“If you were sitting here, listening to me tell you the same story, what would you tell me to do?”
My good friends have heard this line from me more than once. Maybe it’s a breakup, or a job issue, or just replaying an incident from the distant past. Somehow this question gives the perspective shift necessary for more objectivity in a situation.
Why can’t we be as kind and gentle and thoughtful to ourselves as we are to other people? That’s the million-dollar question. That’s the purpose of maitri, and the difficulty of expressing that benevolence and loving-kindness to ourselves is the challenge.
It’s more than just self-care. Self-care is a bubble bath. Caring for the self is a deeper, richer experience. Patience with the self can be cultivated and the fruits of this can change people. Hearts transform as we feel true caring for ourselves and other people. Our behaviors transform as our actions naturally follow our thoughts. Sometimes, this change looks like volunteer work or generosity. Other times, it looks like listening with our whole selves to a person in need of an ear to hear them and a heart to understand.
My friends tell me about work stuff, relationship stuff, money stuff. “Do you want advice or listening?” I ask when they start to tell me their story. In my mind, I track the conversation accordingly. If no advice is being sought, I turn off that analytical “run the numbers” part of my brain, listening with my heart. Maitri helps me get to this place of loving-kindness. My spirit opens to allow a safe space for their stories to be heard and for their own spirit to be understood. They speak and, in that moment, I am present for them.
When I sit with my own issues in meditation, I try to remember that I deserve the same patience that I freely and easily give to others. I try. I remind myself that I am an imperfect being doing the best I can under the circumstances. Conceding this for myself seems to be more difficult than for other people for whatever reason. Maitri in my meditation helps me debrief and examine my well-worn personality ruts so I can mindfully work to alter and change them.
I meditate on my own worth and my own reticence to stand up for myself. I contemplate the value of my own wants and needs, which are just as valid as the wants and needs of others. The very act of taking that time to meditate and dwell on these is an act of self-caring—a rebellious act in a selfish world that would wring from me every drop I have to give.
As I use my practice for this introspection, I learn about “me” and the parts I don’t pay attention to when I’m not taking the time to think about them. This self-knowledge helps me be more attuned to my needs. My practice allows me to address my feelings locked away because they weren’t acceptable or helpful at the moment I had them. I can mindfully give these emotions their space, returning to the breath that sustains me through it all.
My autopilot reactions in life are replaced with conscious decisions that factor in what I’m feeling and needing. I have also begun to recognize reflexive reactions in others and gently check-in when I see this behavior, in an effort to give a person space for deciding instead of reacting.
My meditation practice develops the loving-kindness in myself, realizing the common experience and shared humanity with others who cross my path. When I start with myself, the maitri ripples outward in concentric circles.
The Quakers quote George Fox, who said, “Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” And my practice allows for recognizing everyone and their struggles, which are not very different from my own. My felt response to this knowledge shows me how to best express this maitri, but it all starts with my own heart and my own understanding.
From this place grows compassion, which the world truly needs more of in these times. I practice compassion for myself and empathy for the other people in my sphere.