The other day I met with a meditation student who was lamenting the various things he had not been able to accomplish in 2014. “Well, next year I guess I can get more done,” he said. “2015 is the year to fix myself up.” How many of us hold this notion of improving ourselves by getting things done in the coming year? Thinking that contentment comes from fixing ourselves, rather than getting to know ourselves better or loving ourselves as we are?
According to recent research, the top resolutions of 2014 were to lose weight and get organized. These aims are both directed toward a “better” self. Exercise and a healthy diet can lead to a trimmer body. Cleaning up our inbox and organizing our schedule can help us be more productive and efficient. These are all good things to do, but they seem to be chasing after treatment of symptoms, rather than looking at the underlying disease preventing fulfillment. Maybe, instead of trying to fix ourselves, we should take on a resolution of self love and learn to embrace who we are at this very moment.
Would you rather lose weight or be in love with your own body? Would you rather be better organized or be kind to yourself? Instead of getting nit-picky about what may be wrong with us and doing things to correct our supposed faults, I’d like to recommend we take a more holistic approach to the New Year. Instead of reinventing or rejiggering who we could be, let’s learn to love ourselves more right now.
From a traditional Buddhist point of view this concept is known as “maitri,” which can be translated as “loving-kindness.” Maitri comes from the Sanskrit word “mitra,” or “friend.” Instead of trying to change ourselves, we can practice self-compassion and learn to befriend ourselves. If you are constantly at war with yourself, how do you think you can relate peacefully with other people? In contemplating the year ahead, you have the option to think less about whether you will look good in a bathing suit and more about offering yourself a gentle and loving presence, more about being a good friend to yourself. That is maitri.
I don’t want to denigrate healthy aspirations like weight loss. Far from it. But I want us to be able to love more fully in the coming year, without falling into rigid expectations of how we need to look or act. For example, making an aspiration to be healthy in the coming year is a lot kinder than saying, “I need to lose 10 pounds.” As you begin to explore potential resolutions for the coming year, note when you are lost in the details of what may be “wrong” with you and try to take a more expansive view.
Imagine you are sitting in a balcony watching a play called The Berating. Onstage is also you, a version of you going on a judgmental rant against yourself. What character would you want to see rush into this play to save the day? Kindness? Gentleness? Patience? Whatever quality you think might be helpful in countering the way you generally beat yourself up might be the resolution you’ve actually been looking for. Drop the judgment and cultivate the quality that encourages you to love yourself more.
At the very least, you can insert that quality into how you approach your resolution. If you say you want to quit smoking, commit to being kind to yourself while quitting smoking. That way, when you’re completely tempted to smoke a few days in, you won’t berate yourself for your desire. You’ll remember that you want to be kind to yourself in this process, and take a few deep breaths, go for a walk, or have a cup of tea. Simple acts of loving-kindness during this process go a long way.
There is a fine line between discipline and kindness that has to be walked in setting an intention for change. I think many of us fall on the side of beating ourselves up, so I emphasize maitri. But it might be worth noting that there is kindness and then there is laziness. Perhaps you set an intention to take care of your body by getting to yoga regularly. But it’s cold this season and your bed is really cozy. You might think, “Well, Lodro said I should be kind to myself so I’ll sleep in.” I think in your heart of hearts you know that a true kindness to yourself is exerting yourself just a little bit beyond your comfort level and applying the discipline to get to that class.
As you begin contemplating 2015, please be kind to yourself. Don’t try to fix yourself or “get better” in the coming year. Instead, get to know yourself better. Make a healthier aspiration that involves loving-kindness and befriending yourself. In that way, you can make this the year you learn to be content, exactly as you are.