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A Question That Confused the Dalai Lama

There is a story about the Dalai Lama that I’ve heard retold a number of times over the years that I thought might be helpful to share with my readers. The story goes as follows. In 1990, the Dalai Lama, along with western scientists, psychologists, philosophers and meditators were gathered at a conference in Dharmsala, India. When it was Sharon Salzberg’s, (author and meditation teacher) turn to ask a question of the Dalai Lama, she asked “What do you think about self-hatred? Sharon later shared that she was eager to get directly to the suffering that she had seen so often in her students, a suffering she was familiar with in herself. She shared that the room went quiet as all the attendees awaited the answer from the Dalai Lama, the revered leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Looking startled, he turned to his translator and asked pointedly in Tibetan again and again for an explanation. Finally, turning back to Sharon, the Dalai Lama tilted his head, his eyes narrowed in confusion. “Self-hatred?” he repeated in English. “What is that?” During the remainder of the session, the Dalai Lama repeatedly attempted to explore the contours of self-hatred with the attendees. At the end he said, “I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange.” It was obvious to the attendees that the Tibetan people don’t have the same degree of negativity and harsh criticism toward themselves that is experienced in Westerners.

 Our culture and sometimes our families don’t encourage self-love, but rather the spot light often falls on how we are “less than”, how in some way we are inadequate. When we don’t question the validity of these beliefs, they hurt us and don’t support our well being and happiness. In addition, I think having negative thoughts toward ourselves also hurts the people we love and care about without us meaning to hurt them at all. With many people’s lives on fast forward, falling short often becomes a regular occurrence. Yet, at the same time, who doesn’t want to move from self-hatred to self-love. But, it appears we may be going about this in the wrong ways. It’s like not asking directions when we are lost. We know we aren’t going exactly in the right direction, but we think we can figure it out, and sometimes we do, but often we just waste time, get upset and get the people in the car with us upset also.

 The Buddha said “You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.” Not only did the Buddha say that love for oneself is possible, but also that this is something that we must nurture, since it’s the foundation for being able to truly love and care for others.

 In our everyday life, caring for ourselves means getting the proper sleep, having down time to be with ourselves, spending time with people we love, and eating healthy meals unrushed. These are only a few ideas, but being specific can be helpful.

Another way that is very helpful in nurturing self-love is being kind to others. One of my favorite Dalai Lama quotes is “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Being kind to ourselves is so important today. Perhaps more important than ever before. So much is at stake. When we are gentler with ourselves, we have more to share in the world and everyone benefits. Paying attention to the ways that you are unkind to yourself, especially what you say to yourself, (automatic thoughts) may be the first seed planted in growing and nurturing self-love. When you find yourself saying something unkind, replace it with kind, gentle and humorous words (i.e. “I’m doing the best I can.”, “I’m going to be okay.” “I would like to be really happy today.”) This way you will be changing patterns. This kindness and compassion will ripple out.

 The reason I write so often about kindness and mindfulness is because without being mindful we are unable to wake up to see how we are treating ourselves and others and how beautiful our world and the people in it really are. And when we do wake up to all of this, it is very important to be kind to ourselves because old habits and beliefs are hard to break. Perhaps, having a good marriage, being less anxious, having better relationships at work, home and with friends begins with calming down (becoming present) and then being kinder to ourselves, thus resulting in a kinder overall person in the world. After all, no one is more deserving of love than you.

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