Loving your inner critic (Day 15)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

We all have an inner critic that tells us we’re not good enough. Sometimes it tells us far worse things than that — that we’re worthless, that no one likes us, that we’re essentially unlovable. In cultivating metta we’re supposed to love ourselves, but the inner critic is a part of us; how do we love that? And how to we stop listening to the inner critic long enough to experience any love for ourselves?

Actually all practice helps deal with our inner critic. Any mindfulness practice helps because as soon as you’re mindful of the brain’s “self-hatred module” you’re no longer being self-hatred. Self hatred is at its worst when we think that the voice it speaks with is “us.” But you’re not speaking with that voice as long as you’re standing apart from it and relating to it in some way. You’re hearing the voice, not being the voice. To relate to the inner critic in any way — even if it’s just mindfully listening to its words — is to stand apart from it. That distance, however slight to begin with, is crucial.

And like in the cute story about the two wolves (too well known to bear repeating), you’re choosing which wolf to feed — the wolf of love or the wolf of hatred. And your brain being an economical sort of organ, unused parts will start to atrophy so that your body’s resources can be used elsewhere. Your brain is malleable and adaptable and the part of it devoted to self-hatred will wither away.

Your lovingkindness practice helps because you can take this “standing back” a bit further. You’re standing back and you can wish the self-hatred module well. And you can become aware of any pain that your inner critic gives rise to and give it compassion too. This is all very healing.

There’s another effect of metta too, which is that you’re learning a more effective strategy for relating to yourself and finding happiness. Self-hatred is, oddly enough, a way of seeking happiness. The idea behind it is that if you criticize yourself enough for “making mistakes” you won’t make them in the future, and therefore you’ll be better, more popular, happier. It doesn’t work, of course, so it’s a very ineffective strategy. But it’s helpful to recognize that your self-hatred actually is based on a desire to be happier and to avoid suffering. Its motivation is fine — it’s the strategy it uses that’s messed up.

Mindfulness and metta give us different and more effective ways to deal with our “faults” — our unhelpful habits that cause suffering for ourselves and others. We can be more forgiving and kinder. We can want to change, but not be so punitive about it. Self-hatred assumes it’s necessary for our well-being, but we can live perfectly well without it.

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Speak kindly to yourself (Day 14)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

The other day I found myself having one of those odd, but common, daydreams where I was complaining to one friend about another friend. I was telling him about a situation where this third party was emotionally cutting me off. The conversation went on for a minute or so, and then I slipped from my daydream back into a more mindful state and realized that what I was saying wasn’t even close to being true. It was almost totally a fabrication. There was a tiny grain of truth, but the reality was completely different from how I was presenting it. I think what was happening was that I was looking for sympathy by taking a fear of being emotionally excluded and creating a whole story about it. Or at least I was rehearsing doing this, since the whole episode took place in my mind.

I think this kind of thing is very common. We talk to ourselves in this way, magnifying our problems and “catastrophizing.” Sometimes we even believe the stories we’re telling ourselves, and then we get very stressed or depressed.

I bring this up because the way we talk to ourselves can be kind or unkind, and as part of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness we’re seeking to live more kindly. I was “speaking” in an unkind way about a third party, and in doing so I was causing myself suffering. I was creating the very sense of emotional exclusion that I was complaining about!

And we create suffering for ourselves all the time in this way, by our self-talk. Many people berate themselves — “I’m such an idiot!” — in a very harsh way. Or they may be assuming that other people are thinking kind thoughts about them. Or they may have angry conversations going on in their minds. Or they may be thinking about things that are going wrong in their lives, and generalizing these to think that their lives as a whole are going wrong.

All of these forms of self-talk cause suffering.

So a good question to bear in mind is, “How is the way I’m talking to myself affecting how I feel?” Is your self-talk helping you to be more loving, more expansive, more at peace, more contented, or more energized, or is your self-talk making you feel isolated, stressed, dejected, angry, or anxious?

I’ve said before that we can regard our suffering as a “mindfulness bell” that calls us to notice how we’re relating to our experience, and that includes noticing how we’re talking to ourselves. So when you notice that you’re feeling unhappy, start to observe also what the tone of your inner conversations is.

