Pema Chodron is an ordained Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition. One of the goals of her work is to apply Buddhist teachings in everyday life. Consider her words:
“Loving-kindness (maitri) toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy, we can still be angry. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away or become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”
An attractive idea—to befriend ourselves, but is it always realistic? Realistically, we’re unlikely to make friends with someone we don’t like. So, in Live Conscious, we make a distinction between befriending aspects of ourselves and accepting aspects of ourselves.
Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we truly don’t like. Maybe an outdated behavior, or a knee-jerk response, or unfulfilled needs that we see as unattractive. We’re suggesting it may not always be realistic or helpful to expect that we can like or befriend all aspects of ourselves. But we believe it is realistic to learn to accept these aspects of ourselves. Accept, but not necessarily like, we believe this is worthwhile distinction.
If we create expectations that we should be able to like or befriend all aspects of ourselves, we may end up feeling as if we have failed…because try as we might, there are aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to befriend.
So, what to do, and what not to do? We see four keys:
1. Don’t deny these aspects of ourselves.
2. Manage our lives so that we are less likely to trigger these aspects of ourselves.
3. Don’t ask anyone else to convince us that these aspects of ourselves are truly okay. To request another person to convince us that some part of us is okay—after we have decided for ourselves that this part of us is not okay . . . this is a recipe for a power struggle.
4. Learn to use Perception Language—a non-dualistic language that promotes acceptance.
In my private practice I often hear people struggle with the expectation that, “Until I love myself, no one else can love me.” This is often code for, “I can’t use another person’s love to make me love myself.” I think there is some truth to this, as I said above, other people won’t convince us we’re okay if we’ve decided we’re not okay. But, having said that, other people can love us even if we don’t love every aspect of ourselves. The key is acceptance.
When I accept aspects of myself that I may not like, I grow myself up. I become realistic about myself. I can give a mature voice to those parts of myself that I don’t like, because after I accept them—and stop denying them—they calm down. Said in Perception Language, “when I accept myself, I calm myself.”