In my adventures into self-love and self-compassion, i have realized that being judgemental and self-critical is one of the biggest if not the most essential barrier to developing self-love. Having spent months trying to push myself to love myself i feel like i have come to a roadblock, a sense of burn out. I think I’m realizing that in order to fully accept and love myself i first have to make peace with my mind.
I’m starting to understand that in order for us to change our minds in this way we first must understand that the very strong and harsh criticisms that we give to ourselves is an attempt by the mind to self correct a perceived problem. For example, this could look like a self-worth issue we are trying to address by telling ourselves we are not good enough or we need to be more THIS or more THAT fundamentally the mind is trying to help us but unfortunately in a very unproductive way.
Now that i am starting to feel into this realization i see the value in honoring the mind and making peace with its efforts to try and self-correct a situation. Making peace with the mind free’s up mental energy that would otherwise be spent judging my judgments. This allows me to go easy on myself and meet my mind wherever it is in any given moment. I think this realization speaks to the deeper issue of self-acceptance because i really do feel that we need to accept ourselves before we can genuinely love ourselves.
Being A mindfulness educator I talk to people every other day about bringing their attention to the small moments in their lives. I suggest things such as observe what you are doing, become present to the sensations you feel in this moment and have a sense of curiosity towards what’s going on in this moment. But to be honest this sense of curiosity has been something that has eluded me in my personal practice. My recent realization is that the reason this sense of curiosity has been such an elusive quality to cultivate is simply beacuse I haven’t wanted to be curious.
You see my background with mindfulness came from the awareness teachings from the east such as Zen Buddhism and branches of Hinduism along with my passion for contemporary nonduality. the goal to become aware of ones consciousness is the hallmark of all these teachings. These teachings suggest that for one to become of their true nature they must see through the conditioned identity which some call the ego or persona.
In the last couple of weeks, I have realized that I have used this pulling away from identity or ego as a spiritual bypass. Meaning it has been something that has made feel comfortable believing in When life got hard. When the shit hit the fan i could always brush my personal stresses and trauma under the rug and reconcile that my identity and pain was a false illusion anyway.The last thing I wanted to do was become curious of my self worth issues or past traumas,
I thought mindfulness WAS awareness.
Well, it is! But when it comes to the self-development work of western mindfulness, curiosity is the element that allows us to ask the tuff questions to ourselves like. ‘Why do I think these thoughts when I visit my father’ or ‘why do I react in this way when my partner wants space’. This sort of personal development work wasn’t something I even wanted to consider as it would mean I would have needed to deal with my shit instead of being perfect awareness. One of the reasons why there was this gap in understanding is that eastern teachings use mindfulness to understand mans essential nature which is not the mind but conscious awareness. whereas western mindfulness uses this same inquiry method to understand and learn about oneself.
In A Nutshell:
The difference between western mindfulness and eastern mindfulness is the issue of identity. Eastern teachings aim to dismantle the identity while western mindfulness aims to understand it, accept it and love it.
After having gone through a messy breakup recently I have finally realized why mindfulness educators stress this sense of curiosity and I know why we all don’t want to really be curious. Because its confronting, overwhelming and it takes a good look in the mirror to practice authentic mindfulness. I can now see the gifts curiosity has to give us in our mindfulness practice. This realization is also accompanied by embarrassment and a bit of self-judgment as I’m still scratching my head as to why it has taken me so long to realize this.
Meeting our pain can be one of the hardest aspects of practicing mindfulness and meditation. Not only are we battling to withstand stress chemicals being released in our bodies. But we feel impulses to react to situations around us based on the strong emotions we feel.
We don’t have full access to the frontal lobe of our brains which is responsible for reasoning, perspective and rationalization, basically the qualities that make us civilized human beings. So how do we embrace these emotions without simply tolerating these them and trying our best not to meltdown? I find that meeting our emotions is helpful. Let’s face it fear is fear guilt is guilt, we can’t change the sting or depth of some of these emotions. But by meeting them we can avoid becoming to overwhelmed by them.
Self care is a pretty big word in the wellness industry. Self care refers to the ability to care and nurture oneself through self awareness. An example of self care could be taking a walk after a heated argument to calm down. Another example could be having a long bath or getting a massage after a very stressful day. Even having support networks to talk to can be self care.
But when does self-care become self indulgence? Looking at my own experience i know i am self indulging when there is an element of stubbornness to not deal with stressful situations and doing activities to avoid having to address uncomfortable issues.
Often while im working my day job i encounter very difficult customers. Lately i have noticed that my mindfulness and acceptance practice has allowed me to let go of alot of anger and this allows me to not react out of defensiveness to rude clients.
