Enduring is a word that evokes stress simply upon hearing it, so I apologize. However, it may feel as if we’re barely hanging on to the constant roller coaster of change in our lives or anxiously waiting for something to be over! Whether that means the end of a job, a relationship, waiting for kids to change, or waiting for a global pandemic to end. Transitions in life are constant. Any kind of change that impacts our daily lives can feel like, “If I can just get through this… then life will be easier.” However, life can be more easeful in an instant when we learn to hold ourselves with love on a moment-to-moment basis.
Life transitions are constant, and often what makes them difficult is we’ve forgotten the ingredient of self-love! It is like we leave ourselves out of how to meet stress and tension due to change; when we are the only one at the center. Establishing a practice of self-love is a necessary ingredient in meeting all life’s transitions.
When the pandemic hit March 2020, I was in Patzcuaro, Mexico teaching a program and coming off a year of confusion due to a me-too scandal in my spiritual community. I remember seeing emails where my colleagues in Seattle and NorCal began to cancel upcoming Karuna programs. In Mexico, the relevance of the Corona Virus was barely surfacing. I was overwhelmed and almost incapable of finishing my program when I realized we were facing something serious.
I remember lying in my bed just placing my hands first on my heart, throat, and abdomen and actively generating love for myself to calm my nervous system enough to be able to think about the demands of the moment. Once home, the unraveling continued for me and the rest of the world. I spent countless hours holding my heart and generating love toward myself during impending change.
We can relate to that sense of panic in the air that something is changing. I was primarily worried about my business. Then I would spiral into a broader awareness of the real suffering at hand and all those who were dying. Then I’d feel awful that I was worried about myself in the face of so much loss. Thus I found myself holding my heart again for all the others suffering and radiating compassion outward.
The 2020 Pandemic was groundless for many of us, isolating for most of us, and tragic for many in ways I cannot conceive. Yet, I’ve found the practice of self-love to provide a cool balm of relief that feels calming to the body and soothing to my mind in these changing times.
The pandemic was a gross example of how transitory life is by nature. We may all remember this era as a great disrupter, a time we all had to reconsider our options, a time for pause for sure!
Learning to ride transitions with self-love propagates agility and skill and unlocks the capacity to access what life ultimately has to teach us. Those teachings always occur due to change!
This simple practice has helped me stay in my body through the enormous change upon us all.
Self Love Practice:
- Situate yourself in the most comforting position you can find, lying down, in a comfortable chair, in a place where you feel held and supported. It is OK to be under the covers and use props. Whatever you need at the moment to express kindness toward yourself.
- Place your hands on your heart first to bring awareness to your body, specifically your heart center, and then breathe. Focus on the sensations of heat and the potency of your heart, your capacity to give love and receive love. This step may be all you do for months because some of us have not discovered, or we’ve forgotten the potency of the heart.
- Once you generate this sensation of warmth and love (which can take some time), then regard your hands as conduits of your heart. Place them on your body where you feel you need love and attention; thoughtfully place your hands as if comforting a wounded child or a baby bird that fell from a tree.
Bringing heat and warmth to your heart center, which is in the center of your sternum, is in and of itself a healing gesture. Empowering your hands as conduits of the heart takes practice. Some people have been gifted with Reiki practice, which is similar, but I am not a Reiki practitioner. Our heart center is a point of integration in our bodies, where we can learn to resource ourselves with our own loving and kind awareness.
As we learn to hold and resource ourselves by generating love toward ourselves just in the physical body- we later begin to develop love toward that in life, which is confusing and perplexing us in the difficult transitions.
In Karuna language, this act of generating self-love is called Maitri in Sanskrit, meaning loving-kindness. The path to discovering genuine compassion begins by making friends with ourselves. Maitri is not boastful or full of positive self-talk. Instead, it is a heart-generated acceptance and radiant kindness that we practice towards ourselves first, and naturally, this radiates to others.
The exercise may feel challenging to do - but focusing on the heart and breath at the very least will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to stabilize anxiety when we are under stress. Some people find it extremely difficult to find a heart center; they feel nothing. Others are flooded with fear and anxiety and the idea to pause and take care of oneself is foreign.
Learning to generate self-love is a practice, and like all practices, we need to find our way into the terrain and make it our own. We are not fooling ourselves or practicing mind over matter, in Contemplative Psychology, we begin with matter, the body, the heart, the breath, and learn to bring genuine, authentic kindness and love to those real parts of ourselves; daily!
Change is and will forever be upon us. I see that life with the internet creates a speed and expectancy for change. For example, newsfeeds know we are bored if we read the same headlines the next day. So click-bait headlines are churned up to entice us to click on them. This clickbait mentality is addictive and creates a positive loop. I participate in this madness daily, so there is no moral high ground here. I advocate learning to titrate the ceaseless flow of bad news with self-love.
From a Contemplative Psychology perspective, turning inward to one’s own ability to calm and restore oneself with self-love is a sane way to relate to the times we live. The alternatives are to hang on the click-bate headlines to see what is happening next and then worry senselessly about what to do about it. However, we can do much better than simply reacting to change; we can use the challenges of transitions to make us more loving and compassionate.