Tears stream down my face and blood streams down my knee.
Snot dribbles down from my nose and over my lips to my chin.
As I sat on the edge of the kitchen worktop I knew that this pain was too much to bear for my tiny body.
But then the warm loving embrace swallowed me up.
Her arms wrap around me and she whispers softly in my ear “it’s okay”
It didn’t matter to her that the blood leaked onto her clean clothes or that my slimy nose nestled into her hair.
She was there for me.
She didn’t see the mess.
She didn’t see that I could’ve been braver.
She just saw my tears and my sadness and offered me some comfort. The messy business of untangling what was causing all the upset could wait.
That’s what love looks like
A warm touch and a softly whispered “it’s ok”.
At least it was for my 5 year old self. But what of my (significantly!) older self who navigates the world as an adult?
If you’re like me, when you find yourself in a red hot mess because the world hurts too much or it all feels too heavy, it’s not so easy to get that same simple love.
We judge our responses and tell ourselves we should cope better or we should try more. Then we convince ourselves that there’s something wrong with us for feeling the way we do.
But is that really true?
When we think of love in it’s purest form, without the sugar-coated overlay of cliche, it’s really simple.
Love is simple and easy when our hearts aren’t heavy with the weight of our past experiences.
The problem is we suffer tiny heart breaks from as soon as we enter the world and eventually they can harden around our heart to create a tough defensive wall.
It hurts so much to feel the cuts and scrapes of human existence that we shore ourselves against it.
The problem is, it isn’t just the pain we keep out.
We also keep out the love that would heal those wounds and the scar tissue around those nicks and scrapes becomes ugly and feels shameful - so we hide out hearts even more.
How do we find it again?
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
Another overused refrain on the theme of love is that to love other people you must first love yourself. BUT, there is so much truth within that and it’s easier and more practical than it seems.
This time last year I was on a meditation retreat in California with one the esteemed meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg (ah, overseas travel how I miss you!).
It was a transformative experience in so many ways but one thing stands out.
That was an experience of genuine friendliness towards myself FROM myself through the practices we experienced.
Do you love yourself?
For many years I had a vicious inner critic who was very quick to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, and often.
Loving myself was not an option.
That changed when I began to meditate regularly. Not because miraculously the voice disappeared but because my relationship to it changed. Suddenly it didn’t have the power to undermine my confidence anymore because I could see it was just another thought, not some empirical truth.
But I made a discovery last year.
That whilst I had disarmed my critic, I hadn’t replaced with a more nourishing voice.
The Power of Touch
Our words matter. And so does our touch.
Just as that 5 year old me needed the comfort of a gentle hand and a whispered reassurance, it turns out that we all need that too.
Without it, those wounds just get more calcified and we find it harder to truly connect with the people who matter to us and to ourselves.
What’s even more fascinating is that the science of self compassion research shows that not only do we feel better emotionally but even our body chemistry and physiology changes.
It triggers the mammalian caregiving system and releases oxytocin, reduces cortisol and calms cardiovascular stress.
Be your own lover!
At the time of writing this, we’re approaching Valentine’s Day. We’ve all had a tough year so it’s empowering to know that we can offer ourselves love in really simple yet effective ways.
In self compassion meditation practices, we use words and touch to gently recreate our inbuilt responses to pain and heart break.
It might feel a little bit strange at first to offer yourself words of kindness (especially if you are used to giving yourself a hard time) or physical gestures of touch, but what the research shows is that you don’t need to believe it or “feel” it for it to work.
You can even create micro moments of self compassion by gently placing your hand on your body where you feel upset and gently offering words of comfort.
It’s better when we share it
If that all seems a little bit hard to do or you like the sound of it but it makes you feel a bit self conscious, never fear! On Monday I’ll be guiding a beautiful practice of self compassion and loving kindness at my usual weekly free live meditation at 7.15am.
It’s also my birthday so I’d love you to join me to share the love!
You can register here and if you can’t make it live as my valentines (and birthday!) gift, anyone who is on the list will also receive a recording.
P.S. - If you already know you’d like to gift yourself access to practices that will build YOUR ability to disarm that inner critic through greater awareness and training your mind then you can sign up for the "Loving Yourself" Meditation Toolkit here