"A great deal of the chaos in the world occurs because people don't appreciate themselves."
— Chögyam Trungpa (Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)
I was watching my toddler today play with a group of slightly older children at a local indoor play space. As mentioned before in this space, he is cautious by nature and can become slightly overwhelmed in groups of children. This sometimes translates into him being bulldozed by other little ones - they take his toys right out of his hands or push him aside, and instead of taking the toys back or protesting, he shrinks a bit, steps away or clings to me. I don't want him to be aggressive towards other children, and I want him to share willingly, but I also really want him to appreciate himself and his own right to be there, to be here, on this good earth. I believe that if this is cultivated in him, he will be able to feel confident and gentle towards others at the same time, without the need to shrink. How can I help nurture that in him and his brother?
It is so hard at times to appreciate our own good hearts and minds. Probably because we don't often view our hearts and minds as being particularly good. Instead, we tend to view ourselves as being terribly flawed, or unlovable, or a mess, or maybe unkind, or ... you fill in the blank. It can depend on the day, who we are with, how much external circumstances live up to our expectations of how our lives should look. It can be very hard to see ourselves as basically good, sane beings if we have just yelled at our child or put our foot in our mouth, or made some kind of normal, human mistake. This isn't a new topic for me, but I think it can be useful to return to it, as I know in my own daily life, I am so often lacking in loving kindness for myself. And when I am lacking in loving kindness towards myself, it becomes very difficult to feel it towards others. That's the funny thing we begin to see more and more as we practice mindfulness and awareness in our daily lives. It is very difficult to open from a place of aggression towards oneself. It is very difficult to consider the basic goodness of others if we don't think it is in ourselves. So if we really want to appreciate our children in all their uniqueness, quirkiness, crankiness, brilliance, beauty and energy, and really want our children to appreciate all of that in themselves, then we need to appreciate our own messy humanness.
What does appreciating oneself mean? How do we begin to truly trust in our own basic wakefulness and compassion? For me, meditation has been the space where I have been able to see my own naked heart and rest with it, no matter what. The more I have been able to rest with it in all its moods and thoughts about the past and future, its little and big desires, its little and big mistakes- the more I am able to feel kindness towards myself. By seeing how truly human I am, I am somehow able to see how human everybody else is too, and slowly, slowly, begin to love and appreciate myself and others more and more. It is so tender, this being human. It is such a precious experience, even in the chaos and the suffering. We can begin to appreciate all of that, the more we work with not judging what arises within ourselves or outside of ourselves. Just staying with what is happening, and letting go of what arises again and again.
Another potent practice has been loving kindness or metta contemplation practice. This is a practice where you send loving kindness to yourself. Once you have worked with sending loving kindness to yourself, then you begin to send it to other beings. First you send loving kindness to someone who has helped you, who you respect. Then you work with sending loving kindness to someone you love, then to a person you feel neutral about (like the mailman or a grocery clerk) and then to a person you actively dislike. Eventually, you extend this loving kindness aspiration out to all beings throughout time and space.
There are many traditional phrases you can use during metta practice, but I like to use the following, as adapted from Sharon Salzberg's book, "Loving Kindness":
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be free from danger.
May I live a happy life.
Again, always begin with yourself. After a few minutes of wishing yourself genuine happiness, you can bring someone who has helped you to mind who you respect. Then it is lovely to bring your children to mind and wish that they be happy, healthy, free from danger and so on. And then the neutral party, and then the person you struggle with. If you are pressed for time, it can be as simple as when you wake up or are going to sleep to just say to yourself "May I be happy. May so and so be happy. May my children be happy." etc. Or just start with "May I be happy." You can work with that throughout your day. You are strapping yourself into your seatbelt in the car: "May I be happy". You reach for a snack from the fridge: "May I be healthy". You are changing a diaper: "May I be free from danger." Just bring it to mind whenever you notice where your mind is. Whenever you notice where your mind is, space occurs. You can choose what to put into that opening.
This is a simple but very powerful practice. The more you work with it, the more you can notice. Is it hard to wish yourself happiness? Is there a tightness around it? Irritation? Sadness? Just keep noticing and come back to "May I be happy".
We deserve to be here, on this beautiful earth. Basic goodness is our birthright, our inheritance when we come into being. Being human is a precious experience. The more we cultivate appreciation for ourselves in all of our humanness, mistakes and all, the more our children will see their own goodness, and appreciate their right to be here too.