We cannot will something away. We cannot anger something away. Whatever we push away, we feed. Only when something is shown love is it free to go. In the process we free ourselves.
It’s within all of us–a part that is not totally content, not fully loving and accepting of who we are. How can we move into a state of self-acceptance?
Happy Thanksgiving. Hoping gratitude and thankfulness won out over commercialism. I’m very grateful to be here with all of you.
The topic today is how to become your own best friend. The first thing that Buddha said, the most important thing to becoming your own best friend, is to close all your social media accounts. He talked about the comparing mind, which is brutal and always present. It is very difficult to wiggle out of the comparing mind with all the opportunities to compare-whether it be social media, entertainment industry, etc. I happened to come by an article about A-list actresses and plastic surgery. Almost everyone has had plastic surgery! Even Megan Fox, who is absolutely beautiful as is, had plastic surgery after the first Transformers movie. Taking pop culture as an example, what part of her said she wasn’t good enough? She was successful in her career at that point already, yet there must’ve been some comparing mind that told her she wasn’t good enough. It’s within all of us–a part that is not totally content, not fully loving and accepting of who we are.
How can we move into a state of self-acceptance? Out of all the relationships we have in our life, this relationship with self is one we have to work out. Other relationships we can maybe work on, maybe not, but this one we definitely need to work out. If there is someone you can imagine avoiding, because there might be conflict, you can get by with that outside of yourself. But we can’t do that to ourselves. It’s like not wanting to come home. You stay out and entertain yourself because your home environment is not nourishing or healthy. If we want to come home to ourselves, we talk about meditation and learning more about ourselves.
How can we rest in meditation if we don’t want to come home? We have to work it out. If there is someone you have conflict with, it may be a good idea to dialogue with them to achieve a sense of repair. Sometimes people say, when you don’t get along with someone, that you just need to get to know them better. The same concept applies to our relationship with ourselves. There may be pieces of ourselves that we’re not proud or happy with, but if we get to know ourselves a little bit better, a little bit deeper, we might find that we are actually pretty good people. Maybe the things we did we did out of difficulty with holding the first noble truth: that suffering exists. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves for not being able to hold the suffering of life because how we react to these situations is often times what we are not proud of; we react in a manner that brings upon even more suffering. When we cause more suffering to ourselves or others, wisdom can grow, but only when we can meet ourselves with loving friendliness, forgiveness, and kindness. If we meet ourselves with shame and guilt, then there is more and more self hurt.
Luckily, meditation gives us the opportunity to unravel ourselves, yet with an explicit intention to meet this unraveling with a non-judgmental compassion and awareness. When we sit to meditate and look within ourselves, we are setting the intention to meet whatever we find with non-judgmental compassion and awareness. This is the piece that is different from reacting with harsh judgement. Our very hurt is self-compassion. Our avoidance of hurt, our coping mechanisms, all arise from aversion to suffering, which is driven out of compassion. The definition of love is wanting self and others to be happy. The definition of compassion is not wanting self or others to suffer. If we are not careful, aversion to suffering can manifest as a surface emotion such as anger.
To befriend ourselves we need to understand the qualities of a good friend. They are kind, present, understanding, non-judgmental, honest, trustworthy, and accepting. How many of these qualities can we say we offer to ourselves? Or do we meet ourselves with the harsh inner critic? Reflect on how these qualities land within you. How can I be more kind to myself? Present for myself? Understanding to myself? Trusting of myself?
When we practice this form of metta on ourselves, we have to remember that it takes work, just like all relationships take work. There might be someone or some being in your life, an animal, friend, significant other, with whom your relationship feels effortless and comes with ease. You would never want to harm them in any way. For example, I would never want my cat to have any negative suffering thought. If I could take away the suffering thought from her, I would. Yet, the only way to suffer is to believe in a suffering thought. With ourselves, we not only believe them, but we also encourage them and enhance them. We do it all the time. This conviction of loving oneself takes a intense amount of effort and intention. If I cannot love myself and accept myself, how can I do that for others? How can I be of service to others? How can I want to come home? How can I find sustainable happiness? We are all here in this practice because we want to look inward and do the work. There’s an innate truth to removing self-hate to find self-love.
The next step is finding forgiveness. Jack Kornfield likes to say, “Forgiveness is giving up hope of having a better past.” Forgiveness is not condoning our actions or the actions of others–many times it take the form of actions. It is the acceptance of how things are. We are imperfect. In our ability to love ourselves and others, we are imperfect. Yes, with practice in finding our Buddha nature, hopefully we can eventually find that place of of peace and acceptance.
