An ancient way that has been called an "antidote" to fear
All too often on this path of life we're incredibly critical and harsh with ourselves.
We talk to ourselves in a way we would never speak to a friend. We call ourselves "stupid", "fat", "lazy", "a failure", "incompetent", and so many other discouraging words. As our minds spin these thoughts, most of the time without awareness, a whole cycle ensues between our physical bodies, emotions, and behavior. When calling ourselves "a failure" or "incompetent" we may notice our bodies feeling more tired, and emotions of shame, guilt, or sadness rising, along with behaviors of procrastination or isolation. While isolating can be a temporary relief, it often times leads to more self deprecation. Why are we so hard on ourselves and what can be do about it?
What many of us don't realize is that when we've been practicing self-hate for so long, it's going to take practice to get out of it. We need to actually practice being kind to ourselves. So how do we do this?
As a mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher and Psychologist, I have found the practice of Lovingkindness to be a powerful and extremely practical way of cultivating more kindness to the self and others. This is not some polyanna practice where we all sit in a circle, hold hands and put on our rose colored glasses pretending everything is wonderful. This is a practice of changing the habitual patterns of our minds. But, most importantly, don't take my word for it, try it for yourselves.
Here is how to do it:
1. Phrases - Choose a set of phrases that you would genuinely wish for yourself and for people you care about. These are not phrases that are affirmations; these are things you hope for yourself. Examples are, May I be safe, May I be healthy, May I be at ease, May I be happy.
2. Breath - Start by sitting or lying down, bring your attention to your breath to begin to anchor you to the present moment. You can say to yourself "in" as the breath comes in, and "out" as the breath goes out.
3. Loved one - Choose someone you really care about. Imagine them sitting there with you and say these phrases to them. See if you can drop down into the meaning and intention behind the phrases.
4. Yourself - With this same feeling and intention direct these phrases to yourself.
5. Neutral Person - Then imagine a person you are not that connected with, a check out person at the grocery market, someone that is just an acquaitence, or a stranger.
6. Difficult Person - Then bring to mind someone you are having difficulty with. It's not necessary to choose someone who was involved in your deepest trauma, start off with someone who is challenging in your life.
7. Community - Spread your intentions and phrases out to the entire community around you and then the world.
You might also choose to do this practice starting with yourself instead of a person you love. Either way is fine. This is a practice that works against fear and self hate. This is a practice toward healing. As you practice see if you can approach the practice each time without expectations, just being aware of whatever arises, each experience is unique.
When practicing this way, you can learn to bring this more into your day to day life. When you're struggling, instead of sending yourself messages of negative self-talk, practice dropping into the meaning of these phrases and sending yourself kindness which is what you need in that moment. When on the freeway and someone is speeding, instead of calling them a ‘moron', which only gets us more upset. While you don't condone the act of speeding, you might be aware how that person is suffering right now and unaware of how his actions might be risky to himself and others. See if you can send him phrases like ‘May you be at ease', ‘May you be safe'. Again, don't take my word for it, practice it yourself.
As always, feel free to comment below and share your own experience with being kind to yourself. Your questions and life experience is living wisdom for us all to share.