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April 17, 2012

The Most Important Article on Elephant, Ever: Maitri.

FJoin Elephant’s self-paced course, Maitri: the Buddhist practice of Making Friends with Yourself. This course won’t make you better—it’ll help you make friends with yourself as you actually are.


“I teach about maitri a lot, and it is often misunderstood as some kind of self-indulgence, as if it is just about feeling good and being self-concerned. People will often think that that’s what I mean by maitri. But it’s somewhat subtle what maitri is and what it isn’t.

For example, you might say that taking a bubble bath or getting a workout at the gym is maitri. But on the other hand, maybe it isn’t, because maybe it’s some kind of avoidance; maybe you are working out to punish yourself. On the other hand, maybe going to the gym is just what you need to relax enough to go on with your life with some kind of lightheartedness. Or it might be one of your 65 daily tactics to avoid reality. You’re the only one who knows.

So it’s important to be clear about what maitri means and not to come away with a misunderstanding of maitri as some kind of indulgence, which actually weakens us and makes us less able to keep our heart and mind open to ourselves and the difficulties of our life. I often use this definition: maitri strengthens us. One of the qualities of maitri is steadfastness, and that’s developed through meditation. So through boredom, through aches, through indigestion, through all kinds of disturbing memories, to edgy energy, to peaceful meditation, to sleepiness, it’s steadfastness. You sit with yourself, you move closer to yourself, no matter what’s going on. You don’t try to get rid of anything—you can still be sad or frustrated or angry. You recognize your humanity and the wide gamut of emotions you might be feeling.”

~ Pema Chödrön


“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest.

Grief is just love with no place to go.” ~ Jamie Anderson

What do we do when it hurts? When we’ve lost heart? The answer ain’t bath bombs, or treatin’ yo’self, anything anyone might try to sell you, including us (though we only share offers from companies and products we respect). The answer is maitri, and it’s more, and less, than “self-care.”

If we think we want someone to excite our mind, to hold our heart
Someone who listens, who loves, who respects, who is independent yet loving
someone fun, but yet caring,
dedicated to being of service, but yet fun
but, then, we go for
children in men’s clothing
children in women’s clothing
that’s a sign of not having made friends with all of ourselves (not just the parts we like), sufficiently. Listen:
you deserve someone loving, but not clingy
open, brave, kind
and that someone has to be you, first
or you’ll never see the men and women who are ready to love you
you won’t even see ’em.

It doesn’t take time to make friends with yourself. It doesn’t take time to be ready. It takes a decision: stop giving yourself short shrift. Step up. Leap. Love.

How to Make Friends with all of Your Sweet Self: Maitri.

Buddhism is all about waking up. 

Maitri is the art of developing an unconditional friendliness toward every part of our sweet selves—the tired, the mending, the broken, the wonderful, the always-changing. It’s not about baths and epsom salts, though that sounds darned good right about now.

It’s about making friends with the parts of ourselves we despise or bully or hide away.

It’s not about getting “better”—the fundamentally good version of yourself is right here, right now.

I offer you these words to get you there—here.

Let’s focus on the important things: making friends with ourself, so that we can be of benefit to others, and our beleaguered planet.

In this Photoshop Culture, there is a tonic, or antidote, to wanting to be other than we are. It’s called maitri (click below for more). It’s called unconditional friendliness toward ourselves. It’s simple. It’s hard. ~ ed.

Unconditional friendliness toward ourself: Maitri.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha [Corrected, read here for more precise meaning]

Love Yourself. For my friend Leah (and my other lovely friends who are dreamers, and doers, but have not yet quite harnessed both together). And, for you. ~ ed.


No different, really —
a summer firefly’s
visible burning
and this body,
transformed by love.

~ Izumi Shikibu

Learning to be Alone.
“If we want there to be peace in the world, then we have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s true spiritual warriorship. That’s the true practice of peace.” ~ Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War.

This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching on how to take the situations of your life and train—actually train—in catching yourself closing down, catching yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very point, or softening.

In some sense reversing a very, very old pattern of our whole species, which is a pattern of armoring ourselves. It’s like the essence of our whole path is in that place of discomfort, and what do we do with it? ~ Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron, on Maitri.

“…There was a story about the Zen master Suzuki Roshi.

This was a situation where his students had been sitting and they were 3 or 4 hours into a very hard sitting period, a sesshin. The person who told the story said every bone in his body was hurting—his back, his ankles, his neck, his head, everything hurt. Not only that, his thoughts were totally obsessed with either,

“I can’t do this, I’m worthless. There’s something wrong with me. I’m not cut out to do this.”

It was vacillating between those thoughts and

“This whole thing is ridiculous. Why did I ever come here? These people are crazy. This place is like boot camp.”

His mind and body were just aching. Probably everyone else in the room was going through something similar.

Suzuki Roshi came in to give the lecture for the day and he sat down. He started to talk very, very, very slowly and he said,

“The difficulty that you are experiencing now…”

And that man was thinking,

“will go away.”

And he said,

“This difficulty will be with you for the rest of your life.”

So that’s sort of Buddhist humor.

But it is also the essence of maitri. It seems to me in my experience and also in talking to other people that we come to a body of teachings like the Buddhist teachings or any spiritual path, to meditation in some way like little children looking for comfort, looking for understanding, looking for attention, looking somehow to be confirmed. Some kind of comfort will come out of this.

And the truth is actually that the [meditation] practice isn’t about that. The practice is more about somehow this little child, this I, who wants and wants and wants to be confirmed in some way.

Practice is about that part of our being finally being able to open completely to the whole range of our experience, including all that wanting, including all that hurt, including the pain and the joy. Opening to the whole thing so that this little child-like part of us can finally, finally, finally, finally grow up.

Trungpa Rinpoche once said that was the most powerful mantra,

Om Grow Up Svaha.

But this issue of growing up, it’s not all that easy because it requires a lot of courage.

Particularly it takes a lot of courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it. You seize the moment? Moment after moment? You seize those moments and instead of letting life shut you down and make you more afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and to open and to become more kind.

More kind to yourself, for starters, as the basis for becoming more kind to others.”


Join Elephant Academy’s Live Maitri Course:


For more: This February, join the international Elephant community to practice Maitri: the Buddhist practice of Making Friends with Yourself. ⁠

It’s 21 Days with live meetings, community, inspiring study materials, meditation—a fundamental investment in yourself that will last a lifetime.⁠ ⁠

Join, and for just $1 more (!) you can gift your class to a buddy. Doing it with a loved one can make the experience safe, productive, and help you each stay accountable.

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