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7 Ways to Cultivate Love and Compassion for Yourself

Perhaps one of the hardest and most healing things we can do for both for ourselves and for the world is to cultivate love and compassion for ourselves.  In the Buddhist practice of Metta, or lovingkindness meditation, it is taught that in order to have love and compassion for others and the world, we must begin with offering those energies to ourselves. In the practice, we begin by generating the feelings and qualities of love and compassion and then repeating phrases like these: 

    • May I be happy.
    • May I be peaceful.
    • May I be free of suffering.
    • May I have ease of well-being.

It is understood that without a strong foundation of compassion for ourselves, we will not have the ability to truly embody those qualities in the world and extend them to other beings.  For many of us, who have grown up in western culture, it goes against our grain to love ourselves first.  This can be seen as selfish and self-centered.  At this time in our personal lives and in our collective experience, loving ourselves is a key part of the new paradigm which allows for greater love and compassion for all beings and for our world.

There are many ways to cultivate love and compassion for oneself.  The key is that it is a process, it takes time and it requires some commitment to ourselves.  In addition to Metta practice, which we will explore more fully in future posts, here are 7 Ways to Cultivate Love and Compassion for Yourself:

1. Be Still.  Connecting with the heart, with the deeper aspects of oneself requires slowing down and going within.  Just as the turtle pulls into it’s shell when it needs to feels safe, we need to go within to begin to create a different relationship with our self.  Taking time each day to slow down and to be still allows us to connect more fully with the heart and to access the parts of ourselves that need love and healing. 

Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.  Place one or both of your hands on your heart and focus your breathing in the center of your chest, your heart center.  Allow yourself to feel your heart and be open to being present with what is arising.  No where to go, nothing to do, just being there in the heart.  Start with 5 minutes per day.  Ideally, this practice is done for 10 to 30 minutes per day, especially when working actively on connecting with the energy of the heart.

2. Journaling.  Writing is a way to connect with the deeper aspects of ourselves and particularly to track what comes up in still time or as we are working to cultivate self-love.  It is a way to begin to work with the beliefs and feelings that keep us from loving ourselves more fully. 

Create a list of your positive qualities or nice things that others say about you.  Create a list of the negative messages or voices you uncover as you begin to be more present.  One of the other important aspects of journaling or writing things down is that it concretizes your experience – it can make it more real for us, which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to do.

3. Affirmations.  I know you are familiar with the phrase, “fake it till you make it”.  This is true with loving ourselves as well.  We may not feel it right away, it may bring up a lot of difficult feelings, but by beginning to express love and compassion openly we can create a change in how we respond to ourselves. 

Affirmations are one of the best ways to bring in a positive energy.  They work on two levels.  1. Affirmations help to bring in the energy or feeling we wish to cultivate.  2. What arises when we work with affirmations shows us the beliefs and feelings, which are keeping us stuck and in this case, keep us from loving ourselves.  Some ways to work with affirmations include:

      • Write affirmations repetitively. Post them in various places so you will see them throughout the day such as on  your mirror or on the dashboard of your car.
      • Mirror Work  – sit in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations as you gaze at your own self.  This is a very powerful technique that Louise Hay has taught a lot about.
      • Create a recording so that you can listen to the affirmations over and over in your own voice. Add this to your mirror work.
      • Some suggested affirmations include:  I love myself.  I love and approve of myself.  I love myself completely as I am.  I am beautiful and lovable however I am feeling.  Also, create your own affirmation that feel right for you.

4. Recognize Critical Self-Messages.  Whether it is through your work with affirmations or as you go about your day, begin to notice the negative or critical voices.  Many of them were learned as children, but they have grown in harshness and power over the years.  Sometimes they are so powerful that we don’t even know they are there.  Now, we are choosing to listen, to see the voices and messages that are driving us.  It is these same voices that keep us from loving ourselves by perpetuating the cycle of harshness and sometimes, abuse in our lives. 

By uncovering critical self-messages, we can begin to change our habitual patterns.  Keep a list in your journal of these critical voices.  Begin to cultivate loving messages in response to these voices.  When you hear them, ask “is that so?  How do you know that?”  Bring in positive affirmations to create new patterns when these voices arise.

5. Learn to Feel More Fully and Express Emotions Constructively.  For many of us, we learned to stuff or suppress our feelings from a young age.  As adults, we continue to follow the unhealthy patterns we learned as children.  Learning to experience and express our feelings is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves.  This can also be a very uncomfortable place.   For many people, it is a place where we become numb.  Our thoughts move faster than our emotions and unless we are willing to slow down and be present with what we are feeling, it can be difficult to access.  Give yourself the time and space to begin to experience your feelings.

