Loving Ourselves As a Whole

Yesterday I listened to a guided Loving Kindness a friend sent me that he had led for an online group. Moustafa Abdelrahman led the meditation in a way that I found really refreshing. Traditionally the practice moves from self, to a good friend, to a neutral person and then to a person we find difficult, finishing with expanding it out to all beings.  This approach started with a good friend, as a way to connect with Loving Kindness, then to a quality I really appreciate in myself, then a part I feel neutral about in me, then to a part that I feel uncomfortable about and perhaps hide from others. In this way it was a practice for loving myself as a whole – the parts I can appreciate, and the parts I push into the shadow or feel bad about – my procrastination, my fear of taking action, my tendency to worry and anxiety – holding these in a kind and loving attention along with qualities I might see as more positive.

I found this really powerful and want to explore it more, loving myself as a totality. It was healing in many ways. It can be hard to acknowledge having good qualities, and bringing a kind appreciation to this might feel hard for some, but by doing so it’s nurturing a sense of self worth. In contrast we might be all too aware of our short comings, but use this awareness to feel bad about ourselves and instead this approach allows us to turn a kind well wishing to where we struggle.

Unconditional Love

Loving Kindness is said to be unconditional – loving what is there for what it is, not because of what we get in return. How much more do we need this unconditional love towards ourselves? Samuel Becket said: “ever tried, ever failed? No matter, try again, fail again, fail better”. This is an expression of an attitude of Loving Kindness to the places where we struggle, fail or fall short – not demanding perfection in oder to be loved, but loving ourselves as we navigate our way through life, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.

When I learnt to meditate 30 years ago I would alternate between Loving Kindness and Mindfulness, sometimes doing both in one day. Now I focus on mindfulness and despite teaching self-care practices I noticed recently how I make little time for them in my own practice. I’ve started doing the 4-7-8 breathing each day to see the effect of doing this for a month and this is part of taking time to explore more of the self-care aspect of practice. I’m also committing to making this year a year focused more on Loving Kindness  and self-care practice.

Let It Be

As I do this a teaching by my teacher’s teacher Ajhan Chah has taken on extra significance. In talking about meditation he said:

Do not try to become anything.
Do not make yourself into anything.
Do not be a meditator.
Do not become enlightened.
When you sit, let it be.
When you walk, let it be.
Grasp at nothing.
Resist nothing.
If you haven’t wept deeply,
you haven’t begun to meditate.
I notice a resistance to turning fully towards what feels fragile, frightened or raw in my experience. When I learnt to meditate with an urban Buddhist group the emphasise was on focusing the mind and counting the breath to suppress mental activity and attain higher meditative states of absorption. Whilst I dropped this on entering the monastery, it has left a legacy of seeing a successful meditation as one where I’m focused and still. I see the danger of this, and for that reason in teaching emphasis letting go of any idea of a good meditation being  one where the mind is forced into silence. Seeking to force the mind into stillness I’m trying “to be a meditator” desperately trying “to be enlightened”. In fact I’m “grasping” at peace and “resisting” the raw chaos of being human.

The Frightened Gay Child

Instead, as I sit and “let it be” what comes through can be a rawness, a fear, an overwhelming sense of panic sometimes. At other times a sense of ease and joy. As I lay in bed today about to get up and meditate, I noticed a familiar sense of fear. I brought my hand to my heart and another to my shoulder and lay holding myself – remembering the last line of this teaching, and whilst I did not weep, I lay feeling a fear that was embedded in my body, which as I breathed into it took me to being a child being told off, a child waking up feeling worried about the day ahead, a child that learnt to control his expressions of spontaneity in order to be loved, a child that knew he had a terrible secret – being gay – that had to be hidden, even from himself. And I spoke kindly to that fear in my body, held it and wished myself well. It feels as if there is so much more for my heart to open to and embrace and that will be the journey of this year.

Moustafa Abdelrahman is running some online mindfulness training courses. To see details click here

To join the gay men’s mindfulness group this Monday, 7.30-9.30pm, click here
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