“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.
You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
If you are serious about loving yourself, chances are it will take a bit more than treating yourself to a new piece of clothing, taking a luxurious bath, or repeating a few affirmations now and then.
It means having the courage to peel back layers of pain and sadness. The courage to be raw and still in the face of whatever rises. The willingness to begin and move through. The willingness to take the time.
Although it might feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or frightening, the reward is more than worth the journey. Because loving kindness is the seed of happiness.
The practice of loving kindness – our focus today – is a simple, gentle and time-proven method to help you discover the spring of love that exists within and, as a result, enjoy more happiness in life.
You May Not Know What You’re Missing!
Ironically, you may not actually realize you’re lacking in self-love. So how could you even get serious about it? Here’s the problem. If you didn’t feel a pervasive feeling of love as a child, you just don’t know what you’re missing. You haven’t had an experience of it.
Sure, we are all searching for love in the form of that special someone, but often that is part of the problem rather than the solution. We don’t necessarily know what true abiding love really is or how to be an unconditional friend to our self. Instead, we often criticize and denigrate our self.
Although we may not be consciously aware that we are lacking in love, it typically shows up in the form low self-esteem and self-hatred. These two demons can manifest a range of behaviors and feelings:
- Looking to others for acceptance
- Poor boundaries
- Avoiding the present moment
- Fear of being wrong
- Feeling flawed
- Body-image problems
- Compulsive behaviors
- Drug addiction
- Inner critic
- Shutting down
- Denying your own feelings
- Continuing feelings of guilt, shame, fear, sadness, hurt, anger
- Feeling unloved, unlovable, isolated, or alone.
Does any of that sound familiar?
For some of us, it’s painful to admit that love and nourishment may have been scarce, absent, or incomplete in our early years. Perhaps our parents loved us, but just weren’t very good at showing it. On the other hand, we might be so focused on feeling unloved that we leave no space for love to sneak in. And, as Andrea DeBell points out, we may hesitate to love ourselves because it seems narcissistic or egocentric. Instead we function on automatic, stay busy, and look for love outside of ourselves.
Discover An Unceasing Spring of Love
I find the practice of Loving Kindness to be a simple and remarkable way to gradually and systematically unblock love, heal sadness, and discover an unceasing inner spring of love. It’s a practice that I’m focusing on myself right now.
What’s special about this practice is that it is a very simple, yet structured practice that is especially powerful given its sacred origins.
Although this particular approach to self-love originated with the Buddha, it’s universal and can be practiced by anyone. In fact, it’s become a popular practice in the West embraced by people from all faiths, traditions, and those who profess to have none. You might have heard it referred to as “metta” or “maitri.”
The goal of training in loving kindness is to create an ever-widening circle of love.
We begin by learning to love ourselves. This might take some time! Then we extend our love to those we find easy to love. Then we expand the circle wider by practicing love kindness towards those who we consider as neutral like a delivery driver or person walking down the street. Next up are those we find difficult, irritating, and aggravating. Then, our enemies. Ultimately, we expand the circle to include the whole world.
Of course, we don’t expect to love all beings in a flash. We focus on one stage at a time. Understandably, it’s going to get a little tricky when it comes to the people that we perceive as difficult.
The practice involves the repetition of simple, loving phrases, and begins with directing love towards yourself. Because, if we have no love for ourselves we won’t be able to give love to others. Often, people need to spend an extended period of time on just this first stage before moving on to extending their love to others.
Loving ourselves in a healthy way is not the same as being egotistical or narcissistic, which are characterized by thinking only – or mostly – of your own self. The motivation in this practice is to unblock our spring of love for both ourselves and all others.
Love: the Antidote to Anger and Fear
Loving kindness is considered an antidote to both fear and anger. The following delightful story describes how the practice first began and the power it holds to transform fear.
“This practice was first taught by the Buddha as an antidote to fear. He sent a group of monks to meditate in the forest that was inhabited by tree spirits. The spirits resented the presence of the monks and tried to drive them away by appearing as horrible visions. The monks were terrified and ran back to Buddha, begging him to send them to a different forest. He said, ” I am going to send you back to the forest, but I will provide you with the only protection you need.” He then gave the first teaching on loving kindness. When the monks returned to the forest and practiced loving kindness, the tree spirits were so moved by the loving energy that filled the forest that they resolved to care for and serve the monks in whatever way they could. So not only did the practice of loving kindness remove their fear, it also transformed the beings around them.” – The Heart of Compassion, Part 2 Loving Kindness, The Rigpa Study and Practice Program
The ability to love ourselves is extremely important because – as this story illustrates – it contains the power to heal the world.
The key to loving kindness practice is realizing that all the love you need is already within you. We simply need to unblock it and let it shine. In doing so, we bring about our own happiness and add a dose of happiness to the world. It’s a process that any of us can move through successfully with time, patience, and perseverance.
In this video, the contemporary spiritual teacher Pema Chodron tells us how loving kindness helps us to develop an unconditional friendship with our self. This brings a sense of wellness, wholeness, and comfort in our body, mind, and being. As we move through the practice, pain and sadness will arise from time-to-time, providing the opportunity for deeper healing. The secret, she tells us, is not to struggle against the pain in our life. By simply being open and present we can learn to release our past pain and become our own best friend. I hope you enjoy it.
Find more details about the actual practice of Loving Kindness in Part 2 of this series.
What are your thoughts about self-love? Do you find the idea of self-love comfortable or uncomfortable? Have you dedicated time to the practice of self-love?
More thoughts on loving kindness: Exploding the Limits of Our Love
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