I call suffering a “mindfulness bell” partly to suggest that it’s not helpful for us to make judgements about how we’re feeling or how we’re thinking. And by making judgments I mean that we can look at our feeling and thinking and then start talking about it in an unhelpful way — again berating ourselves, becoming depressed, angry, etc. Instead of doing this, realize that it’s just normal for us to let our thinking create suffering. None of us is 100% mindful, and so we’re going to find that the mind gets out of hand in this way. The important thing is that every time we notice that our thoughts are causing us suffering, we let go of those thoughts and then begin attending to our experience in a more skillful way — that is, a way that leads to less suffering.

So you might want just to let go of your unhelpful thinking and notice the physical sensations in your body and arising from the world around you. Or sometimes you might want to introduce some skillful — honest, kind, compassionate — thoughts. You can kindly contradict the untruths and exaggerations you’ve been telling yourself. You can reassure yourself — “It’s OK to feel this.”

As you let go of your unhelpful thoughts, or replace them with more honest and compassionate thoughts, the way you feel will change. It may be a small change, but as the Buddha said, “Think not lightly of good, saying, ‘It will not come to me.’ Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise, gathering it little by little, fill themselves with good.”

You can have confidence in this. No, you are not doing to eradicate your suffering or your unhelpful mental habits overnight. But you have the power to let go of your thoughts, and you have the power to cultivate skillful thoughts. And drop by drop by drop our hearts become filled with feelings of kindness, compassion, and joy.

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Cocooned in lovingkindness (Day 13)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

We’re almost two weeks into this 100 Days of Lovingkindness, but even after just five or six days the quality of my experience was radically different from usual.

I’ve felt considerably happier than I normally do. Blissfully happy, often. I’ve been much more patient with my children. I’ve been buffered from things that would normally press my buttons. I’ve been cocooned in lovingkindness.

To give you an example, last week I dropped my beloved iPad mini as I was putting it into my bag to head to work. I didn’t notice until I actually arrived at the office, but there was a huge crack right across the screen. Normally I’d feel sick about something like this, partly because the device is something I enjoy using and I’d hate to see it marred, and partly because the repair bill on something like that is very high. But when I saw that the screen was cracked I just thought, “Oh, well” and continued with my day. I had no sense of being upset by it at all.

Another example: last night I came down with a migraine, having had a headache building all day. I’d just been spending too much time on the computer — all these 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts! — and hadn’t been taking enough breaks or being careful enough about my posture. So I had a horrible headache and waves of nausea flooding my body. And my wife was away for the evening so I had to put the kids to bed. After they were asleep I went to lie down in bed and started to turn toward the pain. I noticed these pulses of pain and waves of nausea, and sent them lovingkindness. And then to my surprise I found that I was experiencing a powerful sense of joy, and even had waves of pleasurable energy (pīti) flowing up and down my back. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced with a migraine before, although I have had them diminish or vanish entirely when I’ve meditated with them.

And the surprising thing is that it’s not like I’ve been doing anything like retreat-level amounts of meditation. I’ve been doing perhaps a bit more than 90 minutes of meditation (including some walking metta bhavana) on a good day, and only 30 minutes on my busier days.

My life hasn’t been 100% positive. I felt a bit irritable yesterday as the migraine was building, although by the time it was a full-blown attack I was no longer feeling that way. Early in the day the irritability flared up a little when one person online responded to me with what I saw as passive-aggressive communication, and when another couple of people seemed to be taking pleasure in seeing a child being humiliated, but I decided just to extricate myself from those conversations and not look back. It was easy to let go of my irritable thoughts.

On the whole it’s been one of the most joyful periods I’ve had in my life, outside of some retreat experiences.

Partly this is due, no doubt, to consistency of practice. By the time you read this I’ll have done 199 continuous days of meditation, and just before 100 Days of Lovingkindness began we’d finished the 100 Day Meditation Challenge. I think that really “primed the pumps” emotionally.

What’s really surprised me, though, is that I normally make an effort to be mindful in daily life. Mindfulness has a buffering effect on us, too. And I’ve been putting no more effort into practicing and developing lovingkindness than I usually put into practicing and developing mindfulness. So I can only conclude that lovingkindness practice brings about a much greater degree of emotional resiliency than mindfulness practice alone. Although it’s not a very fitting analogy, you get more “bang for your buck.”

I’m guessing that the reason for this is that mindfulness is like hoeing your garden and keeping it weed free, while lovingkindness is like planting seeds and growing flowers. It’s not enough simply to prevent negative states from arising, you need to cultivate the positive. I know this, of course. I’ve known it for a long time. But it’s very rewarding to see this truth illustrated in my own life.

