Monday, May 10, 2010

Diabetes and loving kindness practice

Diabetes hands us an array of lessons on living our best lives. One of the most important is that of self-love.

I often bring up self-love in this blog because I truly believe that you need a lot of it to live a conscious, healthy life with diabetes – and actually with any other disease. Let’s face it. You need to care a lot about yourself to put in the effort and the work to get and keep blood sugars balanced and live the life you want to live. This is true for anything in life. And in the case of diabetes, I know from my experience that self-love practice is a complement to the rest of diabetic health management.

I first discovered where I fall on the self-love spectrum in my 20s, but the real change to true self-love began when I was working at a non-profit that developed websites, workshops, books, and other materials on finding peace within oneself. Their motto: “Peace begins within me”. I love their philosophy: Once you are at true peace with yourself, the circles of peace grow and spread creating a more peaceful and harmonious world.

I worked in the kids and youth department, and my job was to manage content for two websites, a few video games, books, and other activities mainly focused on building self-esteem in children. The non-profit itself also ran workshops and websites for adults. Potential adult workshop leaders would lead sessions for the staff to test which included meditation, alternative therapies, and guided imagery sessions. We would typically attend one or two of these test workshops a month.

When I began working at the non-profit, I was far from the type of person who would meditate. In the beginning, I often snickered thinking they were ridiculous. But then I began to see their value as I listened to the lessons they taught. Many of these workshops were planting seeds for my own transformation. And in terms of self-love, one in particular stood out for me - a group loving kindness practice.

We were divided into pairs and asked to face one another. My partner, a very close friend of mine, we’ll call her R, was asked to go first. She was told to repeat the workshop leader’s statements. We both looked at each other and rolled our eyes giggling in unison.

“May I be happy,” The workshop leader said.

R repeated, “May I be happy.”

And then the leader continued one by one stating, “May I be healthy. May I be safe from harm. May I be at peace. May I be free from suffering.” And R repeated each one thoughtfully.

“I love me,” the workshop leader stated, “Now hug yourself.”

R did just that. She hugged herself, smiled the biggest smile you can imagine, and sang, “I LOVE ME!”

My face froze as I stared into R’s eyes. Could I do that? Could I stand in front of a group of people and hug myself and sing “I LOVE ME!”

This is how I discovered where I fell – at that time – on the self-love spectrum. I felt my body become tense, and wasn’t sure that I could do what R had just done. I realized that I may not be at the 100% mark on the self-love spectrum.

It was my turn, and the workshop leader told me to state these wonderful wishes for people we know, people who have helped us, people we love. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to try it and proclaim self-love in public.

I repeated the workshop leader’s words: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe from harm. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.”

R smiled. But I felt as though I was putting others before myself. As I left the workshop, I decided to make self-love a mission.

Loving kindness can also be practiced solo. I was reminded of this wonderful self-love building Buddhist meditation practice this weekend while reading "Love in Full Bloom" an article found in Yoga Journal’s April edition. Writer Frank Jude Boccio tells us that self-love comes from practicing “The Four Limitless Ones”: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.

Loving kindness and compassion can be combined into one practice, and it’s a good place to begin on the self-love journey. Boccio states, “when we practice [them], we start by cultivating a friendly, unconditional regard for ourselves, before attempting to cultivate the same for others.”

Begin by reflecting on your own goodness, a time when you did something good for someone else that was kind, generous, caring, or loving. It can be as simple as opening the door for someone, letting a car go ahead of you at an intersection, smiling at someone on the street, or saying thank you. In addition to Boccio’s suggestions, I also suggest that people with diabetes – or with any other disease – take the time to be grateful for your body, mind, and spirit. Be grateful for your breath, your beating heart, your sense of touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste, your creativity and intellect, and anything else that arises – where you are grateful for you and who you are.

Then, you can continue with the loving kindness practice much as we did at that workshop that day. Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place. Follow your breath. And then state: “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe from harm. May I be free from suffering. May I be healthy. May I experience ease.” And feel free to add, “I love me.”

You will know where you fall on the self-love spectrum – and perhaps where you have work to do - if you feel any tension or unease with any of the statements. Once you are ready, begin to extend the same loving kindness to others in sequence: a person who has helped you, a person you love, family, friends, and then to people who are neutral to you – that you neither like or dislike – and then once you are ready, begin to extend the same to people you don’t like or who anger you, and then finally extend the same loving kindness to all humans and creatures around the world.

Through self-love, we live a better life. I know that I have come to a place on the spectrum where I feel blessed for the wonderful life I live, and I can proudly declare in public: I love me. Getting there, like managing diabetes, is a process filled with ups and downs. But it’s worth it.

Click here to read Yoga Journal’s “Love in Full Bloom”
Click here for Sharon Salzberg’s loving kindness audio meditation and transcript.

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