Welcome back to part 3 of this Self Compassion Series. If you haven’t been able to read my 2 previous posts I urge you to go back and give them a go prior to diving into this piece.
One of the main ways we can practice Self Compassion is through our meditation practice.
Meditation practices that are typically used for cultivating Self Compassion are called Metta Meditation or Loving Kindness Meditation. The goal is to cultivate feelings of loving kindness for ourselves AND others by repeating simple phrases.
The traditional form of Metta Meditation uses a series of phrases that are repeated to cultivate loving kindness for yourself, for someone you love, for someone that is difficult and lastly for the world as a whole (or ALL beings).
The world renown teacher Sharon Salzburg is a wonderful resource for all things LovingKindness. After reading her book “Real Love” I embarked on this journey to practice Metta Meditation more consistently. But as I attempted many of the practices I just couldn’t connect with them. I didn’t genuinely feel the phrases as I repeated them. I started to feel like something was wrong with me. If you resonate with what I am saying I am here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you. These are not easy practices and this is why I mention in my previous post that half the battle is making these work FOR YOU.
What I didn’t do was get discouraged and stop practice. I set a new intention to discover what would work for me. I wanted to figure out how to create something that made me genuinely excited to practice Self Compassion. I wanted to get to the heart of what self compassion meant to me.
Ultimately I landed on several practices but one that stuck with me was my own Metta Meditation.
“May I be love
May I be joy
May I be at ease
May I be free from suffering”
What follows are a few things to help you along your own Self Compassion Journey. I hope you enjoy and are able to take at least one thing away.
1) Spend time thinking about how you want to feel about yourself.
This is not easy and for many can be quite difficult. It certainly was for me. In November I ran a group meditation challenge where I gave a Loving Kindness meditation. The overwhelming feedback I got was that it was really hard. We as humans rarely struggle to give kindness and compassion to others. We are very slim on this for ourselves.
I will add that much of this is about dedicating time to self reflection. Many people don’t take the time to do this but it is extremely important. But, here are a few questions and prompts to get you started. Oftentimes the answer to these will not come in one sitting. This is where I suggest you have a journal or maybe a notes section on your phone to keep the stream of thinking going.
How do you feel about yourself right now? Personally? Professionally? In relationships?
How do you want to feel about yourself?
Is there a disconnect here?
What do you value?
What do you want to embody?
I spent a lot of time thinking about these things and journaling about them. This was a time in my life where I was still dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress. I was also still very much mending a broken heart and was really struggling to feel good about myself. I felt very depleted energy wise and thought that came across to the world in my day to day.
I remember around this time I went to lunch with a yoga teacher that I admired. I had been taking her classes and following her on social media. As I sat across from her I remember looking at her and being able to see the amount of joy and love she felt for her life. It was as if her pores exuded light. I walked away from that lunch thinking, man I want to feel that. I felt so far from love and joy.
I wanted to feel love and joy. I want to BE love and joy. I wanted to bring love and joy to the world.
So there it was.
“May I be love”
“May I be joy”
These became two phrases in my practice. By thinking about all of these prompts (and committing to self reflection in general) I believe you will land on a practice that resonates with you.
2) Start slowly and go slowly
For some reason the story of the Little Engine That Could comes to mind here.
“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can” the Little Engine kept repeating. For many people I come across and athletes that have tried Loving Kindness they speak about this repetition of phrases with such aggression. As if saying or repeating these phrases with more will, emphasis and pace will help solidify them into being.
I actually find the opposite to work. Slow is where it’s at.
Why? Because I believe that this is SUCH a counterintuitive practice for our 21st brain. If we try to force it, it backfires.
For the first few weeks once I derived my own Metta Meditation, I could only write them down. I knew I wanted to work with these phrases and I wanted so badly to feel them but I was still having so much resistance. I was so used to hate and pain that I really struggled to open to these.
So I didn’t push it. I kept writing them down, staring at them and just reading them. I also spent quite a while just using the phrases “May I be at ease” and “May I be free from suffering” before adding the love and joy.
Eventually, like ice slowly thawing, I was able to work into a seated practice with all four of my phrases. When I did I found that going slowly was the best rhythm. I took my time with each phrase. As I repeated the phrases in my mind I took the time to pause and let them simmer in my soul. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is how you FEEL what you are trying to cultivate. Let your phrases land in your body. Notice what sensations and emotions come up for you. You can only do this by moving slowly. You will notice that you get distracted. Sometimes I would say a phrase, pause and my mind would wander off. All good. That happens. Just take a deep breath and come back to the next phrase (if you even remember where you left off, which sometimes I don’t ha!) or start over.
I worked myself into my year-long focus but it didn’t happen overnight. I never forced myself and I moved slowly which I believe is what enabled me to create lasting and genuine change.
3) Start with the world as a whole
I remember doing a Metta Meditation night with Sharon Salzburg and her prompt within the guided meditation was to think of someone you love in order to repeat the phrases and wish this person well. I panicked.
My train of thought continued: I have to think of just one person to send love and kindness too? Well if I pick my sister, my mom and dad are left out. So then I’ll pick a friend. What friend do I want to choose? At the time I was in a tiff with my BEST FRIEND and I had a moment of hesitation. OMG. I am a terrible person. I just hesitated to wish my BEST FRIEND well. Just because I am in a tiff with my best friend shouldn’t mean that I don’t want to wish her well. What kind of a human am I?
See my point. What a shit show. At this point it had been like 5 minutes.
Remove the subjectivity. Just wish ALL Beings or the world well.
“May all beings be at ease”
“May the world be free from suffering”
You are still doing the practice. Your heart is still sending well being, love and kindness out into the world which is exactly what this is all about.
4) Stick with it and be consistent.
This is the key to any practice but specifically Self Compassion and Loving Kindness. Repetition is what makes lasting change in the brain and the body. What can be helpful is to give yourself an allotted amount of time.
Start with one week. For one week, every single day do a compassion practice. You can add this to other mindfulness or contemplative practices that you do but make sure you set aside dedicated time to this practice. This helps send the massage to your brain that this is important which can help solidify the habit! Don’t feel as if you have to do the exact same practice every day. There are HUNDREDS of Metta or Loving Kindness meditations. Feel free to mix it up and try different variations if that is appealing to you.
When I first set out on my journey I told myself that I was going to try Self Compassion for a month. A month turned into two, two months turned into three and this turned into an entire year.
I hope that something in this post resonates with you and you are able to slowly ease in to this journey. My goal here was to give you tangible tools from my own direct experience to make this practice seem a little bit more accessible.
May you be well.