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Guardian angel meditation (Day 11)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

You know when you’re sitting on a subway and there’s someone sitting directly opposite? It’s kind of awkward — all that trying not to make eye contact, and those embarrassing moments when we get caught looking at them…

There’s something of this sometimes in the metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness) meditation practice. It’s not so bad with the friend, since you’re used to making eye contact with them, but even there is can feel a bit odd to be mentally “sitting opposite” them for ten minutes or so. It’s just not very natural, is it? It’s rather stilted.

For quite a while now, I’ve been doing the lovingkindness practice in a different way. For one thing I’ve been imagining the other person not as being statically opposite me, but as going about their daily business. I might visualize my friend working on his computer, or practicing the piano, or doing some gardening. The “neutral person” I might see working at their counter in the post office…

It’s not that I have one ongoing movie, by the way. It’s more a series of fragmented images. That seems to be enough.

So that’s step one.

Step two is that I see myself as an invisible presence. I’m that person’s guardian angel, wishing them well.

I sometimes will imagine that I’m laying a hand on them in a loving touch, and sending my love into their body as I say “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be at peace.” Sometimes I’ll imagine that there’s light streaming from my body to theirs as I repeat the phrases. Sometimes I’ll just see the person “doing their thing” and repeat the phrases.

Usually I’ll smile.

I think I got the idea from the Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire (Himmel Ãœber Berlin) where invisible angels patrol the city of Berlin, touching people and feeling their pain, although in the movie this is rather depressing and you don’t get the impression that they actually alleviate much suffering.

But I like the idea. We all are familiar with the idea of guardian angels, but we usually think in terms of having one. I think it’s even lovelier to think in terms of being one.

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“For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.” (Day 9)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Yesterday I discussed what “well” means when we say “May you be well.” It’s not as straightforward as “physical health.” Today I’d like to talk about what “happy” means when we say “May you be happy.” Again this isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

I was prompted to think about this because of questions people had about the recent bombings at the Boston marathon, and what it means to cultivate lovingkindness for the bomber or bombers. But this applies to many of the people we find difficult, and whom we bring into the fourth stage of the metta bhavana practice.

One person commented that some of the people he finds difficult are destructive and “cause problems for those around them, and inflict pain on others, in family or work contexts.”

So naturally we wouldn’t want them to go around wreaking destruction in this way, but being happier as they did so! And in fact he spelled that out:

I have no difficulty wishing that they be physically healthy and safe. But I imagine their “happiness” or “living with ease” as very probably involving the detriment of others – if they do not change their behaviour.

It’s the last part — “if they do not change their behaviour” — that’s the key. Because from a Buddhist point of view, real happiness isn’t an add-on extra that you can simply bolt onto an existing life that’s deeply unskillful. Real happiness is actually the outcome of a life lived skillfully, and so in wishing that the difficult person be happy, we’re wishing that they be the kind of person who is kind, and mindful, and who creates happiness.

There are different kinds of happiness, according to Buddhist teachings. For example there is, according to one sutta, worldly happiness, unworldly happiness, and a still greater unworldly happiness.

I won’t go into these in detail, but the point is clear that there is a hierarchy of types of happiness, from the worldly (which includes the pleasure people get from being unkind), to the unworldly (which includes the happiness we get from meditation, although this would include all happiness that we get from acting with mindfulness and kindness), to the “still greater unworldly happiness” which arises in the mind that is freed of greed, hatred, and delusion.

So when you’re wishing that someone who normally acts destructively be “happy” you’re wishing them at least the “unworldly” happiness that comes from being an aware, empathic, ethically responsible human being, and maybe even the “still greater unworldly happiness” that comes from being enlightened.

And actually, this is a tough thing to wish on anyone! When we move from acting unskillfully to becoming more mindful and loving, there’s a time when we look back at our lives and have to accept responsibility for the harm we’ve done. And this is a very painful thing. In thinking of the true happiness of awakening, I’m reminded of Rilke’s words, “For here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life.” The mind of compassion that develops within us, becomes the place where we are seen, and so our lives must change — sometimes painfully.

