“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray
Have you ever heard someone say that they “can’t” meditate? I hear it all the time, and I’ll be honest — it breaks my heart. I know there can be frustrating moments in meditation — but there are also so many benefits.
One of my best meditation lessons came from my decidedly non-hippie mom. When I was a kid, my mom had this magnet on her fridge that said, “Be nice or leave.” I liked the idea — that kindness was part of the social contract of our home. If you weren’t being nice, you could go be somewhere else.
That felt comforting to me at the time. As with so many things in my life, the lesson didn’t fully permeate my consciousness until I was much older. That lesson seems even more potent now.
When I think about that magnet through the lens of self-care, I have two thoughts. The first is that including kindness in our social contract with others is an act of self-love. The second is that often the person we’re mean to most is the one in the mirror. In the way we speak about ourselves, in the way we treat ourselves, how often are we unkind?
This attitude carries over to meditation. When we close our eyes and bring our attention to our breath (or mantra), the negative thoughts can start to take over. We hear that negative self-talk. Then we judge ourselves for thinking. Then we judge ourselves for judging.
In this context, meditation, which promises so many healing benefits, serves as yet another vehicle for unkindness toward ourselves. If you’re caught in that negative self-talk space, meditation can feel like a prison. Furthermore, it’s a prison in which your cellmate is your harshest critic.
Meditation is a core practice in my self-care regime, but many of us need to recalibrate our practice to help it feel more caring. Self-care isn’t just about what we do, after all, it’s about our inner relationship to ourselves. I believe there’s a way to help meditation feel more loving — and less like a fight.
Meditation is actually a genuine opportunity to be present and compassionate with ourselves.
It just takes some kindness jiu-jitsu sometimes. It takes a little bit of trickery on our parts. Loving-kindness, or Metta practice, is a silent mantra meditation — a repetition of chosen phrases to cultivate feelings of well-being and love for the recipient.
By repeating these phrases, we are aiming wishes for love and well-being toward someone in our lives. By doing so, we cultivate the experience of loving kindness for others, through those wishes. The result for the practitioner is that same experience of loving kindness, well-being, courage, or freedom.
Loving kindness is like a trick mirror, but rather than distorting our image of ourselves to its most critical, we cast ourselves in the most loving light possible. We reflect our wishes for goodness outward and inward.
Some sample phrases you could try:
May I/you/we be safe
May I/you/we be happy
May I/you/we be free
May I/you/we be filled with loving-kindness
When we repeat these phrases and aim them toward ourselves, we cultivate greater self-empathy and self-forgiveness. When we repeat these phrases for others, even people with whom we have conflict, we can positively shift our relationship with that person. We don’t need to accept suffering or meanness, but we can transform it (or at least release it).
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
This isn’t just a feel-good exercise, it takes some tenacity to offer love consistently. If you’re seeking self-care, begin by offering yourself this loving kindness, before moving on to others. It’s the meditation equivalent of putting on your oxygen mask before helping others.
Once that feels comfortable, begin to repeat these same phrases for loved ones, neutral people in your life, difficult people, and finally for all beings everywhere. Not with force or rushing, but by silently, calmly repeating the phrases, imagining the person for whom you are practicing in your mind’s eye.
Working with this form of meditation can calm the sense of frustration that some experience in meditation. The mantra repetition gives our minds something to chew on, and it’s a kind experience to meet your distraction not with judgment, but with phrases of love.
Meditation doesn’t need to be a fight. It can actually be an offering of sweetness.