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Mindful : August 2019
Kristin Neff has been thinking a lot about traditional gender roles, and how they can block self-compassion. Neff is a professor of human develop- ment and culture at the Uni- versity of Texas at Austin, and the world’s foremost research expert on self-compassion. Men think self-compas- sion is about being soft and nur turing, and that it’s something that will “under- mine your strength,” says Neff. “For women, we have a little less self-compassion than men do.” Women think Mirabai Bush has watched the mind- fulness world change gradually over her almost-fifty years as a leader in the field. She’s a long-time activist, cofounder of the Center for Contempla- tive Mind in Society, a key contributor to Google’s Search Inside Yourself Pro- gram, author of many books, including Compassion in Action, Working with Mindfulness, and more. “Let us just say that many of the bar- riers to women leading a really fulfilled life and making the best contribution they can in all areas of life, they’re there for women teaching mindfulness, too. Patriarchy is really deeply embedded in our culture. Things are changing, but it sure was difficult in the beginning.” Bush thinks back to her early days as a young meditation student in India, encountering monasteries full of men, and all-male meditation teachers. “ We didn’t see any models of how you brought a female awareness into how you’d do these practices,” she notes. Such an awareness is crucial, of course, “in order to bring these teachings into everyday life.” Bush believes we have to look for ways to be women in community. “ We can’t do it alone. We really need each other. Our lives are busy and full, yet we’re still struggling with the individualism that’s promoted through capitalism. There aren’t as many structures for us to even find community.” Bush adds, sometimes all it takes to make a profound change in your sense of community is one good friend “with whom you can talk about what you’re learning and what you’re struggling with.” MIRABAI BUSH Keep Listening and Find Your Community that self-compassion is about being selfish. “ Women are always supposed to focus on others, be kind to others, take care of others, and it just feels selfish to do it for ourselves.” So these days, Neff is thinking more in terms of balance. “In some ways masculine and feminine don’t really mean that much, they’re constructs. But there’s something they point to—the nurturing, the tenderness, the openness.” That’s the feminine side. “The protec- tion, mama-bear energy, fierce compassion.” That’s the masculine side. “Everyone needs both,” says Neff. The next phase of Neff’s work is focused on helping men and women integrate these (conventionally) femi- nine and masculine elements of compassion. “Women are not really allowed to be fierce, we’re not allowed to be so active, and men are not allowed to be tender and warm with themselves. So the next phase of my work will be about how to help people integrate.” Love Your Imperfect Self KRISTIN NEFF “Women are not really allowed to be fierce, we’re not allowed to be so active, and men are not allowed to be tender and warm with themselves.” KRISTIN NEFF 40 mindful August 2019 leadership