Now I’m not suggesting that we wish pain on anyone, but just pointing out that to wish someone real happiness is not to wish that they be given a free pass that absolves them of the harm they’ve caused. It’s to wish that they be seen by their own conscience, and that they do the hard work that this “being seen” demands.

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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Learning to see with the eyes of wholeness (Day 8)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

A sticking point some people have with lovingkindness practice is what it means to wish someone “well.” This came up the other day with someone who has health difficulties that just aren’t going to go away. What does it mean for him to wish himself well? He’s not ever going to be completely healthy, so wellness is never going to be attained. What’s the point of wishing yourself something you can’t have? Isn’t that just a source of suffering. Yikes!

And the same applies to others. If you have a friend who’s, say, dying of cancer, what does it mean to wish them well?

There’s a nice little dialog that the Buddha has where he does some self-commentary — basically going over a teaching he’d previously passed on, and saying what he’d really meant. And it’s rather fascinating, because when you read the original verse you think you know what the Buddha meant, but you’re wrong:

Health is the most precious gain
and contentment the greatest wealth.
A trustworthy person is the best kinsman,
Nibbana the highest bliss.

That’s from the Dhammapada, and it’s verse 204. It’s hard to imagine anything more straightforward than the first line, which basically is equivalent to the old saying, “if you have your health you have everything.”

But in a discussion with a healthy man (who says he’s therefore happy), the Buddha says that’s not what he meant at all.

The body is “a calamity and an affliction” even when it’s healthy, he points out. You might say that a healthy body is an unhealthy body waiting to happen. The “health” that the Buddha’s talking about is freedom from mental suffering, which ultimately is enlightenment. Now even the enlightened get physically sick and experience physical pain and discomfort, but they don’t have the secondary suffering that comes with having aversion to sickness, and for craving for things to be otherwise. Think about the self-pity we commonly experience when we’re sick. That resistance to sickness, that “poor me” attitude, is far more painful than the actual illness itself. So this is all dropped when we’re enlightened, and there’s no more aversion or craving. Now we don’t have to be enlightened to experience this freedom (although you have to be enlightened to permanently experience it).

When we say “may I (or you) be well” we’re wishing ourselves or others freedom from the secondary suffering of aversion and craving with regard to the sickness. We’re wishing that the discomfort of illness be borne mindfully. We’re wishing that we, or the other person, be at peace with whatever is happening with the body.

Jon Kabat-Zinn puts this very nicely:

Healing does not mean curing, although the two words are often used interchangeably, While it may not be possible for us to cure ourselves or to find someone who can, it is always possible for us to heal ourselves. Healing implies the possibility for us to relate differently to illness, disability, even death, as we learn to see with eyes of wholeness. Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.

Of course if there’s a cure, that’s great. You can wish someone well in the sense that you hope they’ll be back to health. But in the long term we’re all headed for sickness and death, and true peace and happiness is going to come from patient acceptance of those things we cannot change. We “learn to see with eyes of wholeness” and accept, without resistance or aversion, even the most painful experiences.

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness Post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness Post]
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Looking with loving eyes (Day 3)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

For today’s adventure in 100 Days of Lovingkindness I’m going to share a way of relating that I call “loving gaze.” This is borrowed from Jan Chozen Bays, who writes in How to Train a Wild Elephant of the practice of “Loving Eyes.”

In her book she says:

We know how to use loving eyes when we are falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal. Why do we not use loving eyes more often?

So what we can do is to recall, or even just imagine, the experience of looking with loving eyes. You can recall (or imagine) looking at a beloved child, or a lover, or even a pet. I find that the sense of care, and appreciation, and non-judgement is very transferrable, so once you’ve evoked a loving gaze you can turn that sense of looking lovingly upon yourself. As you notice the body, your breathing, your thoughts, etc., you can look at them with loving eyes.

And once you’ve evoked that for yourself, you can now turn your loving gaze upon others: friends, people you don’t know, people you have difficulty with, animals, all beings…

This, I find, is a very quick way to help lovingkindness to emerge.

And when we do this, everything we experience seems to become gentler and softer. The world appears to be a lovelier, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, place. Even the ugly bits of life seem beautiful in their ugliness. And we start to realize that the world is our experience of the world, which is not separable from ourselves. And so when we change, the world we perceive changes too. The world of our experience becomes more loving, more tender.

