OMLINE Week One... Take Care of Yourself.
Years ago, I was in a qi gong workshop with a French Canadian teacher in a fishing village in southern Norway. (Which goes to show that sometimes life is a series of non-sequiturs.)
The teacher was doing his morning intro on how to get the most benefit out of the exercises he was teaching us. We were all beginner students and had been taking a lot of notes, and one of the students flicked through their notes and said, reading back what they had written the day before, 'Ah - and we must always do the exercises with love'.
And the teacher's response was interesting. He said, 'Well yes. But first with attention'.
His response stuck with me because it was so practical. And in fact, both he and the student were looking at the same thing in two different ways. Because when we love someone or something, one of the best, simplest and clearest ways we show it is by paying attention to them.
I confess - I sometimes find it difficult to use the words 'self' and 'love' in the same sentence.
As a therapist, a coach, a meditation practitioner, I think it's incredibly important. But even then, I find the term 'self-love' difficult at times. Partly because I feel it's been devalued by overuse in the culture, especially under the label of self-help.
For many people, myself included, self-love and self-care sometimes feel difficult because they go against a lot of conditioning, the whispering voice in the ear that 'self' means 'selfish'. 'And anyway', the voice goes, 'Who are you to deserve that?'
I also find that we sometimes talk about 'self-love' like it's something to achieve.
That's understandable because we live in a culture where we celebrate achievement. Self-love is often advertised as a state, a never-ending, unchanging quality that we should aspire to at all times.
And there's often an implication that we've failed in a dismal, crushing way if we don't manage to achieve that state all day, every single day.
But I find an antidote by reminding myself that love is, in fact, a verb.
And that rather than expending energy trying to put ourselves into a state called 'love', we can DO something about it.
So love and kindness can be a practice that we do for ourselves and for others, right here and now. And that process is ongoing. There really is no end to it.
We understand the truth of love as a verb when people act in loving ways toward us. A kind gesture, a check-in, a hug. Those small gestures of kindness, repeated and maintained, are often how we know someone cares about us. They literally show us how they feel.
We can do kind things for ourselves as a basis for a mindfulness practice.
In difficult times, the body and mind often respond with tension, anxiety, and stressful thoughts. And sometimes the best thing we can so is to pay kind attention to ourselves with the same level of kindness we'd show someone we love.
We can stop and pay attention to how we're feeling. How we're breathing. And even as we stop and notice those small things, we often feel different, because we've stopped pushing against them and they don't have to fight for your attention (or is that just me? Maybe it's just me...).
My first meditations were with Thich Nhat Hahn and the monastic community at Plum Village in France. Thich Nhat Hahn taught that paying attention to our breath, feelings, thoughts and our environment is a way to bring us back to the present moment.
Our troubles, he often says, come from the fact that we are carried away by thoughts and emotions of struggles past and future, and so lose our ability to be with ourselves in the present. And when I struggle with self-care, I come back to these teachings over and over.
This week, we focused on those small actions of coming back to breath and body. We spent time feeling and getting to know the body as it feels right now, the feelings as we experience them. We relaxed with the breath. And we worked toward an understanding that our body and breath will work for us by themselves if we relax and let go.
Next week, we'll take that further and work with the seeds of loving-kindness practice. This is a powerful practice, especially in troubled times. It's certainly got me through some tough spots, and I'm looking forward to us working with it together.
Thanks so much to everyone who signed up, checked in, joined us in our online mindfulness room over this past week.
Thanks to you all, from Adelaide to Melbourne, to Canada, to Massachusetts.
It's brilliant to see all of you, wherever you're from, whenever you can join us. I'm looking forward to next week.