One of the most difficult mindfulness skills for people to learn is to be kind to themselves. It’s fascinating and also sad sometimes to see how difficult this can be for people. It certainly took a long time for the light to come on for me and it’s an ongoing process to keep the light on.
This aversion to kindness or self-compassion may be an echo from our work ethic. We feel we need to be hard on ourselves so we achieve and get things done.
But, the main objection I’ve heard from people about kindness (though not many would put it this way) is that it seems like you’re babying yourself. Kindness sounds whiny or even weak.
I’d like to make the case that kindness is actually a real warrior skill.
After one particularly long and frustrating period where my own practice was on a plateau, I heard how unkind I was to myself when I was in meditation. I was self-critical and judgmental about whatever happened in my practice. I was never “doing it right.”
I realized that the bottom line about this kind of criticism is you’re creating a split inside of yourself. You’re thinking or feeling or experiencing something, and there’s a part of you that is judging it–and this creates a separation. It’s the same as a “conversation” with another person. If you tell them about an experience you’re having and they meet you with kindness, you feel open to them, connected. If they treat you with criticism or judgement, you’d probably close off or feel disconnected from them.
It works exactly the same way inside of you. And I think a lot of us feel that we are in pieces in some way. There are parts of us that are acceptable and parts that aren’t. We’re a bunch of selves vs. one whole person. And, in meditation, you’re not aiming for perfection. You’re aiming for wholeness.
Can you feel the difference?
Perfection is a very small target and, honestly, we probably don’t even know what it would look like. But wholeness is something most of us can get a feeling for.
In the context of practicing meditation, kindness creates an internal feeling of connection. You don’t create the splits I’ve been describing. Kindness encourages an opening, rather than a shutting down. There’s interest, rather than disinterest or judgment. It’s a completely different environment you create inside of yourself. Our different “parts” begin to come together, toward wholeness.
So this is why I think kindness is a warrior skill. It takes some courage to stop judging and criticizing, and to actually listen to what’s going on inside of us. It takes courage to open instead of closing. But that movement toward wholeness and inclusion is natural and healthy, and with some practice, it will begin to feel good.
If this conversation about kindness lights up your curiosity, here is something you can try anytime.
That’s all you have to do. See how that feels. See what happens inside and outside. You may be a kindness warrior in the making.
And, this isn’t “just about us.” Whatever kindness you direct toward yourself, you will effortlessly shine onto everyone you meet.
About the Author-
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses, as well as places of deep dissatisfaction and disconnection.
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