However i is still feel some self judgement in regards to even feeling the anger or frustration in the first place. This can be a common challenge when we meditate or practice mindfulness as we naturally judge our progress when we try to decrease our stress and negative emotions.
So let me say this IT’S OK TO LOOSE YOUR SHIT!!
If you were to suppress these emotions or deny them they could show up in another area of you’re life maby in the form of reaction or maby you would eventually blow up. So we have to accept our own humanity, the challenges, the jealousy, the anger, the boredom, we need to accept all of it to eventually be at peace with it.
In reality progress may mean stressing over something for 20 mins instead of 45 mins and i consider that real world progress. Not some altruistic fantasy that we may have of being somebody who never gets angry or fearful. Eventually we can get to a place were we can even let things go in minutes. But remember racing to get to that place may bring more resistance because don’t forget you have to allow yourself loose you’re shit sometimes.
Many of my clients have struggled with meditation in the past and by the time they come to see me they have either decided to give it one last shot before leaving the path altogether or they come with a renewed determination to MASTER the practice. To these clients i say leave all you’re expectations at the door and treat you’re meditation practice as an experiment.
Why do i say this?
well first of all if we know the judgmental nature of the mind we automatically set up resistance with the practice when we have expectations about what we are going to get from a meditation session. So naturally when the mind doesn’t cooperate we feel frustrated and that we are not practicing correctly. This resistance encourages more metal activity and hesitation about the practice.
But if we can leave all our expectations at the door we find that we are more softer with ourselves and our minds. This allows us to let thoughts come a go easier and we are less judgmental when we have particularly stressful metal states. Once we approach meditation in this way we find the mind begins to cooperate and we begin to feel the benefits of meditation.
So the paradox is this, we may need to abandon all our goals to actually realize them in our meditation practice.
There is a big difference between allowing an uncomfortable emotion to show up as apposed to tolerating that emotion. Tolerating implies some mild resistance to the emotion and putting up with it. However allowing implies some level of acceptance of the feeling and a letting go of it. Once we can allow uncomfortable emotions to arise in our lives we find that they subside much quicker and this allows us greater perspective and a reduces our base line of stress.
I know in my own practice i have spent a long time tolerating negative emotions but i have only recently began to fully allow and accept them. the difference is huge.
It’s a very strange thing to have a judgement towards how you feel. Its even more strange to feel a certain way about the current emotion you have in you’re body. In theory it sounds very obscure but this process is one of our most natural experiences.
This is easily seen in extreme circumstances, for instance when athletes accomplish amazing physical feats. A lot of the time they break down crying after they win the event. This is not only because they are exhausted but they are also overwhelmed with so many emotions.
It is very possible to have a relationship with an emotion. For example i feel really resentful with myself when i feel jealousy. It feels like the jealously is a knee jerk reaction to some information i am comprehending and the resentfulness is informed by my values and my self image. So my relationship to that emotion is one of resistance, pulling away from it, denying it, judging it and not allowing myself the be that jealous version of myself.
To reduce the impact of negative emotions we first must change our relationship to them by allowing them to be apart of who we are. In my case allowing the jealousy to be apart of who i am (well atleast for now). I can confidently say that if jealousy wasn’t apart of me it wouldn’t show up in my life.
This is self honesty and vulnerability and is the prerequisite to all other healing and makes further self development possible.
Is Mindfulness the only answer?
As a mindfulness educator and teacher my ego sometimes likes to think so. But if im honest with myself my journey with mindfulness has posed more questions than answers. I find that i have been re-evaluating different areas of my life as a result of my mindfulness practice.
So lets see this in action, for example by tuning into how my emotions play out through the day this has given me an insight into when i feel threatened. Once understanding this the next logical question for me is well why do i feel threatened. The next realization is that i feel threatened because im not behaving in a way that men should behave in certain situations and this gives rise to anxiety.
In this short example we could generally say that mindfulness practice has led me to understanding my issues with toxic masculinity. But the insights haven’t stopped there. I have re-evaluated many areas of my life as a result of mindfulness practice. So did mindfulness resolve all my issue, past conditioning and trauma.
Well in a nutshell no!
But mindfulness is certainty an agent of change. Mindfulness was the tool that gave me the insight to realize these deep patterns within myself. Its not surprising that another name for mindfulness meditation is insight meditation. As i now know mindfulness practice breeds insight and self reflection.
So were to from here, well different problems call for different measures. For example to re-program my issues with toxic masculinity. I have now joined a mens group to be exposed to examples of positive masculinity and learn that its ok to be vulnerable as a man. Now I look at mindfulness as a train. mindfulness makes a stop at all my issues and its my job to get off and deal with these issues by any means necessary (counselling, diet, the arts etc) then i get back on the train and move on with my practice.