A good place to start our forgiveness meditation is to pick a situation or person that is of intermediate impact. Not to the extreme. Hear how the phrases land on you and feel the energetic impact of forgiveness.
In any way that I have harmed you knowingly or unknowingly, in thoughts, words or actions may I ask for your forgiveness — as much as is possible at this time.
In any way that I have been harmed by you knowingly and unknowingly in thoughts, words or actions may I ask for your forgiveness — as much as is possible at this time.
In any way that I have harmed myself knowing or unknowingly in thoughts, words or actions may I forgive myself — as much as is possible at this time.
In any way that I have been unable to hold the suffering of how things are, within me and within the basic nature of life arising, may I forgive myself — as much as is possible at this time.
One aspect of mindfulness is non-judgment. It’s the key to the whole process. We are not only tuning into the present moment but opening to it with an attitude of non-judgment; opening to it as it is. This is the real essence of mindfulness: learning to open to what is arising, just paying attention to it a little more closely–even to what is uncomfortable.
You can sense how non-judgment–this ability to shift into noticing things as they are–might automatically releases some tension. This is because the tension, the stress, comes from resistance: resisting what is arising, resisting the moment. We tune in to the tension in our body or to the uncomfortable emotions we might be feeling. Noticing those sensations and tuning in to what is arising can help us to start to release it. To let it unwind. And then the tension can start to pass.
When we tune into the sensations and into what is actually happening, we are automatically bringing ourselves out of the world of thought. We can’t be caught up in thought and pay attention to the present moment at the same time. It is our thoughts about things that stir up the tension. So coming into this moment, and opening to it as it is, is a huge relief. This is the practice of non-judgment, and this is a key aspect of mindfulness.
What we begin to notice, when we are practicing mindfulness and non-judgment, is that our judgments are happening all the time. They are constant. We are constantly resisting aspects of the present moment or things that irritate or annoy us, or make us uncomfortable or uneasy. By opening to those experiences, to those things that we are resisting, by opening to the judgment, we have an opportunity to release judgment, and, therefore, to release the tension.
We begin to realize when we are judging the moment, judging another person, judging ourselves, or judging our environment or situation. We notice that we want something to be different than how it is. Then, we can move beyond judgment by simply noticing and not judging it. We can say to ourselves, “Well, I’m judging my reality right now,” or “I’m resisting my reality.” Noticing this automatically begins to open us up to non-judgment. This is our opportunity to shift it, to shift into just being with it, just feeling it.
One of the things we tend to judge the most is ourselves. This is a key source of our suffering. When things are not going well in our life, or when something is not right, we often look for someone to blame, and a lot of the time we blame ourselves. We criticize ourselves, thinking, “You are such an idiot,” or “You are so lazy.” This critical voice can arise. By beginning to notice these judgments of ourselves, we begin to see how they add additional tension, stress and suffering to the situation. They make a difficult situation even worse. When we notice a self-judgment arising, it is an opportunity to notice it, to open to it and to say, “Oh, I’m judging myself.” By not judging the judgment, by just being with how it makes you feel, by coming into the sensations, we drop out of the critical thoughts and back into the moment; back into the body.
Non-judgment is an attitude that we bring into our awareness of the present moment. There are a few other attitudes that we can bring into the practice, in addition to non-judgment, such as an attitude of care, or an attitude of appreciation. These are additional ways of enhancing the mindfulness practice that allow us to really open our hearts to the present moment.
There are simple ways of reminding ourselves that we can shape our experiences to include more compassion. I have a teacher, for example, who bakes beautiful pies on Thanksgiving to bring to her family gathering. When it comes time to transport them, she has to be very careful. She drives slowly and cautiously. Other drivers, unaware of her precious cargo, don’t seem to appreciate when she drives so gingerly. You can imagine the line of frustrated drivers stuck behind her.
There are other times throughout the year when she finds herself sitting, irritated, behind a driver moving too slowly for her liking or one taking a little to long to respond to a green light. One day she caught herself feeling upset at another driver and realized that she has been that person. At least one day a year, she has been the slow driver holding up the others. “That’s me,” she thought. “I’ve been there. Maybe they’re moving slowly because they’re carrying precious cargo. Maybe they’ve got pies.”
She caught herself in a moment of suffering as a result of her irritation and frustration. Turning mindful attention on how she felt created spaciousness. In this space, she was able to choose. She used compassion for herself and non-judgment to turn her suffering into understanding. She transformed the tension that she felt into the recognition that she and the other driver are actually the same.
Everyday there are countless opportunities to use mindful awareness to access the empathy that lives within us. If we pay attention in each moment, we’ll find the space to remind ourselves “maybe they’ve got pies”.