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Is yours a kind mind?
When you encounter someone, do you greet them with an open-hearted presence, or do you find yourself sizing them up, making judgments and assumptions about their appearance, behavior, and status?
What about how you encounter yourself? Are you quick to blame and judge what you think, feel, say, and do?
When you make a mistake, or think thoughts you believe you shouldn’t, do you berate yourself like an angry, blaming parent, or are you compassionate and patient with yourself, telling yourself you love and trust yourself to do better next time?
Most of us tend toward being unkind to ourselves. Unkind self-thoughts come in many flavors and are sometimes crueler than the judgments we have of others. We can even have unkind thoughts about our own unkind thoughts! We tell ourselves, “Snap out of it,” “Stop feeling that way,” “I’ll never get it right,” or “I’ll never measure up.”
Our minds can feel like endless, vicious feedback loops.
A friend who once studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi shared a mantra that the venerable founder of Transcendental Meditation gave them to recite when the mind starts its negative nosedive: “Oh, my mind, be good to me.”
This mantra has helped me to mitigate many negative thought spirals and, over time, has morphed and expanded for me. Now, when my mind is getting particularly self-disparaging, I say to myself:
“Oh, my mind, be kind to me. Thank you. I love you.”
Personally, I find telling the mind to be “good” can elicit too many thoughts about what a good or bad thought should be, which evokes more self-judgment. For me, inviting self-kindness is simpler and more direct. Kindness entails being compassionate, understanding, helpful, and patient with myself. And when I am kind to myself, I also seem naturally to have more bandwidth for extending kindness to others.
Telling the mind, “thank you” does two things. First, it shows respect and appreciation for our mind. After all, our mind only wants us to be happy and will go into overdrive trying to make it so. It constantly watches out for our well-being by scanning for physical and emotional dangers and creating ways to secure our safety and success. Second, in expressing and feeling gratitude for ourselves and our minds, we are not identifying exclusively with our thoughts.
The “I” that is grateful to the mind is not exactly the same mind that identifies itself with its own limited and biased attitudes and beliefs. You might say that, when thanking the self, the “I” that feels gratitude is the “I” not of the mind but of the heart. It is that in us which is compassionate, forgiving, and loving. Some see this as a more transcendent or universal aspect of the self.
The most powerful part of my mantra is saying “I love you” to my mind. One could argue that, if we want to get rid of our negative thoughts, we should not reinforce them by telling them that we love them. However, we know that what we resist persists—simply telling our thoughts to go away seldom works.
There is an amazing vibration to the words, “I love you.” Consider a time you were really angry at someone but when they said “I love you,” you melted and your anger softened, at least a little. The same thing happens when we say those magic words to our mind. Our thoughts can soften and may lessen or dissipate.
As Dr. Mark Abramson says in his book, Love Yourself for Everyone Else’s Sake, self-love is our birthright. Offering love to our spiraling negative mind is a gift to ourselves that can decrease the spinning.
Here’s the exercise I use to stop the mind’s unkind self-thoughts and to be compassionate with myself:
Think of one of your negative thought-spirals. Perhaps it’s happening right now.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t possibly love my crazy, negative mind. This mantra will never work for me.”
Whatever it is, start by saying to your mind, “Oh my mind, be kind to me.” Imagine yourself being kinder to yourself, then take a breath to feel the kindness.
Then, thank your mind. You can thank it for being on constant alert to protect you, for navigating complex relationships and career choices, and for deciding the best course of action in difficult situations. You can thank it for its creativity, brilliance, and ingenuity.
Lastly, say aloud (yes, out loud!) three times, “My mind, I love you.” Say it sincerely, like you mean it, or at least with a neutral tone leaving out any sarcasm. Why aloud? Because you can feel the vibration of those words more clearly when sounded out. Observe any changes in the mind when doing this exercise, and feel free to repeat it as necessary.
Self-love is actually the key to happiness. Many of us are dedicated to being kind, loving, and forgiving of others—to love our neighbor as ourselves. However, if we are not being kind nor loving to ourselves, it is quite plausible that we will not be able to be authentically, intrinsically kind or loving to others.
Learning to love ourselves—mistakes, judgments, and all—is perhaps our greatest challenge. Yet, coming from the heart and being kind to our own thoughts teaches us how to be truly compassionate and loving, without exception.
Next time your mind goes rogue, try my mantra. And be sure to say “I love you” out loud—it is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves as well as others.