story and lesson, thanks. I was disappointed in the ending, lol. I expected you to make some contact with this very nice person. That is the type of person I would want in my life. Not necessarily romantic, but maybe, certainly a friend. It seemed like you were so focused on your self that you missed an opportunity…easy for me to say, I know. Thanks again.

  • Guest

    Thanks for offering us a lovely way to ask ….. am I allergic to honey (love and compassion from self and others)?

  • Yumi Rae

    wow! love this. thank you for sharing.

  • http://howdoyougetaguy.com/ Bellaisa Filippis

    Excellent post. I burst out in tears at the guy knocking on your window asking you if you wanted a drink. Pretty amazing and inspirational. Thanks.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, Bellaisa. Thanks for letting me know how my article struck you. I really appreciate it!

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hi Yumi ~ You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting.

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    You’re welcome, Christina. I do think there’s hope! And I’m glad this story made you grin. :)

  • Lea Seigen Shinraku

    Hi Jim, Thanks for your comment. You know, I do see him occasionally and say hello ~ He’s still the barista at the coffee shop by my apartment. I know what you mean about thinking it could have been a friendship, but it seems like that sweet interaction we had that one day simply was what it was, and I was very grateful for it.