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This is that time of year, time to be in love, fall in love and appreciate the love that exists in your life. I am reminded of the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” commandment.
Being kind and generous to others is rewarded. It’s even said in the yoga tradition that the path of service, or karma yoga, can lead to enlightenment.
I don’t doubt that, but why is it that flight attendants have to remind us to put our own oxygen mask on in an emergency before we help others? Could it be we forget to take care of ourselves in the name of service?
Let’s look at this commandment more closely: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Perhaps we have to start with loving ourselves. How do you love yourself?
Sometimes when people come to learn to meditate we take a look at how they treat themselves. Every one of us has thoughts in meditation or sometimes drift off in a daydream, but there are some students that are so hard on themselves when this happens—getting angry or frustrated with themselves—a habit they’ve fallen into as a way to make themselves do it right.
Some people simply believe they can’t do it at all, or that there is something inherently wrong with them. Of course they can meditate, I remind them. I’ve never yet met someone who can’t.
Learn to love yourself as you love your neighbor I suggest that they practice being sweet to themselves, in and out of meditation. And by sweet, I don’t mean buying a new outfit or an ice cream, I mean actually being kind to yourself, and paying attention to yourself.
Maybe you’ve forgotten your own inner loveliness. You are wise, you are kind, you are aware and you know what is good for you on a very basic level.
Being unkind to ourselves can simply be an old habit. It might come up that someone stays in a relationship that isn’t nourishing, or they say nasty things to themselves when they look in the mirror, or don’t take good care of their body, or don’t listen to their own inner wisdom.
What if we treated our neighbor based on the ways that we sometimes treat (or loved) ourselves? We’d ignore them, say nasty things about them, or not care about them in some way. You see how that goes?
How we treat ourselves can inform everything we say or do. We have to become aware of it first, we each have to expand our awareness. I’ve written about really listening to yourself, discovering your intuition, asking yourself what you really want, living in tune with nature, beginning your meditation practice and remembering to be grateful.
But it all comes down to loving one’s self—which is often more difficult than it sounds. That’s why, last spring, my dear friend and retreat leader Kathy Zavada and I developed a retreat that focuses on cultivating self love: The Heart Opening Retreat, held in May in South Lake Tahoe.
There is a Buddhist medita•tion practice known as Loving Kindness (You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.) It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. In this simple practice, begin with truly experiencing love for yourself, and from there, meditate on kindness to others.
It goes like this:
• Sit down and relax your body.
• Bring your attention to your heart center, place your hand there gently if you’d like.
• Take some time to cultivate a warm and gentle feeling for yourself.
• Say some sweet things to yourself, silently with a sense of kindness and warmth (see some examples below.)
• Notice how your heart and mind respond. There is no need to hurry.
• Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own lov•ing intention. After you give yourself the attention, send the intention for all beings to be well and free from suffering.
Take three breaths through your nose, deeper than normal, and come back to yourself and the environment you are sitting in.
Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.
Here are some intentions I use, choose one that resonates with you, or come up with your own:
• May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be free from suffering. May I be at peace.
• I am safe. I am cared for. I am loved and all is well.
• May I become an intimate, kind and friendly force for myself and be intimate with my life and all of life.
• May I be completely present in my own life.
• May I know and experience God fully.
• I accept myself exactly as I am and as I am not.
• May I remember the universal kindness that surrounds me at every moment.
• There is no one on Earth who is more deserving of my love than me.
• May I be on my own side and not betray myself.
• The more I practice Loving Kindness, the more I learn to know myself as a person capable of warmth, of sweetness, of love and a peaceful response to life. I trust myself more and have more to give. Each act of kindness to others then becomes an act of gentle•ness to myself and to my own spirit.