There is a common misconception by people that meditation means clearing the mind and stopping our thoughts. The reality couldn’t be further from this. It’s impossible to stop your thoughts if you are a living being, but what is possible is to become an observer of them.
Observing your thoughts but not becoming involved in them is a key part of mindfulness meditation practice. It’s called a practice for a reason because there is no end goal, no perfect meditator exists, as every time you sit the experience is different. Your practice reflects real life and just like real life, things are changing all the time. We change and grow every day but it’s how we show up in these moments that determine how we feel about life and also about ourselves.
Our inner world is complex and complicated. The world does not lend itself to self-reflection and silence. In fact, we are constantly being pulled away from ourselves which is why a lot of people experience anxiety when they begin to practice mindfulness meditation. One of my mentors from UCLA, Rebecca Peters once said to me
“Mindfulness not met with self-compassion causes anxiety”
This sentence changed everything for me and it makes so much sense. If we are not used to sitting alone with our thoughts and feelings and then one day we do, we can’t control what comes up for us. Difficult emotions and memories can rise to the surface and if we don’t meet these with kindness and self-compassion of course we will become anxious as we try to deny them and push them down again.
But what is self-compassion and how do we cultivate it? The Buddhist understanding of self-compassion means offering kindness, patience and non-judgmental understanding to others as well as oneself. In a world where we are so hard on ourselves, this can be quite difficult to do especially in the beginning.
I remember the tears flowed in a class where I was trying to cultivate a sense of kindness to myself. Quite frankly it felt quite alien to me as we are not taught these skills in the western world. It was also uncomfortable but with great guidance and practice I continued and what lay ahead by great inner peace and freedom.
As the Dalai Lama says “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” So the next time you hear that little voice within speak unkindly to you, talk back but from a place of kindness. Talk to yourself as you would a friend and know that in a world that is full of imperfect people a little kindness goes a long way.