As we approach the New Year, most people are setting resolutions. You may be resolving to eat healthier food, lose a few pounds, or exercise more. But have you considered resolving to love yourself unconditionally? Many times we think we will be happier if we are thinner or have more achievements; essentially these resolutions boil down to being something different than we are right now. What if you start by loving yourself exactly as you are? How will that change your life and your ability to meet any goals that you set?
Often one of the hardest things to do is to show compassion and loving-kindness for you. A recent article on Yoga Journal’s website addressed the topic of unconditional love. We all want to love and be loved unconditionally, but “the trouble is, if we cannot love and accept ourselves just as we are, we will find it difficult to truly love anyone else in such a limitless, unconditional way. And, perhaps even more unsettling to contemplate, if we are fortunate enough to find someone who accepts and loves us unconditionally, how can we be open to receiving that love from someone else if we haven't fully accepted ourselves?”
That said, before we set any resolutions to change ourselves, shouldn’t we first resolve to love ourselves exactly as we are? The article goes on to describe the four states of mind known as the brahmaviharas that are mentioned by both Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra and taught by Buddha. “Collectively, these four qualities of friendliness or loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) are the qualities of true, authentic, and unconditional love.” Metta is most often translated as loving-kindness and refers to a kind-hearted feeling we have for a close friend. Karuna is related to the word karma, and we experience it when we are able to see suffering and are moved to do something about it. Mudita is the joy we take in simple pleasures, and upekkha is the ability to feel connection without attachment or possessiveness.
For more information on how to integrate these four states of mind using mantras and yoga practice, visit the article on Yoga Journal online. To cultivate loving-kindness, try the meditation below from spiritual teacher Sally Kempton.
Sit in a comfortable upright posture. With your eyes closed, let your awareness drop into the center of your chest.
Breathe naturally and imagine your breath coming in and out through your heart. Let each inhalation caress and soften your inner heart space.
Become aware of a golden flame in the center of your chest. You might visualize it or simply feel its warm, glowing presence.
With each inhalation, the flame glows. With each exhalation, it radiates light through the heart—front, sides, and back.
Rest your awareness gently in the flame; inhale and it glows, exhale and it radiates.
Keep softening and relaxing the inner heart, spreading the glow of your inner flame throughout your body and out into the room.
Continue to practice cultivating the four states of mind to bring more unconditional love into your life. Make this your goal for 2014, and you may find that other goals that you have for yourself come more easily when compassion and loving-kindness are your focus. Happy New Year!