One of the most beautiful and fundamental teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, is that every thought, feeling, and experience contains Divine light, and through this Divine light, everything connects to its Source. In the words of the Zohar, “Memaleh Kol Almin” – “(Hashem) fills all worlds”, and therefore a spark of the Divine can be accessed and experienced anywhere, at any time, by anyone.
During the first few months of COVID, I learned about Compassionate Awareness at a time that I really needed it. Compassionate Awareness is an approach to personal growth through self-compassion rather than self-criticism. Instead of denying our shortcomings or beating ourselves up over them, Compassionate Awareness is a model for viewing ourselves and the world around us through a lens of objectivity and self-compassion.
In her book The Neuroscience of Change, neuroscientist and researcher Dr. Kelly McGonical provides data and clinical research showing that self-compassion is not only kinder to ourselves, it is also a more effective means for achieving personal growth. Dr. McGonigal explains that having compassion for oneself starts with awareness about how the “default mode” of our brain is constantly judging and criticizing – both other people, and ourselves. Yet, through training and mindfulness meditation, it is possible to reorient one’s mind towards self-compassion, and to see our struggles as learning experiences instead of constant failures.
I see a connection to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that Divine light and goodness is contained within every thought and experience. If we view our perceived “failures” as containing a spark – something to learn about ourselves that lights the way toward personal growth – then we can transform our tendency to self-criticize into self-understanding, compassion, and acceptance. As Dr. McGonigal’s says, we should train ourselves to be at least as kind to ourselves as we are to our best friends – not only for the sake of being kind to ourselves, but also because self-compassion is the most effective way to foster genuine growth.
As an ally and a parent, I believe the approach of “Divine light” and “Compassionate Awareness” is critical for the LGBTQ+ community. Due to constant exposure to oppressive social influences, LGBTQ+ individuals often feel compelled to self-criticize, which can lead to feelings of failure, depression, and despair. However, through the lens of the Baal Shem Tov and the perspective of Compassionate Awareness, one can begin to pave a path towards self-kindness, self-acceptance, and self-fulfillment.