6. Consistency.  In building any relationship, it takes time and it requires consistency to feel safe and loved.  In cultivating a more loving relationship with oneself, it is important to be consistent.  Find some time daily, or as often as you can, even if it’s only a few moments, to slow down and connect with yourself.  Showing up for yourself in a regular way is a very loving thing to do for yourself.  Embrace this and create a structure for cultivating love and compassion in your life that you can commit to.

7. Be Gentle and Loving with Yourself.  Many of us have experienced harshness and severe criticism in our lives.  Our messages about love are very mixed up.  It is vital to approach ourselves with gentleness and kindness.  This includes accepting who we are and where we are in our life’s journey. 

By moving from a place of acceptance, with gentleness, we can begin to create new ways of being and we can create a loving relationship with ourselves.  As you go about your day, notice when you are being harsh or self-critical, begin to give yourself a break and practice cultivating loving-kindess as a way to be gentle with yourself.

I encourage you to take some time today to explore loving yourself more fully and consciously.  This is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, to others and to the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.

Join me each May for May Is For Metta: 31 Days of Lovingkindness Exploration.  Learn more…

21 Responsesso far.

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  5. […] when I shared some magazines with the Chrysalis House that had an article I had written on 7 Ways To Cultivate Love & Compassion For Yourself, based on a post from this blog.  It also featured an article about Heal My Voice founder Andrea […]

  6. Great post and suggestions, Beth. Thank you. We’re so inclined to always find what’s wrong with everything either in order to join the conversation or to avoid what we don’t want that it’s VERY important to learn to focus on the positive.

    • Hi Kelly. Thanks for your note. I so agree. It’s important to focus on and cultivate the positive and at the same time work on what that brings up for us, i.e. the shadow so we can expand our container and become more of who we truly are. Looking forward to exploring your blog as well. Love & light, Beth.

  7. Reblogged this on The Heart of Awakening and commented:

    One of the earliest posts on The Heart Of Awakening was 7 Ways To Cultivate Love And Compassion For Yourself; this continues to be one of the most popular and what I feel is one of the most important posts found here. In my personal journey of healing and transformation, learning to love myself was the key that opened the door for new possibilities to emerge. Although I had tried to work on this on my own in various ways, I had not had tremendous success as the patterning and critical voices I carried overpowered any voices of self-love I might have tried to develop. Even having focused for years on the heart as a focal point of my spiritual practice, I still felt like I wasn’t worthy enough of my own love and compassion.

    In 2003, I had the blessing to connect with a teacher of the heart, Maria Lucia Picaza and spent a year devoting myself to the heart as guide through her program, University Of The Heart. This year was a turning point in my life. Interesting, I was in the beginning of a period of tremendous change – relocation, the loss of my mother, separation, financial stress and a lot more was to come over the next few years. I call this a blessing because had I not begun to devote myself to the heart and to loving myself at that time I don’t really know how I would have made it through that difficult time. I continued to have intense major losses for a period of about 3 years and much of that stirred up old traumas and patterns I had not resolved.

    Being gifted with the tools that Maria Lucia shared in addition to my spiritual practices and a number of heart-centered guides in my life, I was able to consciously work to let go of old patterns, feelings and beliefs that were no longer serving me and to move into a new way of being – one of love, compassion and acceptance of myself and others.

    If you explore, you may be able to find a copy of Maria Lucia’s book, The Heart’s Unraveling: The Birth of a New Evolutionary Directive, which offers a foundation in shifting our consciousness from a mind based directive to a heart based path. The post 7 Ways To Cultivate Love And Compassion For Yourself developed out of an essay I wrote that summed up what I learned about the heart during that year. These steps have since become a foundation in my personal life, in the work I offer to others individually and in workshops, and in my writings.

    I hope you enjoy the post and as always, feel free to share your thoughts, feelings and reflections.

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  13. Susan Stern says:

    Thank you Beth. I appreciate your timing as I’ve recently been striving towards more wholehearted practice of these principles and as you mention the western mindframe, it’s nice to have reconfirmation that it’s good to do! You call forth some nice practices. I’m hooked on my evening look in the mirror when I smile and say, I love and approve of myself…. it’s become a real treat. Also, when I tell my dogs what good girls they are, I strive to hear that for myself–it’s at least another daily check point if my self-talk is in line with those positive messages or distinctly different from what I share with them!

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Susan. I am glad the post was timely for you. That’s such a good point – to check whether our self-talk is in alignment with how we would speak to those we love and care for. And, I love how you use your dogs and how your relate to them as part of your practice. One of the questions I often consider when working on shifting the inner critic is, “what would I say to a good friend or loved one if they were in my shoes?”. For most of us, that would be words of kindness and compassion.

  14. Amanda says:

    Lovely touchstones and important reminders. The key is remembering to take time . . . To take time!

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