Perhaps one of the hardest and most healing things we can do for both for ourselves and for the world is to cultivate love and compassion for ourselves. In the Buddhist practice of Metta, or lovingkindness meditation, it is taught that in order to have love and compassion for others and the world, we must begin with offering those energies to ourselves. In the practice, we begin by generating the feelings and qualities of love and compassion and then repeating phrases like these:
- May I be happy.
- May I be peaceful.
- May I be free of suffering.
- May I have ease of well-being.
It is understood that without a strong foundation of compassion for ourselves, we will not have the ability to truly embody those qualities in the world and extend them to other beings. For many of us, who have grown up in western culture, it goes against our grain to love ourselves first. This can be seen as selfish and self-centered. At this time in our personal lives and in our collective experience, loving ourselves is a key part of the new paradigm which allows for greater love and compassion for all beings and for our world.
There are many ways to cultivate love and compassion for oneself. The key is that it is a process, it takes time and it requires some commitment to ourselves. In addition to Metta practice, which we will explore more fully in future posts, here are 7 Ways to Cultivate Love and Compassion for Yourself:
1. Be Still. Connecting with the heart, with the deeper aspects of oneself requires slowing down and going within. Just as the turtle pulls into it’s shell when it needs to feels safe, we need to go within to begin to create a different relationship with our self. Taking time each day to slow down and to be still allows us to connect more fully with the heart and to access the parts of ourselves that need love and healing.
Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down. Place one or both of your hands on your heart and focus your breathing in the center of your chest, your heart center. Allow yourself to feel your heart and be open to being present with what is arising. No where to go, nothing to do, just being there in the heart. Start with 5 minutes per day. Ideally, this practice is done for 10 to 30 minutes per day, especially when working actively on connecting with the energy of the heart.
2. Journaling. Writing is a way to connect with the deeper aspects of ourselves and particularly to track what comes up in still time or as we are working to cultivate self-love. It is a way to begin to work with the beliefs and feelings that keep us from loving ourselves more fully.
Create a list of your positive qualities or nice things that others say about you. Create a list of the negative messages or voices you uncover as you begin to be more present. One of the other important aspects of journaling or writing things down is that it concretizes your experience – it can make it more real for us, which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to do.
3. Affirmations. I know you are familiar with the phrase, “fake it till you make it”. This is true with loving ourselves as well. We may not feel it right away, it may bring up a lot of difficult feelings, but by beginning to express love and compassion openly we can create a change in how we respond to ourselves.
Affirmations are one of the best ways to bring in a positive energy. They work on two levels. 1. Affirmations help to bring in the energy or feeling we wish to cultivate. 2. What arises when we work with affirmations shows us the beliefs and feelings, which are keeping us stuck and in this case, keep us from loving ourselves. Some ways to work with affirmations include:
- Write affirmations repetitively. Post them in various places so you will see them throughout the day such as on your mirror or on the dashboard of your car.
- Mirror Work – sit in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations as you gaze at your own self. This is a very powerful technique that Louise Hay has taught a lot about.
- Create a recording so that you can listen to the affirmations over and over in your own voice. Add this to your mirror work.
- Some suggested affirmations include: I love myself. I love and approve of myself. I love myself completely as I am. I am beautiful and lovable however I am feeling. Also, create your own affirmation that feel right for you.
4. Recognize Critical Self-Messages. Whether it is through your work with affirmations or as you go about your day, begin to notice the negative or critical voices. Many of them were learned as children, but they have grown in harshness and power over the years. Sometimes they are so powerful that we don’t even know they are there. Now, we are choosing to listen, to see the voices and messages that are driving us. It is these same voices that keep us from loving ourselves by perpetuating the cycle of harshness and sometimes, abuse in our lives.
By uncovering critical self-messages, we can begin to change our habitual patterns. Keep a list in your journal of these critical voices. Begin to cultivate loving messages in response to these voices. When you hear them, ask “is that so? How do you know that?” Bring in positive affirmations to create new patterns when these voices arise.
5. Learn to Feel More Fully and Express Emotions Constructively. For many of us, we learned to stuff or suppress our feelings from a young age. As adults, we continue to follow the unhealthy patterns we learned as children. Learning to experience and express our feelings is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves. This can also be a very uncomfortable place. For many people, it is a place where we become numb. Our thoughts move faster than our emotions and unless we are willing to slow down and be present with what we are feeling, it can be difficult to access. Give yourself the time and space to begin to experience your feelings.
6. Consistency. In building any relationship, it takes time and it requires consistency to feel safe and loved. In cultivating a more loving relationship with oneself, it is important to be consistent. Find some time daily, or as often as you can, even if it’s only a few moments, to slow down and connect with yourself. Showing up for yourself in a regular way is a very loving thing to do for yourself. Embrace this and create a structure for cultivating love and compassion in your life that you can commit to.
7. Be Gentle and Loving with Yourself. Many of us have experienced harshness and severe criticism in our lives. Our messages about love are very mixed up. It is vital to approach ourselves with gentleness and kindness. This includes accepting who we are and where we are in our life’s journey.
By moving from a place of acceptance, with gentleness, we can begin to create new ways of being and we can create a loving relationship with ourselves. As you go about your day, notice when you are being harsh or self-critical, begin to give yourself a break and practice cultivating loving-kindess as a way to be gentle with yourself.
I encourage you to take some time today to explore loving yourself more fully and consciously. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, to others and to the world.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.
Join me each May for May Is For Metta: 31 Days of Lovingkindness Exploration. Learn more…