As we near the end of the year, I thought about posting something related to goals and creating what you want in 2014, and I will do that in the next issue because I do really want to help you start 2014 powerfully. But what I really want to share this week is a conversation about compassion, specifically self-compassion.
It’s not easy to find compassion for others, especially the really annoying woman in the checkout line at the grocery store or the screaming child in Starbucks. But harder than any effort to find understanding and empathy for others, compassion for ourselves can be the biggest challenge of all. Especially at this time of year when we’re busy with year-end closings and holiday planning and new year preparations, we spread ourselves ever thinner as we try to serve all the people and responsibilities in our lives. Where is our focus on what we need, on what we’re experiencing? In the rush and noise, it’s easy to beat ourselves up for not getting it all done or not doing it well enough.
My offer for you this week and in this season is to practice some loving kindness towards yourself.
To find your source of compassion for others where it resides – in compassion for yourself. We cannot truly cultivate compassion for others if we don’t give to ourselves. We can’t find the courage to go after the things we want in life if we’re always dragging ourselves down.
Practice for Self-Compassion
This basic loving kindness (or metta) meditation is something you can do in five minutes. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor if you don’t want to, you can do this in your car or wherever you can take a few moments. You can simply repeat the basic phrases in your head anytime, even waiting in line or doing your grocery shopping.
Take a deep breath and get still for a moment. In your mind’s eye, picture someone you love dearly. Allow yourself to feel the feeling of love, of warmth, of compassion that you experience when you think of them. Holding onto that feeling of love, turn your attention to yourself. Before the critical voice starts up, say the following to yourself:
- May I be safe
- May I be happy
- May I be healthy
- May I live with ease
You can modify the words to be something that means more to you, perhaps “may I be free from fear” or “may I be peaceful”, but they are aspirations for what you wish to experience and receive, not instructions or masked criticisms so no “may I be a good person” or “may I be smart/successful” etc. Say these words over and over to yourself, in your mind or out loud if you prefer (perhaps not out loud in line at the grocery store though). Keep saying them for a few minutes, allowing the feeling of goodwill towards yourself to permeate your thoughts.
If you wish to continue the meditation to include the rest of what is classically included in metta, you then offer the same four wishes to others: first to the people you love, then to people you don’t feel strongly about one way or the other – perhaps your neighbours or the people you saw today on the street, then finally to someone you don’t like or who you struggle with. Send the same wishes to them in sequence, then come back to yourself. You can repeat this as many times as you wish, but don’t skip yourself and only send the good thoughts to others. The foundation of this practice is to start with yourself.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.
Try a free guided meditation in loving kindness from the wonderful Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, to help you feel more love and compassion for yourself.