After I wrote that title, I paused and wondered if I needed to write anything more. Beating ourselves up is such a familiar experience that I think we all so get, there’s nothing more for me to say. But I will ;).
From the time we are little children we begin the process of trying to be better. It’s a quest for love. We are taught, very openly, that good little boys and girls behave a certain way. And when we behave differently we’re told that we’re bad, or naughty as my mom used to say, because bad was a bad word. So the naughty little us tries to be better, and through this process we learn the simple truth that we’re not good enough.
From that first realization our lives are spent beating ourselves up. We say, feel, and do things to ourselves that we would never, ever do to another person. We call ourselves ugly, fat, stupid, weak, unlovable, and a million other derogatory things, each one like a punch in the gut from Muhammad Ali.
And then we find spirituality, which at first feels like the antidote to our self-loathing. We learn about self-love. We explore the idea that we’re all one. We tinker with the idea that we are God, or at least a spark of God. For a time, the beatings cease and we start to think the bad dream is over.
Then what happens? Like every abusive relationship, the beatings begin again. Only this time they come with the extra power of spiritual righteousness. All the new learnings and knowledge, instead of easing the pain, become the new-and-improved proof in the “I’m not good enough” pudding of our lives. Now every “wrong turn,” “bad feeling,” or unsuccessful meditation feels like getting hit by Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson at the same time. Until one day we say to ourselves, “Why meditate and do yoga to feel worse than I did when I ate Big Macs and watched The Kardashians?
And we’re right. There is absolutely no reason to do anything that makes us feel like shit. Life has given us enough of that already, we don’t need a bunch of new techniques to get sucker-punched.
We need a hug.
I want to offer you another perspective, a new way to look at the so-called mistakes and perceived missteps on our spiritual journey. Instead of paving the path with nails, broken glass, and punches in the gut, we guide our journey with big, warm hugs of love.
I recently had the blessing of studying with Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is one of the leading teachers of Buddhist meditation techniques. Nearly 40 years ago, as a college student, she went to India to learn to meditate, and she never stopped. What started as a path to overcome her own personal demons turned into a child-like fascination with meditation and self-love.
On the first day of classes, Sharon said something I have never heard before. It struck me as so beautiful that it brought a tear to my eye. As she guided us in meditation she commented on the very common occurrence of getting lost in your thoughts during meditation. Those moments when your mind takes off down the yellow brick road singing “We’re off to see the Wizard!” or whatever else might be the distraction of the moment. This happens to us all, it’s what our mind does, and it’s why meditation is so damn hard. But Sharon had a different take: “When you get lost, when you spin out, when your mind goes for a trek, that is the most important moment,” she said. The most important moment? Why? “Because,” she continued, “it is an opportunity to treat ourselves with love.”
What Sharon was saying is that instead of looking at our mistakes as proof that we are no-good, un-worthy, shit-for-brains, we should instead use the moments when we fall to teach ourselves just how loved we all are.
Let’s take a couple of deep breaths together. Really good, long deep breaths. Take in that message from Sharon. What if every perceived mistake you ever made was an opportunity to give yourself a hug, to say I love you to yourself, and to comfort the little child inside? What would your life feel like then? What if there was no proof whatsoever that we are bad? And instead, just a string of loving hugs after loving hugs, all with the message “I love you just like this.”
What if every perceived mistake was an opportunity to give yourself a hug, and say “I love you” to yourself?
So I tried this all week. In fact, I let my mind wander on purpose just to be able to say, “Welcome back, Jason, I love you. You are so frickin’ wonderful. Let’s meditate some more so I can tell you again and again just how much I love you!” And you know what? It felt really great. Instead of trying to prove how Buddha-esque I was through my perfect meditation technique, Sharon had given me the gift of feeling like the Buddha, the chubby, happy Buddha, all warm and fuzzy and loved inside.
I started to think about this outside of meditation and began to see how this perspective fits into my entire life. I pondered the question, “What if I had it all wrong all these years? What if the goal wasn’t to be good, or great, or perfect? What if it was all just a process of being loved?”
From that perspective, every mistake I had ever made was perfect. The errors were all just another opportunity to receive love, self-love. And from there, imagine how much the love would flow to others. First our families as we celebrate all the learning together. The to our neighbors, and strangers, and the world at large. The world would be one giant hug.
Now I know some people are rolling their eyes right now and saying, “Jason’s gone off the deep end and has been drinking the kumbaya Kool-Aid.” And that’s okay. But lemme ask you one simple question, so simple it’s easy to dismiss. Take it seriously and think about it.
Given the choice between the world we live in today, the one where kids are taught that they must act a certain way to be good, this place where we’re judged by our race, our sexuality, our weight, our clothes, what job we have, the brand of purse we carry — this world where we are never, ever quite good enough; given the choice between that world and one in which we throw all that bullshit out and replace it with frequent, hardy, loving hugs and warm “I love you, selfs,” why would we ever choose that judging, harsh, cold world over self-love? Ready for a sip of that Kool-Aid now?!
The answer can only be that we don’t think we deserve it. This is another deep breath moment. Take that in.
We don’t think we deserve a world of love, so we’ve created and cling to a “reality” in which we beat the crap out of ourselves all day, every day, until we break down and run to a therapist and say, “I hate myself.” Breathe for a moment again.
Isn’t that the truth? Isn’t that what we have chosen? Isn’t that what we were taught? That’s the world as we see it, the “real world” that we worked all these years to be a part of. This is it.
And now, seeing it, experiencing it, how wonderful it is, instead of beating ourselves up, to simply reply, “I love you, self.” No condemnation, no blame or guilt or shame. Just a simple and sincere, “I love you.”
This is how we change the world; it’s the only way. We start today, right now, all of us one by one with an “I love you.” Try it with me. “I love you.” Deep breath. “I love you.” Deep breath. “I love you.” Again and again and again. “I love you.”
I wish you a week that resembles the last seven days of mine: many mistakes and lots of “I love yous.”
Big hugs of love,