We find fault in ourselves and others. We condemn and compare ourselves to others. The thought of never quite being good enough surfaces in the mind more often than we would like. Does this sound familiar? Raising awareness of this aspect of our minds is the first step to learn how to release this aspect of our minds and to reduce the pain that it causes.
Many years ago, I recall a discussion with a friend where I was talking about some of my frustrations with finding a job. After several minutes of listening, she bluntly stated: “You are so hard on yourself”. I said something like: “I don’t see it, I don’t know what you mean”. While I don’t remember the exact words I do remember a feeling of “not getting it” and not understanding how she could be saying this.
This incident was powerful and has remained with me, as it is an example of how my perceptions can be clouded and distorted. It is like wearing “rose coloured glasses” and not knowing the glasses are on.
Here I am many years later. After returning recently from a 7 day silent meditation retreat, I find myself running into this activity in my mind once again. Reflecting on a recent low mood, I notice that there are thoughts in my mind that are harsh and condemning of self.
What about for you? It may be that days of celebration, like Valentine’s Day can be a lightning rod for these thoughts and emotions to emerge in our minds, as we evaluate, sometimes without our full awareness, whether we are good enough.
Here are some Valentine’s Day suggestions that can serve as a place to start to explore this territory and to improve your relationship with the mind.
Take the time to practice mindfulness meditation – Start practicing for a period of time that won’t overwhelm you. For example, many people will begin with as little as 5 or 10 minutes at a time. By taking the time to practice, you are able to learn what kind of thoughts and emotions are generated by the mind.
Take the time to distinguish between the discerning function of the mind and harsh self-judgment. Discernment is necessary to navigate our way through the day. For example, simply driving the car to a destination requires many judgments on our part to keep ourselves and others safe. On the other hand, automatic self-judgment is often habitual and not necessary or helpful. We can learn to recognize this characteristic of our thinking and let it go.
Remember that thoughts are not facts – Because of our habits and conditioning, you may find that many of your thoughts are automatically assumed to be true. As you begin to practice mindfulness meditation, you have the opportunity to get to know the content of your thoughts. The knowing of your thoughts more clearly sets the stage for a greater discernment of the truth of the thoughts or whether they are simply telling a story that is false.
Practice Boundless Friendliness for Yourself – One of my favourite activities in meditation is to remind myself of my capacity for friendliness. During a meditation, try embodying a sense of care and compassion for yourself. One-way of doing this is to silently repeat statements to yourself which could include: May I be safe and protected; May I be peaceful; May I live with ease and kindness. If these don’t resonate with you, make up your own.