One of the larger aims of our yoga practice is to cultivate compassion, compassion for all living things—including yourself.
Who among you out there have zero trouble accessing compassion for others, but when it comes to lending that same compassion to yourself...you fall short?
I have an easier time accepting other people’s mistakes (a.k.a. humanness) than my own; I freely forgive other people’s flaws while I beat myself up for mine. I readily feel empathy and compassion for the suffering of strangers but have a hard time comforting and being kind to myself.
Sound familiar? We’re not the only ones.
In general, there’s a lack of self-acceptance and compassion (forget self-love) in our society, hence the hundreds of self-help books, lectures, and workshops on the subject.
Self-alienation runs deep in our society, and we must learn to befriend ourselves.
Sounds funny, right? “We must learn to be friends with ourselves.” But the sad truth is, most of us aren’t. We must learn to treat ourselves with the same loving kindness, forgiveness, and understanding that we so generously give to those we love.
What Is Maitri?
In Buddhism, loving-kindness (maitri) is the first of the Four Immeasurables, or Limitless Ones, which are Buddhist virtues and meditation practices to cultivate each one.
Most commonly translated as love or loving-kindness, maitri also means loving-kindness to oneself and is the foundation of the four virtues, which are:
- Loving Kindness
- Sympathetic Joy
American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has dedicated her life to teaching about loving-kindness and compassion—which begins with developing maitri toward oneself. Simply put,
In order to have compassion for others, we must first have compassion for ourselves.~Meagan McCrary
She often talks about maitri as unconditional friendliness and in particular, unconditional friendliness to oneself, which seems to be missing in our Western society (If this is of any interest to you, I highly suggest you look into Pema Chodron’s work).
So how do you befriend yourself?
As mentioned earlier, each of the Four Immeasurables have a coinciding meditation practice to help develop each virtue. For maitri toward oneself, repeat the affirmation: “May I be happy, healthy, safe, and live with ease.”
Repetition is key, as well as catching yourself when you aren’t being so friendly to yourself. You can recite aloud or silently any of those four slogans as necessary throughout your day.
It’s a really powerful practice for breaking negative patterns, especially habitual negative or self-deprecating thoughts, and really helps if you find yourself in a downward negative spiral.
Some examples of positive affirmations you can use in daily life and struggles include:
- If you happen to find yourself in a negative spiral of thoughts repeat to yourself, “May I be happy.”
- If you’re struggling physically repeat, “May I be healthy and strong.”
- If you’re in an unhealthy relationship repeat, “May I be safe.”
- If you’re feeling anxious or stressed repeat, “May I live with ease.”
We could all be a little more compassionate and friendly to ourselves. Next time you notice you aren’t treating yourself with the same acceptance, understanding, and kindness as you would with a friend, stop and practice maitri. Let us know how it goes!