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One of my favourite words is the word maitri, which I’ve come across in meditation and Buddhist teachings.
The idea of it has also come up as metta, which essentially, from what I’ve read, is “meditation focused on the development of unconditional love for all beings.”
Maitri itself is a Sanskrit word, which can be roughly translated as loving-kindness, benevolence, friendliness, amity, goodwill, and active interest in others.
My favourite definition comes from Pema Chödrön who describes it as “unconditional friendliness,” toward ourselves.
This beautiful terminology got me thinking about the word unconditional and what it can mean for us to live and love more unconditionally.
Unconditional, of course, means not subject to any conditions.
In my personal experience, the word “condition” was the term applied to the eating disorder I was experiencing. Rather than determine it as “disorderly” or categorise it by a set list of symptoms, it was simply “condition.” In group sessions, we all had various diagnoses but spoke of the one “condition.”
This use of the word allows us to speak openly in a way where labels don’t matter, aren’t up for comparison, and don’t require us to fit into their specifications. Diagnostic terminologies don’t define who we are or the experience we’re going through, and in my opinion, carry little significance, in some cases doing more harm than good.
The idea of living unconditionally then, to me, began to equate with living in freedom, living a fully recovered life. Living without the conditions of not feeling good enough, not living authentically, keeping myself small.
Its limitless potential releases us from the suffocating “shoulds,” the expectations of perfection, and the exhausting hustle of trying to be whoever we believe we have to be in order to fit in.
So what I want to explore is how we can live and love in a way that is not subject to terms or conditions. A way that frees us from the fictitious factors that dictate our decisions.
The unconditional friendliness that Pema Chödrön speaks of is such an enriching idea and is exactly how I would hope to always treat myself and for you to treat yourself too.
I’ve spoken about self-love numerous times, I know, but it can be something that takes time to fully implement and cement. Along the journey toward a strong felt sense of it, ideas like this are really helpful in continually connecting to different perspectives of what it means and how to apply it to ourselves.
The conditions we apply to loving ourselves have no place in true self-love, like they would have no place in any truly loving relationship. The notion that we’ll love ourselves when we do “x” or we’ll be kind to ourselves if we do “y” is evidently laden in conditions.
Loving yourself when you lose weight or achieve something new or change something is not loving yourself. It’s holding your self-love impossibly out of reach, persistently pushed away by a lack of self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-respect.
That’s why the word unconditional is so vitally important. It allows us to attain self-love now. It releases us from the barricade of beliefs that something has to happen before we can feel this friendliness toward who we are. No terms or conditions need apply for us to gain our own approval.
You deserve your own love exactly as you are, right now.
If we keep the phrase “unconditional friendliness” consistently in mind, imagine how our self-talk would change, how our feelings of worthiness, self-respect, and radical self-acceptance would skyrocket. Imagine responding to yourself with friendliness as a first response. Imagine having the support of a friend always within, always having your back, always ready to reassure, always armed with the force of friendliness to raise your spirits and recharge your energy.
Use the power of unconditional friendliness every time you make a mistake, every time you start beating yourself up, every time you are impatient with yourself, every time you feel inadequate, anxious, or in despair. Be a friend. Be the best friend you can be. Be the friend that doesn’t give a sh*t if you’ve messed up or are imperfect (like every human), but instead relentlessly loves the person you are.
As we get used to owning our newfound freedom from conditions, we can remove them from other people too. Becoming more accepting, more forgiving, and more compassionate to others teaches us how to cultivate a kinder mindset that we too can benefit from.
Constant fault-finding, criticising, and judgement shrinks our capacity for loving others and is only reflected back to and from ourselves. It cripples our potential for real connections as we seek reasons not to be loving, not to be kind, not to be friendly. Gossiping and b*tching is a common currency of communication these days, but this only serves to increase a culture of conditions. A culture that feeds the unfriendly opinion that there’s something wrong with others for simply being, thinking, or acting differently from us.
Removing the conditions we outwardly apply requires honesty, self-acceptance, and an appreciation of what it means to be human. It can also mean having the courage to disagree with judgement and gossip, not merely contributing comments in the hopes of fitting in and achieving “common enemy intimacy.” Learning to accept the vulnerabilities and imperfections of others gifts us the opportunity to soften toward our own.
When we commit to embracing unconditional friendliness, our compassion grows and our sense of inner peace does too.
It feels good to have good feelings. Flooding our mind and actions with friendliness will, of course, give us a boost. When we create a sense of companionship in our inner and outer interactions, our outlook naturally changes. We can feel more connected, more accepted, and more free to be ourselves. We can see past the flaws of others and offer them a compassionate, nonjudgmental space to simply be, as our own unconditional self-acceptance radiates out.
The affliction of conditions minimises our experience of the world. It robs us of meaningful connections and authentic exchanges. Expending energy to indulge these tactics drains the energy we could be using to enjoy, recharge, and thrive.
With maitri in mind, we can swap comparison for camaraderie, fault-finding for friendliness, and criticism for compassion.
This is a profound practice, and with repetition, will rewrite our worldview, dynamically changing the way we interact with life.