When I saw that the first week of The Kindness Challenge was self-love, I smiled. Joke was on me. Aww man – here we go again! Can’t I, like, you know, skip a step?
There’s a wonderful meditation practice known as ‘metta’ or ‘loving kindness’ which I have practiced regularly for several years, with varying levels of commitment. When I first began exploring it more deeply, I found myself very resistant to starting with myself, as is traditional. I shared this with my teacher, who told me to try starting elsewhere in the process for a while, and see if that helped. It did. I needed permission to take the focus away from my greatest block for a while.
What I learned from that process, and what this week has again highlighted for me, is that loving kindness to ourselves and being kind and loving towards others are inextricably linked. One cannot exist without the other. When the sun shines, it doesn’t choose which fields to land on. It shines on all, unconditionally. Night works the same way. When I am unkind to myself, it doesn’t only affect me. If I want, as I wholeheartedly do, to be kind to others, it has to include self-love. These are fundamentals, basics, and as so often with fundamentals and basics, they sound simple, and are hard to get right in practice. I believe this is a direct result of their simplicity, which leaves no place to hide.
This week we were asked to come up with a mantra, an affirmation, something that could be repeated, lent into, called upon when we needed a kindness reminder. One of the things I’ve been noticing since starting this challenge, is how the root of my lack of kindness towards myself so often lay in comparison. I constantly compare myself to others, or to my own expectations or previous achievements, and find myself wanting. Ugly, judgmental thoughts arise with nonchalance, so accustomed am I to them. So, I chose an affirmation, a mantra, that struck at this root.
‘You are loving and loved,’ does NOT work for me in the moments when I most need it, because it’s in those moments that I am least able to believe it. That statement is not one I yet accept as a lasting, incontrovertible truth. So I chose something else.
“You are unique,
as is everyone you meet.”
That feels wholly and always true, and that means it’s a powerful thought tool, however much of a mess I’m in. It stops the judgement immediately, because it whips the carpet from under it by questioning the assumption that life is a pair of weighing scales; good/bad, right/wrong etc. It affirms that each unique individual, and each unique situation stands alone, and we are invited to get curious and appreciative, over and over again.
This week has also reminded me that kindness is the master unraveller. That means that, for me at least, there are times when self-love is a little scary. Why? Because I’m not sure what I’ll find in the middle when I unravel. I’m not sure I’ll be able to put myself together again if I fall apart. It’s like those moments when you’re on the verge of tears, and someone looks at you kindly, or says something really sweet and you’re like – ‘No! No! Don’t be nice, please! I’m just about holding it together!’
Self-love is a journey, an adventure. It’s not linear, and it’s never over; and sometimes it can be a little counter-intuitive. I remember, as I write this, another time when I was struggling. I’d behaved badly and said things I regretted. That, I decided, was not the moment to sit and tell myself how great I am. Rather, it was a time to pick myself up and act – give myself a reason to feel more self-love. That is not to deny the truth that, ultimately, we never need to earn or justify love; it was simply about using awareness to find what, in that moment, would best support me in returning to a place where that felt true. I found the person, apologised, and made an inner commitment to learn from that experience, and, as much as possible, avoid actions that would give me another stick with which to beat myself.
I’m very lucky. I am surrounded by some very kind people, courageous people, creative people. I have met several people whose kindness appears to be so natural, so effortless. I have also been lucky enough to discover that, like most things in life, kindness and self-love can be cultivated, grown, strengthened – and there are tools out there. The ones that have worked for me?
Loving kindness meditation
and…my new affirmation!
“You are unique,
as is everyone you meet.”
Blessings on your week friends, and may self-love grow and overflow, in and through you.
For more about The Kindness Challenge, and more reflection posts, go to:
For information on loving kindness meditation, check out: