Unconditional Friendship To Ourselves

One of the things I continue to be struck by, and have been reminded of through conversations recently, is how tough we can be on ourselves.

I talk about it as a follow on to my recent post on  meditation and mindfulness, because when we stop our busy lives, even for a moment, difficult things come up in our ‘thinking’. Not least what I call ‘RADIO-ME’ the background hum of our internal dialogue, much like a radio, that isn’t positive about where we are in the present moment.

We are often aware of it and in meditation it can sound a lot louder and sometimes will put people off committing to a regular and committed practice.

So what does this voice sound like? It differs from person to person but usually it will have a core pattern. It is a voice of judgement, of what we did or didn’t do right in the past. It is a voice of unrealistic expectation, asking us to push ourselves in a way that is not good for our wellbeing. It is the opinionated voice of ‘facts’ about who we are- I am selfish, I’m not clever enough etc etc, I shouldn’t have done x y z.

It’s existence is detrimental to our wellbeing. To be clear here, we are not talking about the gentle voice of reflection, the supportive voice of learning or the encouraging voice that wants to see you do well but rather the gnawing voice of what we commonly call ‘our own worst critic’

There is though a way to counteract this tendency we have. The Buddhist writer Pema Chodron, who turned 81 this last week, is one of the best exponents of the process of ‘maitri’ (pronounced my tree). It is the practice of loving kindness or as she calls it beautifully Unconditional Friendship to Ourselves. 

It is a practice of developing a loving kindness for ourselves. I have practiced it for a number of years and still sometimes I find it hard, particularly when times are challenging and uncomfortable, and the old negative voice begins to take hold. Yet like any loving kindness it requires cultivation and commitment. So how do we do that? There are a number of ways to develop a practice of ‘maitri’:

  1. By acknowledging the existence of a sometimes negative voice but not engaging with it ‘negatively’. It is inevitable that sometimes we will feel bad  about ourselves and to some degree this can have some benefit where we may have behaved for instance in anger but engaging and ruminating with internal negative dialogue is draining and damaging. Instead we can acknowledge it, trust ourselves to learn from it where appropriate and replace it with…
  2. Positive affirmation. I am good enough for this. I do deserve that to happen. I have worked hard and done well to achieve x. It doesn’t have to be some over the top recited mantra, unless that’s your thing, but to find it consider the voice you use to talk to friend when they think they have screwed up and use that more to talk to yourself because guess what..
  3. The voice of negativity is not always right, so surround yourself to help you with people who will help counterbalance sometimes our own internal negative bias. As well as these people you will need moments of..
  4. Self care. I am not talking here about retail therapy or distraction therapy (gin being my choice on that one) but genuine moments of quiet and time for ourselves when we can learn to accept and love who we are.

I have found all of the above useful in developing a good relationship with myself. We are not perfect, we will screw up but that is part of the deal, the rich vista of life. Our understanding and learning from that should feel positive and grounded in compassion for ourselves. For it is that self compassion which is the basis of our care and love for others.

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