The Year of Yes, ep. 18: YES TO SELF-COMPASSION

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In a world of endless selfies and obsession with "self-discovery" and "self-improvement," I once believed that the concept of self-compassion fell into the categories of derivative and superfluous. How wrong I was. 

Metta meditation, also known as "loving-kindness" meditation, involves the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards yourself and other people. I was first taught this practice by the one and only Sharon Salzberg, a master of metta meditation. I have been practicing metta intermittently over the last two years, mainly directed toward other people while on the train and while walking the streets of NYC. Over the last month, it's come back with a renewed fervor and reverence.

From the outset, metta meditation may seem too elementary, sappy, and downright silly. I asked Sharon in class last year, "people actually do this all day, every day during retreats at your [Insight Meditation] center?" She responded simply, "yes, all day, every day." At the time, it seemed impossible, improbable. I was having a hard time connecting to it all. 

As I wrote in the last episode, I've been going through some significant and good but also rather intense transitions these past few months -- a new puppy, a partner who's had to work 16 hours per day, and increasing demands and duties in my work life. During this process, my inner voice - the critical one that will never have enough - was particularly loud and persistent. There have been a lot of "should" statements and "you need to" directives rolling around in my head. There was also that cloudy feeling hovering over me that I can only describe as a "funk."

And this is when metta came to the rescue. Sharon taught us at Nalanda again a few weeks ago. We did a metta meditation together, and that voice, for the first time in a long time, quieted down. It felt revolutionary, and so I started practicing metta again - but this time, with a focus toward myself. It dawned upon me that I was developing compassion toward myself and that this self-compassion has nothing to do with the ego.

May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I live with ease.

After even just a few weeks of focusing on metta toward myself, my heart feels fuller, the voice in my head softer and less persistent, and my outlook lighter. When I feel better, I can show up for everyone else so much better.

I designed the cards pictured above shortly after my class with Sharon. They're for my patients and colleagues, strangers and friends alike, and for me.

Metta is just so powerful. Isn't it funny how the simplest things in life usually are?

Here are some great resources to further explore the magic of metta:

  • Article with directions and recorded metta meditation

  • Book by Sharon Salzberg called LovingKindness (surprise!)

  • Article by someone discussing how metta helped her through a hard time.

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The Year of Yes is a weekly photo-and-word installment by Dr. Shah written with the purpose of evoking hope, resilience, and a gentle movement toward healthy change in all of us.