On the quest to unlock quiet confidence rooted in individuality—for everyday life and as a budding writer—I signed up for Elephant Journal’s course on maitri.
I hoped to finally let go of my learned understanding of confidence as arrogance—my preconceived notion that being sure of yourself comes with an off-putting, holier-than-thou attitude. Going into this course, my goal was to embrace the phenomenon of unconditionally befriending my true self, nurturing the grounded, self-assured, comfortable-in-my-own-skin woman I am deep down, whilst releasing “she” who is consistently overly humble to a fault.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, my seven-year-old son, Leo, passed away on January 14th—two weeks prior to the course start date. I was emotionally gutted—still am over two months later—but I figured being amongst elephriends immersed in the Buddhist notion of loving-kindness could only benefit as a healing salve for my shattered heart.
My favorite inclusive explanation of maitri is from beloved Buddhist teacher and author, Pema Chödrön:
“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.” ~ Pema Chödrön
A more basic quote from Elephant Journal’s founder, CEO, and instructor of the Maitri course:
“Maitri is a fancy way of saying, ‘How to take care of yourself.'” ~ Waylon Lewis
Consumed by crippling grief while participating in this course provided a profound and unique experience. My initial intention of signing up for the course for the purpose of cultivating confidence evolved into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of learning from a perspective of deep, deep sorrow. More on this to come in a future submission.
During the same time, mine and my husband’s necessity for feel-good TV, which was used as a buffer for the now excruciatingly quiet time between dinner and the acceptable hour of going to bed, provided a fun discovery opportunity. Prior to Leo’s passing, we started the new season of “Queer Eye” on Netflix, rationing these episodes as opposed to easily binging on the entire season. When the comforting solace that was once found in memorized reruns of “The Office” officially ran its course during the first weeks of fresh grief, we continued the second half of “Queer Eye,” season six.
Identifying with the “hero” from each episode more than before and seeing how the “Fab Five” genuinely meets each person where they are, made me wonder:
Is maitri the secret premise in “Queer Eye?”
This 2018 reboot show, based on the early-2000s “Queer Eye” for the Straight Guy, is currently well-known as one of the most heartwarming, positive, and empowering shows on TV. Each episode celebrates the transformative rediscovery of confidence, rooted in individuality, of the “hero”/person being made over.
Made-over. Make-over. Cringe.
“Queer Eye” is different than most “reality shows,” which tend to focus on criticism followed by superficial transformations. Much more emphasis is placed on tapping into the internal state, or unconditionally befriending oneself, prior to impacting the exterior. Through heart-to-heart conversations without judgment, empowerment is instilled for sustainable self-love. Seeing these five men who have clearly put in the deep inner work on themselves, oozing in maitri and self-celebration, listening first and sharing their knowledge second, is beautifully wholesome and inspiring.
“You’re amazing just the way you are!” ~ Johnathan Van Ness, “Queer Eye” Grooming Expert
“The point is that our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to. It’s who we are right now, and that’s what we can make friends with and celebrate.” ~ Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World
Intentionally sprinkling in the nuggets, I have learned from Elephant Journal’s course on Maitri, as well as those from the “Fab Five” through my current day-to-day (or honestly, hour-by-hour) state of immense grief, which has been making all the difference in my personal well-being while I move through the dense forest of sorrow and the unknowns. It’s where I am right now, and I intend to honor the hell out of this experience versus placing it in a box and shoving it under my bed.
Practicing meditation, journaling, working with my therapist weekly, making the smallest efforts in my physical appearance, caring for myself by making healthy homemade meals and snacks, keeping our home relatively clean while making plans for a thoughtful renovation of Leo’s room, and getting outside for a walk around our neighborhood or bike ride in nature are all helping me keep it together while remaining undone.
If that isn’t maitri, I don’t know what is.
Thank you, Pema, Jonathan, Antoni, Tan, Billy, Karamo, and Waylon!