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What meditation has taught me about self-love.

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Listen to my self-love guided meditation (meditation begins at 7.40mins)

A couple of months ago I rolled out of bed as the alarm went off, walked past the full-length mirror in my bedroom and uttered an audible ugh when I saw my reflection. So much for self-love!

Before I began my daily meditation habit, I would have kept on walking and gone about my day carrying that self-loathing with me, probably not even aware that it was there.

But on this occasion I stopped, I walked back to the mirror and gave myself a talking to. I looked at my reflection and I said thank you to my 53 year old body, my silver hair, my breath and for another day of life. Then I carried on with my day with gratitude and love in my heart.

When was the last time you thought or said something positive about yourself? Can you remember?

Now think of the last time you had negative thoughts about yourself. Maybe you questioned or criticised something you had said or done.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find it easier to recall the negative than the positive. Psychologists call this the ‘negativity bias’ - it’s a thing we humans do.

So you might be asking yourself what does this have to do with meditation?

Self-love - self-acceptance, self-compassion - is at the heart of meditation. As we meditate we cultivate self-love, and in turn self-love helps us establish and maintain a regular meditation practice. It’s really a symbiotic relationship and a beautiful one at that. The more you meditate the more self-love you develop and the more self-love you feel, the more you’re inclined to meditate.

So what is self-love?

First and foremost it’s a universal birthright.

Self love in action is being kind to yourself, treating yourself with understanding and forgiveness. Recognising you’re not perfect and being ok with that. It’s also a recognition of your place in shared humanity and with that comes an acknowledgment that other people are not perfect either. And that's ok too.

And why does self-love matter?

Cast your mind back to the last time you heard a safety announcement - the instructions are always to put on your own oxygen mask or life-vest before helping anyone else.

Self love is exactly that, in taking care of yourself, it means you’re more able to help others and to do so from a place of authenticity. You're no longer an exhausted stressed out people pleaser with no boundaries, but instead a compassionate and loving being with a genuine sense of connection with other beings and the world around you.

It’s also important to note that studies have shown that those who lack self-compassion are at a higher risk of ill health, both physical and mental. If you think about it… who hears the negative self-talk inside your head? It’s your body. How we think can change the way we feel…and how we feel can change the way we think. Given our negativity bias it would be easy to fall into a vicious cycle of mental and physical discomfort and disease.

So where exactly does meditation fit into this?

First, at its heart the practice of meditation is about quietening the mind - thoughts will always be there - our mind is designed to think - but in cultivating a meditation practice you learn how let thoughts arise and dissipate without connecting to them - an important skill if you consider how dominant negative thoughts can be.

As you allow a sense of silence and stillness to settle within you, this leads to greater self-awareness. As your self-awareness grows, you will become more attuned to your thoughts and feelings, just like I did when I passed the mirror that morning.

As you connect with your internal landscape, your intuition is heightened. You will become more aware of your yums and your yucks. The yums are those things that bring you joy and fulfilment and the yucks are those that don’t. Embracing the yums and saying ‘no thank you’ to the yucks is a potent form of self-love.

Second, numerous scientific studies have shown that a regular meditation practice has profound effects on our physical and our mental and emotional health. It used to be thought that the brain couldn’t change but then neuroplasticity - the brain’s innate ability to form and maintain new neural pathways - was discovered.

Sarah Lazar, a Havard-based researcher, was one of the first scientists to study the effect of meditation on the brain. Her research found that among other things, meditation increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with compassion, empathy and emotional control.

And this isn’t the end of the good news, her research demonstrated that this increased activity in the brain isn’t limited to the period that someone is meditating, thanks to neuroplasticity the effects of meditation can be ongoing. Similar to muscles, the more we use certain parts of the brain, the larger and stronger they become. What fires together, wires together! The more you meditate, the more emotional self-awareness and compassion you generate.

Finally I think it’s important to acknowledge that you show yourself love when you take the time to sit and meditate. The act of identifying a time and a place to meditate is by it’s very nature a gift from you to you.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the modern mindfulness movement calls it a ‘radical act of love’ to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself.

And on those busy days when you don’t have a minute to think let alone sit in silence for 20 minutes, there are countless simple 1 or 2 minute practices - called ‘Peacefinder’ practices by my meditation teacher, Sarah McLean - that you can pepper throughout your day and that will keep the light of self-love and compassion shining no matter what.

So I invite you to start right here and now - place your hand on your heart space. Imagine a soft white light in that space. Take a deep breath into your heart and feel the light get brighter. Exhale and commit to loving yourself for who you are, how you are and where you are. Take four more deep breaths just like this.

Self-love - you simply start where you’re at, connecting with the love that lives through you as you.

Self-love is perfectly encapsulated in the poem 'Love after Love' by the Nobel prize winning poet Derek Wolcott.

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.


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