There’s something Chozen says about this that always blows me away:

Seeing with loving eyes is not a one-way experience, nor is it just a visual experience. When we touch something with loving eyes, we bring a certain warmth from our side, but we may also be surprised to feel warmth radiating back to us. We begin to wonder, is everything in the world made of love? And have I been blocking that out? [Emphasis added]

Give it a try, both in your sitting practice and as you go about your daily life. You can start right now, as your eyes scan the words in front of you. Look with love. And then carry that loving gaze into your next activity.

[See the previous 100 Days post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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Getting started with lovingkindness (Day 1 of 100 Days of Lovingkindness)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Welcome to Day 1 of 100 Days of Lovingkindness!

So, what’s this 100 Days of Lovingkindness about?

We have a thriving community of practitioners over on Google Plus (do feel free to join us). We discuss our meditation practice and our lives, and we give each other support and encouragement. It’s wonderful. And late last year someone said they’d just meditated for 100 straight days and someone else suggested that we should all commit ourselves to sitting for 100 straight days in the New Year, and that turned more into the idea of establishing a habit of daily sitting over 100 days, and so we did the 100 Day Meditation Challenge together. Many of us sat for 100 straight days, and lot of people, although not sitting quite every day, did a great job of building that habit of daily sitting.

And as the 100 Day Meditation Challenge came to an end, we thought, “What next?”

And what’s next is focusing on developing qualities of lovingkindness, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity over the next 100 days. It’s 100 Days of Lovingkindness.

Want to join us?

I suppose you’ll want to know what it involves?

There are just these few things:

  • Do some formal seated lovingkindness meditation every day, for at least five minutes (longer if possible, but five minutes is your emergency fall-back position).
  • A day is the time between waking and sleeping, not a calendar day, so if you don’t sit until midnight you haven’t blown it!.
  • Make some effort to cultivate or practice lovingkindness in daily life.
  • Share what you’re doing with others (here, or on Facebook, or on Google+, which is where the main activity is.
  • If you forget to meditate one day, you haven’t “blown it.” The point is to work for one hundred days to being more lovingkindness into our lives, not to “be perfect.” If you fall off the wagon, just get straight back on.

Uh, what’s “lovingkindness”?

Good question. Lovingkindness meditation is a practice in which we contact and strengthen our innate desire for beings, including ourselves, to be happy. Lovingkindness is kindly awareness. When our kindly awareness meets suffering, it becomes compassion, which is the desire that beings, including ourselves, be free from suffering. So lovingkindness and compassion are simply different modes of the same experience, a desire that beings be happy and free from suffering.

Consider the following reflections:

  • You want, generally speaking, to be happy. You don’t want, generally speaking, to suffer. (Is this true for you?)
  • Happiness is often much harder to find than you think it’s going to be, and suffering is something that you experience more often than you want to. (Is this also true for you?)

Really pause for a moment and check out the truth of those statements in your heart.

Now, having let these thoughts drop into your mind, and having sensed the truth of them in your experience, ask yourself whether there is some part of you that can respond with support and sympathy as you do this difficult thing of being human — as you go about this task of living, hoping for and seeking happiness and finding it elusive, hoping and trying to avoid suffering and finding that it arises all too often.

And then consider that these reflections are true for others as well. All beings, whether you like them or don’t like them, whether you know them or not, are in the same situation as you are. Is there some part of you that can support and cherish the aspirations of other beings as they struggle to find happiness and escape suffering, as they too do this difficult thing of being human? This perspective is the essence of cultivating both lovingkindness and compassion.

So this is a very natural thing, although it may go hugely against some of our conditioning. (“You mean I’m allowed to like myself!”)

OK! How do I start?

We actually have a fairly extensive guide to lovingkindness practice on this site, and you can start with cultivating lovingkindness toward yourself here.

Of, if you want, you can just go straight to this short guided meditation. It was recorded a long time ago, on very poor equipment, but if you can overlook those deficiencies I hope you’ll find it beneficial.

And over the next 99 days, although not necessarily every day, we’ll be sharing various resources, tips, and teachings on various forms of lovingkindness practice. Once again, I hope you’ll join us. Leave a quick comment below if you’re on board…

[See the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post :: See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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Vocabulary refresher course in the language of mindfulness meditation

Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times: The vocabulary of meditation can be a barrier for people who feel that they’re entering a strange world, experts say. Here are some common words.

