We may think meditation will improve us, but it’s really about accepting ourselves as we are right now.
When we start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, we often think that somehow we’re going to improve, which is a subtle aggression against who we really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I had a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” Or the scenario may be that we find fault with others. We might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect marriage.” “If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get on, my job would be just great.” And, “If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.”
But 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 and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Curiosity involves being gentle, precise, and open—actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see clearly, not being afraid to see what’s really there. Openness is being able to let go and to open. When you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there’s no obstacle to feeling lovingkindness for others as well.
This piece first appeared in Tricycle and is reprinted here with kind permission of the author.
Pema Chödrön,an American Buddhist nun, is a founding member and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America established for Westerners. https://pemachodronfoundation.org
Can we live softly and spaciously, with a loose grip and a joyful heart, even in times of great sorrow and loss?
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