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Stress Relievers: Tiramisu and Self-Compassion

I have always been fascinated by the origins and making of tiramisu. Beyond the calming effect I get when layering a batch, it has revealed a metaphor about where we can start in finding self-compassion. First time contemplating a tiramisu slice, pretentiously layered, sophisticated and luxuriant, was a rather controversial moment. It must require many ingredients and laborious work to make it from scratch, I thought. In fact, this treat is meant to be inherently simple; all that’s needed is a few leftovers, perseverance and commitment to the work.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what it would be like to believe for a moment that marvelous creations can emerge from what we might perceive as scarcity.

There are many legends about the origins of tiramisu. The one that stuck with me was the story of grandmothers living in the remote villages who routinely used the crumbs left in their kitchen to feed and nourish their loved ones. When shelves in the pantry were about to get empty, the relentless grandmothers started gathering the scraps: crackers, dried out and broken into pieces, some eggs if any, the coffee gone cold in the pot but not bad enough to waste it, a spoon of cream or butter. Nothing was discarded of, all flakes and traces were cherished, reused, and given a new life.

This shows us how beginnings can sprout from what we may perceive as barren lands. Often in times of hardship and despair, we might get to a point of feeling empty, sterile, unable to find any resources outside or inside ourselves. Clearly the notion of being kind, accepting and loving with ourselves may have never crossed our mind – or if it did, we’ve lost it somehow in the midst of our struggles.

But where do we start in finding compassion for ourselves? Simply put, there’s a few essential ingredients that go into building self-compassion: first, we must notice or admit to ourselves that we are suffering, no matter how tough or strong we think we might or need to be. Then we need to feel moved by our suffering so that our heart responds to the pain; we can do this by saying to ourselves, “this is really hard right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” Further, we must also meet ourselves with understanding and kindness when we fail or make mistakes, rather than letting our inner critic judge us harshly. Finally, we need to realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. We are not alone, we never are, in living and mapping out our human condition.

When we just begin in being kind and caring to ourselves, we will likely feel angry, annoyed and disempowered. Doing something good or positive for us might seem impossible, almost silly, useless, tender or unbearable. Do not let that deter you. Stay a little longer in that messy inner state. It is amazing to see what happens when we decide to deliberately meet ourselves and accept where we’re at. We may believe we have nothing left in store when we get lost on a dead end. Yet if we can let ourselves just rest on the floor of our psyche and look around, we will find crumbs and leftovers of who we are: efforts, fragments of dreams, old wounds, forgotten parts, all awaiting to be rediscovered. Like in the tiramisu making, we can pick up the pieces and turn them into an exquisite creation of who we want to be – and who we’ve always been in a dormant potent state. The name “tiramisu” means “pull me up” – it is also thought to have been made for the weak: women who had just given birth, younger children, the elderly, enough to energize and pull them up.

We can all do this, pull ourselves up by trusting there is life and zest in the most arid layer of our being. With kindness but determination to try, we can gather and revive each of the pieces, step by step. The abundance or light will permeate and thrive.

The good news is that you do not need do this work alone. Therapists at IHW are here to walk along with you in your healing or personal development journey.

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