What comes hand-in-hand with the deeper side to meditation, though much lighter and accessible, is an exploration into your own behaviours and thought patterns. Through addressing these facets of yourself, you can find new ways to improve your outlook and overall mental health. And what is vitally important in this, is your opinion of yourself.
For a lot of people, myself included, meditation can start off as a way to “make yourself a better person”. Now, although it can help you drop negativity and improve relationships with others, a trap that you can fall into is believing that you are not good enough to begin with. Regardless of meditation practice, many of us can often feel we’re not doing things right or that we shouldn’t be making the mistakes we do. In other words, to use an oft-repeated cliché, we are our own biggest critics.
Part of human nature is to be very self-demeaning. It is the basis for a lot of humour. And while it is healthy to do so, it can be very detrimental to repeat our “faults” as our mental health can suffer. A lot of people have an attitude that they will be good enough if they complete a certain task or change a behaviour for example. Often this is unconscious too; the goals we set ourselves can be unrealistic and unending.
It is integral to the health of your mental state to love yourself unconditionally, despite all these supposed faults, despite all the horrendous mistakes you’ve made in your life and despite not being the best. When we’re not happy with ourselves, the rest of our life can be miserable too. It is so important to have a healthy relationship with yourself. Anxiety and depression can be the cause of, or conversely be caused by, having a negative view of yourself.
Many of us blame ourselves for not doing enough and not being enough. We lament ourselves for being lazy or chastise ourselves for not being a more positive influence on others. But who can be active all the time? Who can be happy and cheerful and smile all the time? Who can always react in the right way and never be grumpy? Be lenient with yourself and give yourself a break–life can be difficult enough without being on your own back all the time. If you tell me you can name someone who has never made a mistake, I’ll tell you you’re a fool!
The better the relationship you have with yourself, the better the relationship you’ll have with life. Your opinion of yourself unconsciously manifests in your treatment and opinions of others. This is because when you realise you can’t be perfect, you therefore realise other people can’t be either and you tend to forgive them for their downfalls. The more forgiving you are of yourself and others and of life itself, the happier you will be.
You can’t ever truly know yourself either. As I’ve said in recent posts, your view of yourself comes from memories and thought-based ideas. For instance, you might think of yourself as a clumsy person because you can remember several times where you’ve dropped things. This might be a trait you don’t like about yourself. However, emotions can distort certain memories and sensationalise them to an extent. It is more likely the case that you’ve had a few accidents but nothing different to anyone else. You can’t trust thought and memory to give you a balanced view of who you are.
Loving yourself unconditionally can be wonderfully refreshing, especially given that most of us criticise ourselves constantly. It can be a difficult habit to alter due to just how much we actually think this way but practice makes perfect. I write this as someone who’s had experience of both ways, almost to the extreme. There was a time when the opinion I held of myself was awful–I near enough hated myself, didn’t trust myself and didn’t believe in myself. Through practice and understanding, I’ve improved this dramatically. However, I still have trouble at times and have to remind myself of all the things I’ve written here. It’s part of the reason I’m writing this piece.
Some questions might have arisen whilst reading this, maybe about arrogance. Arrogance is usually an undesirable trait of course. But loving yourself in this way doesn’t mean to say you’ve got to think you’re better than anyone. In fact, quite the opposite: you recognise people (especially yourself) can’t be perfect and allow them space to be themselves. You might also query the idea of being “good enough” and wonder if this gives you room to strive for improvement. What is important to realise is that to become better at things, you have to allow yourself time and understand the ability to make mistakes helps you improve.
In meditation, you turn a mirror on yourself, helping negative patterns to dissipate. Having seen how little I valued myself, it was significant that I learned self-acceptance. In a society where it feels your best sometimes isn’t good enough, love has to come from within yourself.