The meaning of life is to learn to love. And this journey begins with learning to love ourselves.
And yet, for most of us, self-love is a radically foreign concept. Most of us live our lives feeling the opposite of self-love — self-loathing and self-judgment.
Often, we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards of perfection, and then judge ourselves when we inevitably don’t live up to them.
The thing is, we’re not supposed to be perfect. Perfection isn’t possible. And this constant striving to fix and perfect ourselves, blocks our capacity to love ourselves.
Remember when we were babies, learning to walk, we’d fall down and it was no big deal, we’d just hop back up again, smiling and start over. There was no shame, no self-judgment.
But as we grow older, things change; we become critical, we judge and shame ourselves, trying to get it “right.” This constant inner critic inhibits our capacity to love and accept ourselves.
One of the most powerful practices I’ve found to tame the inner critic and cultivate self-love and compassion is Mindfulness. Mindfulness invites us to relate to ourselves and the present moment with kind attention. No matter what. Whatever is happening, we bring our kind attention to our experience, over and over again.
In this way we begin to live more fully in the present moment, meeting life as it is instead of judging or changing it. We practice mindfulness moment by moment, sculpting and strenghtening the pathways of kindness and self-love.
Neuroscience had demonstrated that what we practice grows stronger. Therefore, the repeated mindfulness practice of kind attention establishes the neuro-pathways of self-love and self-acceptance.
I’d like to share with you a simple mindfulness practice that continues to help me in my own journey of self-love. Some years ago, I was going through a painful divorce and I’d wake up every morning with this pit of shame and self-judgment in my stomach.
My meditation teacher suggested I begin an explicit mindfulness practice of self-love.
“How about saying, “I love you, Shauna” every day?
I thought to myself “No way!” It felt so contrived. She saw my hesitation… “How about simply, ‘Good morning, Shauna’ and oh put your hand on your heart when you say it, “it releases oxytocin, it’s good for you, you know.”
She knew the science would win me over. So the next morning, I put my hand on my heart, took a breath and said “Good morning, Shauna.” … And it was kind of nice.
This became part of my daily mindfulness practice. And a month later, when I saw her I admitted how helpful it had been.
“Wonderful!” she said, “You’ve graduated, now the advanced practice… ‘Good morning, I love you Shauna!”
So the next day, I put my hand on my heart, anchored myself and said, “Good morning I love you Shauna” I felt nothing, except maybe a little ridiculous, but definitely not love. But I continued to practice, because as we know, what you practice grows stronger.
And then one day, I put my hand on my heart took a breath “Good morning, I love you Shauna” and …I felt it. I felt my grandmother’s love, my mother’s love, I felt my own self-love.
And I wish I could tell you that my life has been a bubble of self-love ever since and that I’ve never experienced shame or self-judgment again, but that’s not true.
What is true though, is that this neuropathway of kind attention, has been established in me and is growing stronger every day.
So I invite you tomorrow, to put your hand on your heart and say “Good morning …” And, if you are really brave: “Good morning, I love you.”
~Shauna Shapiro, PhD, is a professor, author, and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness. With twenty years of meditation experience studying in Thailand, Nepal and in the West, Dr. Shapiro brings an embodied sense of mindfulness to her scientific work. She has published over 150 journal articles and chapters, and coauthored the critically acclaimed texts, The Art and Science of Mindfulness, and Mindful Discipline: A loving approach to setting limits and raising an emotionally intelligent child. Dr. Shapiro is the recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies teaching award, acknowledging her outstanding contributions to graduate education, as well as a Contemplative Practice Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute, co-founded by the Dalai Lama. Dr. Shapiro has been invited to present her work to the King of Thailand, the Danish government, and the World Council for Psychotherapy in Beijing, China, as well as to Fortune 100 Companies including Cisco Systems, Genentech and Google. Her work has been featured in Wired magazine, USA Today, Dr. Oz, the Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, and the American Psychologist.
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