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Samsara & Selfhood: Becoming Friends with Yourself

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/self-healing-kimberly-kirk.htmlI’ve written before about self-compassion and allowing yourself to be where you are in your practice, but I want to think in more depth about these things. Over the last few weeks I keep coming back to the idea of “becoming friends with yourself” as an element of a meditation practice. As simple as it is, I find it a really powerful and provocative idea. It’s said often, but what does it mean, really? How does one go about becoming friends with themselves? In a world that seems to perpetuate discontent as a modus operandi, what does it mean to be at peace with yourself? Both on and off the cushion, what does that actually look like?

By no means do I have the answers to these questions. Like most good questions, I suspect there are lots of possible answers, but for me becoming friends with myself starts with four things: awareness, acceptance, compassion and care. They are all easier said than done.

Really becoming aware of yourself is hard work. It's the work of being in the moment, being mindful. Tuning in to what’s going on in your mind and body, and perhaps exploring why it’s happening – but this is far from easy. At the very basic level, this is what meditation is: sitting with yourself and seeing what is. On the cushion, this comes up as thinking, and as you gain awareness of your “monkey mind” you bring your thoughts back to the breath or whatever practice you are doing. Off the cushion, this comes up in my life most noticeably through my attachment to my iPhone. Whenever I have a down moment, I immediately pick up my phone: check my email, read one of many news apps, check Facebook, call someone, or more recently play a game of Sudoku. I’ve realized that among other things this incessant “doing” stems from a belief that I need to be doing something at all times. “I have so much to do, I’m so busy, I need to use every minute!” Except I’m only fooling myself. Tricking myself into feeling like I’m doing something when really I’m distracting myself from the present moment and rarely accomplishing anything. I feel better when I feel busy, because busy means important.

This is where self-acceptance comes in. Once we become aware of our patterns of thought and behaviors, we’ve learned something about ourselves that we then have to accept. We have to be honest with ourselves, and start with where we are. Both on the cushion and off, I am working to accept that I can only do what I can do. Because of my car accident I now live with a traumatic brain injury that has changed how my brain works. Things happen slower for me now, and often with more difficulty. While meditating, and at various other points during the day, my mind jumps to worry thoughts about how long it’s going to take me to read some book or write some paper (or blog post). Accepting my new brain as it is, and letting go of those worry thoughts hasn’t been easy. I’m working now to relate to myself with more compassion. To become friends with myself, specifically about my brain by treating myself the way I would treat a friend. It’s perfectly okay that my brain works slower now than it did before. It might take me four hours to write a half a page, but the words say the same things in the end. “Beating myself up” because I can’t work the way I used to anymore doesn’t change a thing. (Check out a recent article in the New York Times all about this!) And more importantly, accepting myself and treating myself with compassion has quite literally opened my heart in new ways. It’s not cliché, it’s real. I feel more compassion toward others, more connectedness, especially to other people who are differently-abled.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about care in terms of becoming friends with myself.  Although I’d always prioritize doing anything I could to take care of a friend, I haven’t always prioritized taking care of myself. Simple things, like eating breakfast everyday, getting exercise, or making sure to get the sleep I need so that my brain works its best can make all the difference. At first I found this kind of “self-care” talk sort of self-indulgent, but then I realized when I take better care of myself I am able to be more present in my day, and take better care of others as I move through the world.

This may all seem painfully obvious, but sadly I think it's a bigger struggle than most people like to admit. Since I’ve started to take the idea of “becoming friends with myself” seriously, my practice as gotten better and my general outlook each day has felt more uplifting. And really, in the words of perhaps my favorite queen Rupaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

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