Sarah McLean is the Author of Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. www.McLeanMeditation.com
“Love yourself first and everything falls into line.”
Lucille Ball, actress and comedienne
Being kind to yourself, taking care of yourself, loving yourself, doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, many resist the concept of putting themselves first, because they are brought up to do the opposite: put yourself last and others first.
Becoming aware of how you care (or don’t care) for your body, mind, and soul is the first step on the path to self-love. And meditation can help. When your mind quiets, you can see things more clearly. You notice your internal monologue, and those habits of ignoring yourself or disliking some aspect of yourself are uncovered. With awareness and the intention to adopt a kinder, authentic, and more loving and compassionate attitude toward yourself, you can become transformed.
While meditation has long been known for calming the mind, improving focus and attention, and increasing contentment, only recently have researchers proven how it can foster compassion. It turns out that the areas of the brain related to empathy and compassion are more active in those who meditate than in those who don’t. And now there’s a new area of research: self-compassion, which is a compassionate attitude you direct toward yourself.
To cultivate self-compassion, you have to pay attention to yourself, like you’d expect a good friend to pay attention to you. Get to know yourself and be curious. It’s like being on your own team. Maybe you’ve forgotten your own inner loveliness. When you truly pay attention to yourself, you realize you are not simply your self-image and the roles you take on, the work you do, or the responsibilities you have. Instead, you come to know yourself intimately as a compassionate, wise, kind, aware, and peaceful being.
(Excerpted and adapted from WEEK 4 of Sarah’s book Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. Order it here.
Listen as Sarah talks about Compassion and Learning to Love Yourself. To order the entire 5 CD set Guidance for Living a Soul-Centered Life click here. )
Loving Yourself: Cultivating Self Compassion
How we treat ourselves can inform everything we say or do. We have to become aware of it first, we each have to expand our awareness. I’ve written about really listening to yourself, discovering your intuition, asking yourself what you really want, living in tune with nature, beginning your meditation practice, and remembering to be grateful. But it all comes down to loving one’s self – which is often more difficult than it sounds. It takes practice.
There is a Buddhist meditation practice known as Loving Kindness (you don’t have to be Buddhist to do it). It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. In this simple practice, one begins with truly experiencing love for themselves, and from there, one meditates on kindness to others.
It goes like this:
Sit down and relax your body. Give yourself three slow, deep breaths through your nose and then let your breath return to a natural rhythm.
Bring your attention to your heart center. Gently place your hand there if you like.
Take some time to cultivate a warm and gentle feeling for yourself.
Silently say some sweet things to yourself, with a sense of sincerity, kindness and warmth.
Notice how your heart and mind respond. There is no need to hurry.
Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own loving intention.
After you give yourself the attention, you can then have the same intention for all beings to be well and free from suffering.
Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.
Take three breaths through your nose, deeper than normal, and come back to yourself and the environment you are sitting in.
The more I practice Loving Kindness, the more I learn to know myself as a person capable of warmth, of sweetness, of love and a peaceful response to life. I trust myself more and have more to give. Each act of kindness to others then becomes an act of gentleness to myself and to my own spirit.