During a meditation class a few years ago, the teacher instructed the group to follow the breath, watching the rise of the inhale and the fall of the exhale. Then she suggested that we notice the moments when we found ourselves distracted and disconnected from this breath awareness. She acknowledged that it was normal to be pulled away from the breath by thoughts, distractions, sensations, hunger pains, boredom, etc., and that the important thing was to keep returning the focus and concentration to the breath. All very expected and normal for a meditation class. It was the directive that came next that absolutely rocked my world.
She said to notice how we spoke to ourselves in those moments when we saw that we were distracted AND to pay attention to how we spoke to ourselves as we re-directed the focus.
I couldn’t believe what I heard!
It wasn’t so much the words because the words were pretty benign, but, wow, the way I was talking to myself totally startled me. I never even realized that I attached a tone to the voice in my head, which means that I definitely had never noticed just how busting full of judgment, criticism, disappointment, irritation, and all the other blah stuff you can think of it was. I was being so mean to myself and judging myself up and down and all around for not meditating well enough (a humorous contradiction in and of itself).
For the first time I actually listened to myself without just reacting to what I was saying and I realized there was no compassion, no kindness, no acceptance and definitely no forgiveness in my voice. Ahimsa what?
Until this very pivotal moment that was so unintentionally but perfectly latent with svadyaya, I had never considered the immense power behind what we say to ourselves and the way in which we say it.
The way that voice inside our heads talks to us contributes to how we feel in any given moment, which then affects how we act, react and interact with others and in the outside word as a whole. Self-criticism is one of the most violent and self-destructive patterns possible and only leads us into these internal scuffles with ourselves. Noticing my inner voice that day made me realize that I was engaging in this unending civil war with myself -- and, seriously, who benefits from that?
Have you ever noticed how you speak to yourself?
Have you really listened to what you say and how you say it to yourself -- in all sorts of moments- not just moments of disappointment, frustration or misery -- but also in moments of joy, triumph, pleasure or ease? It is such a fascinating inquiry of self-study.
When I heard how I was speaking to myself I learned so much about my relationship with myself. It was so clear to me that this was not the kind of relationship that I wanted to have with myself, or anyone else for that matter. I realized that I got to choose how I wanted to treat myself. I discovered that I had the power to let go of that negative self-speak and to instead just be nice to myself. Unconditionally.
It is a practice. It is a practice to notice the chatter and to notice what it’s saying. It is a practice to notice if we are treating ourselves with loving kindness. It is a practice to start practicing that if our tendency is to continue in the internal struggle. It is a practice to notice our thoughts, and, maybe even more importantly, to notice them without judgment and without attacking ourselves even more- to notice the chatter, to notice the tone of the chatter and then to make a conscious decision to let go of the harmful patterns, replacing them with patterns of gentleness, compassion, and love.
It is a practice of breathe out the harmful and hurtful words and tones and to breathe in a really robust inhalation that is filled with kind words, kind tones and loving acceptance. Ahimsa, Ahimsa, Ahimsa.
We have the power to transform how we treat ourselves. We have the power to choose kind words and to speak with love and compassion to ourselves. Speak to yourself as you would speak to your best friend, or to the love of your life, your child or to a parent, or maybe even your dog. Just see what happens. Just notice how it makes you feel when you are kind to yourself. If you like how it feels, consider sticking with it and weaving this practice into your life until it becomes the most natural way, until you discover that it truly is the most natural way.