Buddha: meaning one who is awake, in Sanskrit. The Buddha was a person, not a god, who lived more than 2,000 years ago; from a privileged family, he became a seeker of truth and eventually became enlightened.

Dharma: often used to mean the teachings of Buddhism and meditation.

Mantra: a word — “om” being perhaps the most famous — repeated as a way to keep the mind focused on one spot during meditation.

Metta: loving kindness. In metta meditation, a person seeks to evoke such feelings for oneself or others independent of self-interest. Phrases such as, “May I be safe, may I be peaceful and happy,” can be repeated in the meditation.

Mindfulness: “a receptive attention to present-moment experience or attention to present-moment experience with a stance of open curiosity” (from Diana Winston of UCLA).

Transcendental meditation: a form of meditation using a mantra, introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and popularized these days by such people as filmmaker David Lynch.

Vipassana: another name for insight meditation to cultivate mindfulness.

Zafu: a round cushion used for sitting during meditation.

— Mary MacVean

Read the original article »…

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Love yourself, and your self will love you back

Boy looking at his own reflection

This post is part of our 100-Day Meditation Challenge.

This week one of my students described how she tends to talk to herself in a very harsh tone of voice — much harsher than she’d ever use with other people. And that’s a very common experience. In our own minds we often describe ourself as “an idiot,” tell ourselves that our actions were “stupid,” or limit ourselves by telling cruel stories about how people don’t like us and how we’ll never be good at the things we do.

We tend not to talk this way to others, or at least to a much lesser extent. Of course if we do there tends to be a backlash. We cause hurt, anger, fear. We probably wouldn’t have any friends and we’d be very unpopular with our colleagues if we talked this way to others as often as we do to ourselves.

Sometimes, though, we do talk harshly others. We feel free to speak in harsher ways to those we’re closest to. Maybe we feel that we can be ourselves, or perhaps we just can’t keep up a pretense of “niceness” for the length of time we’re with our families. Oh, and mostly your family’s not going to leave you if you’re harsh to them. Your children can’t (not until they’re older) and your partner probably won’t because they’ve invested too much in the relationship.

And some bosses feel they can behave this way. They have a power imbalance on their side. And once again subordinates are not likely to walk out of the door; they need the paycheck.

So it’s mostly when we’re with people a lot, and when the other people can’t leave, that we let rip with the negativity.

Well, who else are we with a lot? And who else can’t leave? Ourselves, of course.

I don’t think we ever quite get used to the abuse we give ourselves. I don’t think we ever quite manage to let it slide off like water off the proverbial duck’s back. I think on some level there is hurt, anger, fear every time we berate ourselves. And along with that goes physical tension, and unhappiness.

It’s very interesting when we consciously practice sending ourselves love. Say, for example, you’re meditating and you’re becoming aware of the body. And instead of judging the body for being tense, or for being in pain, or just for not feeling good, we do the opposite and send love to the body. We have what I call a “loving gaze” and look at the body the same way we would look at a sleeping child, or a lover. What happens? Generally the body produces pleasant sensations. There can be tingling, or feelings of energy, or pleasure. Sometimes the pleasure is local, and like a tingling flow of electrical current. Sometimes it buzzes throughout a whole muscle, or group of muscles. Sometimes it shoots around the body, like a firework display. Sometimes it fills the whole body, like a vibrant, pulsating cloud of physical delight.

I think this is the body loving us back. It’s like when a cat purrs when you’re stroking it. The cat is happy to be shown appreciation. And it shows appreciation back. When we love the body, the body loves us back.

Now it might seem odd to talk about the body as if it was a thing that is “not us.” But this is what Buddhism teaches. All of our experiences, and every part of us, is to be seen as “not me, not mine” (taṃ netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi). We think of “the self” as being a unitary thing. And how can a unitary thing relate to itself? But our selves are not unitary. The self is a collective of different parts, different modules, that coexist and cohabit, sometimes cooperatively and sometimes being in conflict. And when one part of ourself sends love to another, the other loves back.

We probably think, on some level, that being harsh on ourself is good for us, that if we punish ourself for “not being good enough,” we’ll start being “good enough.” But if this works at all, it comes at a price. Just as making colleagues or family members fearful, tense, or angry in response to your harshness doesn’t make life pleasant for you in the long term, so making yourself fearful, tense, or angry in response to your harshness isn’t going to bring happiness.

So try loving yourself. Love yourself, and your self will love you back.

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