For me to claim that I’ve ever known how to practice loving kindness toward myself wouldn’t be honest.
It’d be like calling myself a singer…when the only person who’s ever asked me to sing was my youngest child—before he knew better.
Offering tenderness to all of me—the shiny parts that I don’t mind being on display…as well as the stormy parts I prefer to keep locked in the basement—feels like befriending an alligator: dangerous, scary, with an uncertain outcome.
What I have offered myself in my life, so far, could be better described as a maze that does not appear to have an exit. I enclose myself in disappointment and self-flagellation until I collapse in helplessness.
I am finally realizing that I must find a different way out.
Whereas in not-too-distant years I never worried if I crushed bugs with the heel of my shoe as I walked, I now consciously weave my bike around like a drunk cyclist trying to avoid every roly poly, worm, grasshopper, and any other creature that desires to share the path.
Why can I not extend myself the same courtesy of not crushing myself with the heel of my mind when I get in my own way?
Maitri, the Buddhist concept of loving kindness, benevolence, and friendliness toward self and others, has, thus far in my life, been a far away notion I have witnessed in others yet have failed to replicate. Not the others part as much as the self part.
However, if I’m being honest, for many years, even the others part was a struggle.
This ability to extend kindness toward self and others is said to come, in part, from our relationship with pain and difficulty.
My relationship with pain and difficulty served only to make me angry at, well, pretty much the world. This anger was my fuel for resentment toward friend and foe. No one likes to be miserable by themselves, so I wished unhappiness and disappointment on others so I wouldn’t feel so alone, so different, seemingly lacking control. I had spent my life feeling different, as if I missed out on some normalcy that only others had that I wanted. However, it felt elusive, impossible.
I can now truthfully say that I have been and am still working really hard to get better at practicing kindness and benevolence toward all others—even the jerk in the raised truck spewing exhaust and insecurity who cut me off in traffic.
Clearly, that’s why they call it a practice. I need more practice.
But, giving that gift to myself is not materializing as quickly. My inner critic is still alive and well with each misstep—when I make a wrong choice, say the words in anger, think the negative thoughts, berate myself for whatever I did that I wish I hadn’t, ate too much sugar, didn’t study enough, didn’t get the job I applied for, took my negative feelings out on those I love the most.
When I don’t do the thing, say the thing, be the thing that I want because I’m too worried about what others will think.
When I don’t give myself the grace I have learned to extend to others.
I am still unable to gracefully accept criticism or compliment, feeling defensiveness and the need to explain away both.
Instead of starting with the belief that others might, in fact, extend loving kindness and friendship to me in both criticism and compliment.
I am working to feel safe in my own space. I believe it must start there before I can find it anywhere else.
I can now whisper to myself, in moments of disappointment:
“Be gentle with yourself.”
And sometimes, my self will hear and handle me gently.
All parts of me are learning to share the same space—kind of like me and the insects on the bike path.