How to Practice Maitri: Loving-Kindness to One’s Self
Are you someone who has zero trouble accessing compassion for others, but when it comes to lending that same compassion to yourself, you fall short? I know I have an easier time accepting other people’s mistakes (a.k.a. humanness) than I do 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 sometimes have a hard time comforting and being kind to myself.
Sound familiar? We’re not the only ones.
Loving yourself is the key to loving others. Leading a life fueled by loving others is what it is all about. I think the key to it all is to cultivate compassion, compassion for all living things including yourself. I am not perfect at this - at compassionate self talk - but I am getting better. It starts with awareness, just noticing the thoughts. The patterns in our inner dialogue have to be witnessed in order to integrate and to remove some of their power. Then try not to judge these thoughts. They are just thoughts and you have the power to see them and change them. After you have started to notice them, the noticing becomes easier, and you start to judge yourself less.
Once you get going with noticing your thoughts without judgement you can begin to add in some positive affirmations. I suggest starting small and simple. Pick something that really resonates with you. I often just repeat the word “love.” Other times I may say “love is the answer,” or “it is ok, I love you and I am here for you.” This may seem odd or weird and feel uncomfortable at first, but I promise it helps and it works and you will start to feel lighter and things will get easier.
So how do you befriend yourself?
Sounds funny, right? How do we be friends with ourselves? We must learn to treat ourselves with the same loving kindness, forgiveness, and understanding that we so generously give to those we love. Have you heard of the word Maitri? Maitri is a Pali word most commonly translated as love or loving-kindness. Maitri also means loving-kindness to oneself.
These days I am doubling down on love, or Maitri. Living life through the lens of love, or with a love ethic, has to start with me. They say that no one is harder on you than yourself, or that you would never allow anyone to speak to you the way that you speak to yourself. Being kind to yourself is no easy task. I know this firsthand. It’s not easy and not always possible at every moment. But if we are paying attention, if we watch and listen to the way we speak to ourselves we can start unhooking from our negative self talk and begin to unleash a little more love on ourselves.
Love is the answer (self love that is)
There is room in our hearts for hurt, for healing and for happiness. We do not have to be all-in or all-out. We can just be. Allow things to come and go without attaching to them with such rigidity. I’ve been practicing, and now these days when I feel stuck in a dark emotion or feeling I acknowledge it and give it the respect it deserves. I even ask it “what do you need? I see you, I feel you and I am here for you. How can I help?” Sometimes I actually get answers: “Goooooo for a walk! Run please. Eat an apple.” Sometimes “cry” is what my innermost self says. And sometimes there's no answer. And I accept that too.
Here are some examples of positive affirmations you can use in daily life and struggles (or make up your own):
- 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 situation 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 that 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!