Yesterday, I finished the foundational 30 meditation exercises in the Headspace app and I am now free to pick any of the 10-session packages they have. There are about 15 packages that cover a wide range of topics to help with your health, relationships, and performance. I decided to start with “Kindness”.
I know that I am not always as kind to people as I could or should be. I don’t think I am cruel, but I do have a hard time feeling empathy or sympathy for other people. I want to enhance my emotional intelligence and stop being so logical. I wasn’t always this way, I used to be a hopeless romantic who wore his heart on his sleeve, but not really anymore. After my time in the military, an emotionally abusive relationship, and working in politics in DC, I had a hard time seeing people as humans or relating to them on an emotional level. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but there is still plenty of room for improvement and healing.
The first meditation lesson for Kindness focused only on being kind to myself. This surprised me at first, but maybe it shouldn’t have. One of the concepts discussed in one of the books I’m currently reading (Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama) is how the Tibetan and Western views of compassion differ. In Buddhist view, you cannot be compassionate towards another person if you aren’t compassionate towards yourself, while in the Western world compassion is generally focused only on someone else. My meditation practice isn’t religious but there are eastern philosophical views that run through it.
I don’t think that I am particularly unkind to myself, but there is a little bit of guilt that comes with taking care of myself or showing compassion to myself. I used to be much, much harder on myself though. When I was still coming to terms with my sexuality, relationship preferences, spiritual beliefs, and political viewpoints I was very hard on myself. I was still breaking out of religious conservative brainwashing and saw myself as a weak sinner who had no value and would be better off dead. Because I didn’t match what my family wanted I was a failure and had let down everyone. I don’t feel that way today, not by a long shot, but I still have trouble being kind to myself. I see so much potential that I fail to reach and occasionally beat myself up over it, or I look at myself in the mirror and wish I was more attractive or fit and think how my partner would be better off with someone else. These moments of unkindness to myself are rare, but they happen.
Hopefully, the meditation practice will help me continue on a path of growth and healing. I hope that it can help me become more kind to myself, and as a result more kind to others. It is hard being in a new city without a lot of friends… making friends is hard as an adult, particularly for two introverts like us. We aren’t big partiers and I am awkward at conversations because I want to discuss taboo things like sex, drugs, politics, and religion. Maybe kindness can help open some of the doors that have been closed to me in the past and allow me to make the world a better place.
I can relate to be reluctant to practice self-compassion. It seems narcissistic, or like I don’t deserve it. So whenever in hear a spiritual teacher talk about it, my first instinct is to roll my eyes. However, on rare occasion that I AM able to be compassionate toward myself, unusually find that in that moment, or moments after, I am also more thoughtful and compassionate towards my friends and family, and want them to be happy as well. So I think the Eastern traditions are correct! You can’t have compassion for other until you can have it for yourself.