This month, we'll be talking about an always popular subject-LOVE. Whether or not we are in a romantic relationship is beside the point. We are going to be focusing on loving-kindness toward ourselves, which by the way, is one definition of Maitri. We hear it all the time from books, speakers, and the usual experts. "You must love yourself first." Good idea of course. But exactly HOW do we begin to put this into practice? It comes as no surprise that many of us have some trouble when it comes to this task of loving ourselves. We live in a world that often does a masterful job of making us believe that who we are is not good enough. Everything from what kind of car we drive, to our job title, to our BMI, to how many wrinkles or gray hairs we've got--we're given constant and relentless reminders of the fact that, in at least some area of our life, we're probably not measuring up too well. Take a look at the 100 billion-dollar-a-year diet and beauty industry in the U.S., and it's not hard to see how much we long to love ourselves. Thankfully, many of us are starting to notice that the people who set the ridiculous standards for success and beauty also just happen to be the ones who profit the most when we fail to reach the bar. (Yep, we're on to you!) Many of us also grew up in families where unconditional love wasn't exactly in ample supply. So we grew up and carried on the legacy of self-criticism, self-doubt, even self-hate, all of which leads us to plenty of self-defeat. It can be a vicious cycle, but it certainly doesn't have to stay that way!
So let's talk about how to begin, right where we are today. Someone out there might be thinking, "Love myself? Yeah, right! I'm 20 pounds overweight. I'm bored with my job. My dreams are going nowhere...I'm not even sure I like myself!" Rest assured, we've been there! As with most things in life, it's about the journey. Loving ourselves is not a destination. It's a choice, one we make each day, one moment at a time.
Here's some thoughts from Pema Chodron, about joy and loving oneself. "We usually seek joy in the wrong places, by trying to avoid feeling whole parts of the human condition. We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves. However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness. This combination of honesty, or clear-seeing, and kindness is the essence of maitri—unconditional friendship with ourselves." A blunt interpretation might sound something like, "We're not perfect, and we're not meant to be. But if we're honest enough and kind enough with ourselves, we can love who we really are."
It might be tempting to dangle self-love out in front like a carrot, telling ourselvles things like, "Once I change ________, then I will really love myself!" There's nothing wrong with wanting to make changes in our lives, but withholding love isn't going to make that happen any faster. In fact, withholding love makes it nearly impossible to make lasting change because we lack a solid foundation on which to build. Not to mention that no matter how hard we try for them, those blasted carrots have a way of staying just out of reach! By first loving ourselves unconditionally, we give ourselves strength, confidence, and the support we need to achieve our biggest dreams. So if you're up for the challenge, let's move on to this month's Maitri Movements, where we encourage you, and ourselves too, to take some small steps. We promise, it will be fun too!
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