“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz of Shiraz
We all mentally beat ourselves up from time to time. You know how it goes, “I can’t believe I was that stupid” or “I’m too fat or thin” or “I’ll never be good enough for him or her” and so forth.
Some of us however have deeper levels of self-denigration that have taken us to even darker places in our lives, which may stem from any number of reasons. Maybe we were abused growing up, picked on in school, abused drugs or alcohol or were sexually assaulted. Whatever the reason, it can be that much more difficult for us to find a semblance of love and acceptance for ourselves than that of the average person. Sometimes, I’ll think I’ve come so far in my own practice, and while sure, I’m definitely much better than the person who used to not be able to have a single mirror in his apartment, but in an instant, I can be humbled into acknowledging there’s always more work to be done. Case in point, another conversation I recently had, this time with a different friend, but one that sparked more reflection and introspection for sure.
As we sat on my bedroom floor brainstorming ideas for a project, she asked me out of left field to name five things I like about myself. Jesus, did that make me feel uncomfortable. Not only was I struggling to come up with even one or two things, but I became aware of frustration arising because I thought I was over this shit. I mean, I write about it in articles and receive a lot of wonderful feedback from people saying my experience and writing has helped them, and here I am, feeling like hypocrite number one! After squirming around a bit, and struggling to come up with something, anything, I said, “I’m compassionate” and “I help others whenever I can.”
She was obviously not impressed and replied, “Yeah, those are nice, but they’re more about helping others than what you like about you” and damn, she was totally right. I have always been of the giving personality rather than receiving, those of us with self-love issues often tend to be. And like any good giver, it’s usually very difficult to receive on any level, whether material, emotional or physical. Now, what I would have done here in the past is mentally beat the shit out of myself for not being able to come up with the requested five things, this time however, I didn’t.
While I did have a difficult time answering her question, it helped me to realize I have come a long way in my process. I was able to tell her, “Yeah, I’m struggling with this, and I’m really fucking uncomfortable with it, but I know the qualities are in here somewhere” and today, I can honestly say I do know that, that there are good qualities inside, which is a realization I attribute much of to the practice of loving-kindness meditation. A meditation I’ll share with you now as the effects it’s had on my own personal and spiritual growth are paramount and I have complete faith that if you apply this in your life, the results will be the very same.
I first learned about the loving-kindness practice via the wonderful Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron while reading her book The Places That Scare You, and the reason I was able to connect with this practice was that it wasn’t just about loving myself, but loving all sentient beings.
The practice of loving-kindness teaches us to balance the love of others and our self out. In the beginning of practicing loving-kindness mediation, it may be difficult for us to make a loving aspiration towards ourselves, but what can sustain us in the beginning, if this does happen, is the knowledge that the focus is only on ourselves for a brief moment or two before shifting onto others.
It’s pretty amazing that as our practice continues, making that aspiration towards ourselves becomes much easier and eventually, we’ll actually enjoy receiving it.
Remember though, I’m referencing my own experience here, and I know I’m a bit of an extreme case, so you may be able to connect and embrace loving-kindness for yourself immediately when you begin this practice, and that’s awesome! If not, however, stick with it. I promise it will happen for you.
The traditional practice of loving-kindness opens with the first line of the Four Limitless Ones chant: “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness” and is followed by seven simple aspirations which I am providing below as taught in Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You.
1. Awaken loving-kindness for yourself. “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” or put this aspiration in your own words.
2. Awaken loving-kindness for someone for whom you feel sincere goodwill and tenderness. “May (name) enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” or choose your own words.
3. Awaken loving-kindness for a friend, again saying the friend’s name and expressing the aspiration for his or her happiness, using the same words.
4. Awaken loving-kindness for someone whom you feel neutral or indifferent. (Use the same words.)
5. Awaken loving-kindness for someone you find difficult or offensive. (Use the same words.)
6. Let the loving-kindness grow big enough to include all the beings in the five steps above. (This step is called “dissolving the barriers.”) Say, “May I, my beloved, my friend, the neutral person, the difficult person, all together enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
7. Extend loving-kindness toward all beings throughout the universe. You can start close to home and widen the circle more and more. “May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
As with any transformational practice, deep, lasting change typically takes time to accomplish, however, you will most likely begin to experience the benefits of this practice after your first time doing it. You may feel lighter, or an overall general sense of well being, or, maybe you’ll feel nothing at all. At the very least, rest assured that you’ve taken time out of your day to make positive aspirations for yourself, others and the universe as a whole, and there’s something amazing to be said about that.
Today, I’m usually able to look at myself in the mirror without shying away in disgust. I can own compliments when they are given (albeit humbly, but still) and I know I’m worthy of love and loving-kindness just as much as anyone else. So if everything really does stem from love, well, who are we then to decide that our physical manifestation is any less worthy of it than someone else’s? With love and respect to myself and to you. Om shanti.
And Now… We Dance!
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Ed: Kate B.