*Warning: Strong language (swear words) ahead!
Pema Chödrön is my favorite Buddhist teacher. I listen to her audiobooks and lectures. I carry her quotes, scribbled on scraps of paper everywhere I roam. My book bag is stuffed with her books.
I live a nomadic life; she helps me, grounds me and brings me back to a place where I make contact with myself on a daily basis.
Recently, her teachings on the word “Maitri“ struck a chord. She defines the term as “unconditional friendship with oneself.” You’d think this an easy thing to apply, but for most, it’s a struggle.
Negative self-talk and self-denigration permeate our days and night. Racing thoughts, judgement, social media craziness—the constant inundation of information floods our brains.
Our souls get clogged and confused. Everything becomes a little too hectic at times. We snap at ourselves. We snap at others.
I was having a really shitty day yesterday, and someone on the street asked for a light. I replied “fuck off.” Yup, that really happened. Mind you, I immediately felt regret for having been so rude to a stranger; too caught up in my own rage, I’d acted out.
In actuality, I was telling myself to fuck off, not the poor unsuspecting dude on the street. I was in a place of confusion, fresh out of an argument; deep feelings of disappointment (in myself) and sorrow coursed through my veins.
The idea that yogis/yoga teachers are floating around in a bubble of love and compassion is total and utter bullshit. I’m not doing handstands on surfboards in designer panties, spreading sunshine and my legs for all the world to see.
The practice of yoga and meditation is about being real. Really. Fucking. Real.
Being okay with whatever arises, even the ugly stuff. Training to “hold your seat” when the shit hits the fan. And it hits, over and over and over again.
I’ve practiced and taught yoga for over 15 years now. I still lose it. Life presents challenges—day in and day out. Buddhist principles help me to get it together, every time I fall apart.
Here’s the thing. Pema says that she loses it sometimes, too. She speaks openly and honestly about losing her cool and having to regroup. Maitri is about kindness toward oneself, deepening a sense of friendliness toward the self.
It’s profound, pure non-aggression.
Maitri means not lying to ourselves, maintaining a sense of humor and a fundamental feeling of deep, true compassion toward ourselves. Honesty with oneself means being able to say, “Okay, I see my ugly, mean sides and I’m still going to treat myself with kindness.”
Compassion and kindness toward oneself is not indulgent. It’s not going to the mall and buying a bunch of fake, toxic crap that grants fleeting glimpses at pleasure and contentment.
Real, true compassion toward oneself—applying the principle of Maitri—is about maintaining a relationship with pain, difficulty, shame and guilt.
True happiness is an inside job, as all of the memes proclaim in social media feeds. Relying on success and praise for happiness sets us up for more suffering.
Learn to hold your seat, sit with discomfort, failure and embarrassment, and that is where the seeds of true happiness are planted.
This is where we begin to do the work.
Be glad to be alive. Learn to be at home in our own mind and body. Accept that we can be nasty, ugly, mean and still bounce back using the gentle reminders of amazing Buddhist leaders like Pema Chödrön.
Do you struggle with self-love and compassion? You’re not broken, bad or damaged. It takes time, daily work and a willingness to soften toward yourself.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and thank you for reading.
Author: Anna Maria Giambanco
Editor: Toby Israel