Boy, was I tired last night. In the course of the evening, I may not have been my usual good-natured self. Maybe. I eventually recognized that I was off track, and apologized for being crabby. But as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, my mind began to review my actions over the last few hours. The critique was pretty harsh! By the end of it, I had myself convinced that I was a bad mom and a nasty person overall. Wow. No one has ever talked to me like that, so why does my own mind think it’s ok?
I regularly practice a lovingkindness meditation. The first step is to offer compassion to oneself before moving on to other people. I feel the impact of the practice in my life, feeling empathy for challenging people instead of anger or frustration. I’m less likely to judge others so harshly, but somehow my self-compassion is lagging behind. Perhaps this is the hardest part of the practice for many of us. I taught lovingkindness meditation to one patient, only to have her explain that she could never imagine saying those words to herself, because she doesn’t deserve them. There are days that I struggle with that same belief, especially if I’ve been battling difficult emotions.
In her book “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation” Sharon Salzberg addresses this very issue. She recommends trying two modifications of the lovingkindness meditation to remind ourselves that we are deserving of the same compassion we extend to others. The first is to focus on our positive actions by taking time during meditation to remember something good we did that day. The second variation involves changing the way we describe our challenging emotions. She suggests viewing them as “painful” instead of bad. This subtle change removes the judgment that these emotions are wrong or shameful in some way. Then when we experience the pain, we can surround it with compassionate understanding, knowing we didn’t choose to feel this way.
I can look back at last night and recognize that I wasn’t a total failure. I did recognize the effect my emotions were having on my thoughts and behavior. I also made a conscious effort to change them, and apologize for any hurt I may have caused. I can’t stop painful emotions from arising, but I can see them for what they are: a reason to stop and pay attention. With continued practice, I will notice these states earlier. Then I can choose to act in accordance with my true values, rather than a passing wave of emotion. In the meantime, I will learn to speak to myself in the same way I would to anyone who is suffering: with compassion.