Self-love. Does the phrase make you relax and smile, or does it make you cringe? Your reaction to this question will tell you a lot about yourself and if self-love meditation is something you may want to try. Being critical of ourselves, having a lot of negative self-talk, is unfortunately all too common. But, that doesn’t make it any less damaging to our sense of well-being and happiness.
Indeed, self-criticism is intimately linked with not feeling worthy of love. Somehow, somewhere along the line, many of us learned that we have to earn love, rather than it being our birthright. We feel we have to be perfect to be loved. The problem is there’s no such thing as human perfection.
Interestingly, in a conversation with Western psychotherapists, the Dalai Lama was puzzled by the concept of “low self-esteem” – it was not something he recognized in Tibetan culture at all!
Your head and your heart are the two wings of meditation. The head provides step-by-step practices, context and an understanding of the goals of meditation. The heart is the environment, the space you bring to meditation. If you follow a practice, step by step, but feel unloving and self-critical, it will be an ineffectual practice indeed, not to mention a subtle kind of self-punishment. Better not to meditate at all!
Reduce tension and build strength through self-love meditation
Self-love meditation not only makes you happier, more creative and more resourceful, but it automatically opens your heart to others.
And don’t be fooled: self-love builds strength. Self-love or self-compassion has an undeserved reputation as being weak or self-indulgent. Not so. Indeed, one expert in self-compassion, Kristen Neff, makes the case for the opposite: that it builds resilience, self-awareness and compassion for others.
Here are just a few of the advantages to practising self-love meditation. Incorporate it into your daily schedule and you should start to feel some of the following benefits:
Self-criticism or self-judgment feels just like criticism or judgement from someone else. It causes anger, sadness or even fear, and causes tension and anxiety. Practising self-love meditation literally helps your nervous system relax and feel safe.
Continuing on from the last point: who would you prefer to spend time with? Someone who criticizes what you think, how you look, how you act? Or, someone who’s curious about you, is kind, and treats you with respect and compassion? If you prefer the latter – spoiler alert! – you can treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Many, many people resist self-love meditations. Why? Because, as I’ve already mentioned, self-criticism is seen as “normal,” to some extent at least. There are many possible reasons for this that are outside the scope of this article!
For now, it’s enough to know that practising self-love meditation will show you where you are on the spectrum of self-love to self-criticism. If you are nearer to the self-criticism end, that is not something to criticize yourself for.
“Self-love meditation not only makes you happier, more creative and more resourceful, but it automatically opens your heart to others.”
Meditation is a tool for self-knowledge. If your self-love meditation shows you your unconscious habit of negative self-talk, it’s OK, you’re not alone! You can start to notice this self-talk, how it makes you feel and how it affects what you do. And if you want to make things better.
Self-criticism essentially makes you smaller and less capable. Self-love, on the other hand, takes you to a larger, kinder viewpoint on yourself. You see your ‘weaknesses’ or limitations without feeling threatened by them.
This makes change and growth something you’re naturally drawn to do – you can choose it consciously from a healthy place.
We use our minds so much, we can forget to feel. It’s healthy to ‘unplug’ your mind and remember what is most important to you. Is it to feel happy? To feel safe and loved? A self-love meditation is a simple and powerful way to take quality time for yourself, let your mind rest and immerse yourself in love and respect.
You can do this practice sitting or lying down. Get comfortable and start by following your breath for a few minutes.
When you’re feeling relaxed, notice any emotions you’re having in the moment. In particular, is there any slight feeling of upset or unhappiness that you can find? For your first few sessions of the practice, it’s best to work with something small, but you be the judge of what you’re up for. If nothing comes up right now, you can bring to mind a recent situation that caused you a bit of emotional turmoil.
Self-love meditation can uncover perspectives and insights that you can’t see when you’re criticizing yourself.
Do this practice as a kind of call and response. Send out self-love in your chosen statement and watch for a response. If you’re not used to sending yourself love, the response could be very small or very fleeting – part of you may not “believe” what you’re sending or not want to accept it.
So, really watch for, listen to, and feel any response from your heart and body: a softening, a sense of relief, a bit of gratitude. Those small signs are seeds you can nurture each time you practice self-love meditation.
Main image: shutterstock/WAYHOME studio
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 and on their journey of self-discovery.
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