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Learning to love oneself

Last week I spoke of noticing the ‘always’ and ‘never’ thoughts that can lie in wait to pounce on us at moments of stress. “Why do I always…” Instead with mindfulness one comes back to the present moment and notices that what’s happening right now is ‘this’. One doesn’t then need to draw from what has happened the conclusion this is all I am. Instead one can start to hold the present moment as an ever changing experience that includes times of struggle and also of joy. Its like the kaleidoscope I used to play with as a child – an ever changing pattern, growing out of what preceded it and morphing into what follows and yet also unique in itself at any one moment. Never still yet always perfect in the present moment. Each moment fresh and new yet intimately linked to past and future. I’ve often thought that a kaleidoscope is the perfect metaphor for the insight we seek through mindfulness practice. Letting go into the constant now that also embraces past and future thereby transcending time altogether. A state that just ‘is’ and that rests in perfect harmony with the flow of existence.

So what do we do when we’re not in this state but lost in the cacophony of gremlin voices of self-blame and self-bullying? I always find the Loving Kindness practice to be a great source of nourishment. On an absolute level there is no self so why wish oneself well? But on the relative level on which we all live there is very much the experience of a self to care for, nourish, sustain and love. A self who feel loneliness, the sting of indifference, the sorrow of loss and the desire to be happy. As a child I remember my mother chastising me with her favourite phrase of admonishment whenever I did anything that aroused her displeasure. She would tell me “I hadn’t go the brains I was born with”. Over time this found its way in to my way of thinking and in the background there’s always this feeling that I’m not up to much in the old intelligence department. This wasn’t helped by being undiagnosed as dyslexic so having to endure being treated as the thick boy who couldn’t spell and took longer than anyone else to copy information off the board, until I amazed my teachers by getting good exam results after the first year of secondary school!

What one can explore in the Loving Kindness practice is this background rumble of gremlin voices. Looking for a way to hold oneself with kindness despite a feeling on some level that one may not deserve it. Sitting with this and holding it with compassion can start to shift how one feels and open up a possibility for feeling a more gentle and compassionate attitude to oneself.

Learn to love yourself!

I saw a thought for the day on the white board at my local tube recently which said:

“No one is ever going to love you more than you love yourself. In other words, until you’re 100 percent into YOU, no one else will be. Do whatever it takes to increase your self confidence and love who you are. I mean, think about it. If you’re not connected to who you really are, how the heck are you going to connect with someone else?”

Its a bit of folk wisdom and we hear it said in various ways but its worth reflecting on.  For how much of our time is spent worrying about what others think of us or how we are going to come across? How often are the negative inner  scripts rehashes of thoughts about not being good enough for others, attractive enough for others or able to compare well to others perceived success or abilities?

So what happens when we turn our attention to loving ourselves?  Very often we notice quite a toxic inner world that is not always loving. As one notices thoughts its often very useful to take especial note of the ‘always’ and ‘never’ thoughts doing their gremlin work of undermining self esteem – the ones that follow the well read script of “Why am I always such a…” or “I’ll never….” or “I always…” and then simply stop, notice the thought, notice how it feels in your body, and breathe, and let go.  In doing this you might just be starting a process of letting go of one of the rumours that have invaded the mind. Thoughts can be like rumours and propaganda   We’ve heard them so many times we forget where they started or even that there was a time before they were there.  It seems as if its just how we are.

One example would be the thought “Why am I always so clumsy” as we spill something.  Well at that moment something clumsy has happened but we don’t then need to define ourselves by it.  If we were truly always clumsy we would barely be able to leave a room without leaving it looking like a tribute act to Laurel and Hardy had just passed through knocking over every chair and exploding every cooker.

Where do these gremlin voices come from, the rumours and propaganda whispering in the background of our mind about our faults and failings? Imagine a scene where a child spills a glass of  juice on the carpet. The mother says “why are you always so clumsy?!”, as she feels irritation at yet more work when she’s just finished cleaning.  But as a child we don’t reflect: “my mother is busy and tired and is irritated at having more work to do due to my action, and as a result she is expressing irritation at a specific event but making it generalised, but she would not intend it to define my future perception of myself; therefore I choose not to take it in as a seed for a future life long inner dialogue and accept that these things happen and we simply lean how to move on”. Well, unless one is Lisa Simpson or Spock! The more likely inner response is first a tightening and cramping in the tummy at the fear of arousing displeasure, or anger if one is more inclined to react that way. Then thoughts: “I’m so clumsy, I must try harder not to be or I’ll not be loved”; “or if the response were anger “Whats the point, one little thing and they always blame you so don’t trust anyone”.  And so a nice little gremlin has been let loose in the mind to grow and keep you company for the rest of your life: “why am I always so clumsy”, “I’ll never trust anyone”

The Loving Kindness practice is a great place for exploring this as well as for learning to hold ourselves in a much kinder and more accepting attitude.  So I hope you will be free on Monday night to come along and share in this and the other meditations.


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