From a letter to a friend
When I think about it, what I want to encourage most of all, is for you to keep going with the aim to be kind to yourself. The reason I say this is that, over the years, it’s become more and more clear to me just how necessary this is.
As you said, it’s not easy, which tell us something. I think it’s because we’re closest to our own suffering, and we’ve heard it all before so many times, and because of that we’re not as patient with ourselves as we are with others, but I wonder how far we can take a quality such as this, moving towards having a more unconditional kindness and compassion for ourselves.
I recently heard one teacher saying that, any kind of meditation, or reflection we do will result in our having more kindness and compassion for others. He said the reason for this was that we’d be closer to our own suffering and difficulty, and so naturally be able to relate more to what others go through.
I’d heard this before, and I’ve watched this too in my own experience, and, from what I can tell, it’s true. The extent to which it works though, depends at least in part in how we are towards ourselves.
You may have heard the saying
a pot drips what’s in it
Maybe the Bible says it as
out of the treasure of the heart the mouth speaks
How I relate to these sayings here, is that there’s something really valuable in listening to the thoughts we have about ourselves. We may be unaware, and surprised when we hear the tone of them.
I like the thought experiment of imagining a person you feel close to, with nothing but kind feelings for, and the intention to help them, and thinking of what you’d say to them, or how you’d want to support them if they were struggling. This is one way to identify the capacity you see in yourself of unconditional love and compassion.
This is what we need for ourselves too.
Ani Tenzin Palmo said,
Treat yourself as you would treat your dearest friend. Speak to yourself words you would speak to someone you really cared for.
That this is difficult to do shows us just how much we need to cultivate this quality, of love for ourselves.
I know you have much of the experience with your children, of patience, and encouragement, gentleness and sympathy for them when they struggle or are uncertain about something. How wonderful when we can have these same qualities for ourself.
I’ve had this image for a while, of what it’s like to either be kind towards ourself, or to be aggressive, impatient and rough: It’s like someone is behind a door, and if we’re aggressively shouting at them to come out – they’re likely to barricade the door. But if we speak gently to them, encouragingly, expressing sympathy and unconditional support, from the sound of our voice they can feel that, and eventually they’ll open up the door and come out.
It’s more subtle though, for us, when it comes to how we talk to ourselves. If we’re not kind to ourselves, there are levels to the mind we get used to not looking at, out of long habit. We can become divided against ourselves.
This comes to mind for me now because I know we all have old wounds to be cared for. In our own way, in this life, we’re all on the path of healing, of making our way to health and wholeness.
Most people don’t get to address the deeper causes of suffering in their lives, and for them, there is only endless covering over, or running away, or numbing out, and that never entirely works.
Love can be like a medicine, just the right medicine. It can be like nectar, and this is what we all need in our lives. We need this from others, but most of all, this is something we need to give to ourselves.I wonder what you think of all this.
Please be supremely kind, gentle, patient and forgiving to yourself. Please be greatly compassionate (not just compassionate, but greatly compassionate), and encouraging, as you would to your children, or your dearest friends. Just as you would be to them, let your love be a gift to yourself, for your whole life.
There’s a saying, ‘Life is so hard – how can we be anything but kind?’ I know it’s not easy, which is all the more reason to do it – because it’s not easy…
Understanding this, we can smile to ourselves with real sympathy.
We don’t talk about much about these things, but I think it should be said. This opens the way to so much that would otherwise not get attended to, and so much then would not be born in our lives.
I’m nowhere near perfect at this, I have my good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours, but I am sure of the importance of this – kindness and compassion for myself, and so I aim to keep trying.
Maybe you will find these thoughts useful to you in your life, I don’t know, but I do hope so.
Here is a part of a poem by Galway Kinnel, called ‘St. Francis and the Sow’ that so beautifully expresses the necessity of love
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within,
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within,
May it be this way for all of us!