A few days ago I came across a promotion for a self-care program that had among its marketing messages, a quotation attributed to Buddha. It urged: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
This adage stood out to me because I knew this had to be a fake Buddha quote–that is, one of the many memes on the internet that go around with a message that sounds nice but that doesn’t really sound very Buddhist, and when we search his works, we find he actually never said.
Buddha never said such a thing because he didn’t have to.
In Buddhism lovingkindness means extending the compassion we have towards ourselves out to the entire universe. It takes for granted that we accept ourselves and regard ourselves with kindness and warmth and asks us to share this with the people we know, people we don’t know, even people we feel most challenged and offended by, and then, too, to all beings.
This is not to deny the importance of the prescription to love ourselves first. When the US psychologist and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg asked the Dalai Lama to speak to the issue of “self-hatred” at a small gathering in 1990, he was utterly baffled and confused by her question, and repeatedly asked the translator for help, convinced he couldn’t be hearing correctly. Through their discussion in which he asked her to explain the thoughts and behavior of the self-hating, it became apparent that what is a rampant affliction in the West has little hold in the East.
So even if the Buddha never uttered these words as it wasn’t part of the culture, it seems like those of us in the modern West are desperately in need of its message. Lovingkindness, however, isn’t just love and affection. It’s not about feeling sentimental, sweet, and gooey towards ourselves and the whole of humankind. Lovingkindness is as much about absence as it is about presence. It is about the absence of suffering.
As a coach, I see it everywhere: “Self-care, self-care, self-care.” I am not convinced that this is what we most need. For in most people’s minds self-care is additive. If we continue our pace of life, continue to rush around and set goals for ourselves in work and relationship based on societal standards, continue to identify with our thoughts, continue to believe in the many lies of a culture that sells us our identities and sense of success on the backs of others, continue to get hooked by our fears, and continue to believe our stories about who we are and how we are limited in life and happiness, but then add some bubble baths, green smoothies, yoga or 10 minutes of daily meditation, then we still suffer. We might be adding some comfort but we are not taking away the root causes of suffering.
So if we start with self, and we must, in order to share with others, this needs to go beyond just feeling warmth and affection or celebrating our positive attributes. True compassion means freedom from suffering.
This is where self-care collapses in on itself and the paradox of self/other as one is revealed. We free ourselves from suffering, in part, by wishing others free, by seeing others having what we have, by wanting for others what we want. We free ourselves when we see the fate of others bound up in our own, and contribute to the health and care of ourselves so that we may show up fully for others. We question the thoughts that cause our suffering and see how our beliefs and habitual behaviors create pain in our lives and in the lives of others. Without judging ourselves or beating ourselves up–just with the recognition, an “Oh, i see that!” and choosing something different next time.
What if we didn’t believe the voices that tell us we are not worthy or enough? What if we all were to start from the same place of knowing our true nature, and that of all beings, is what wants to be expressed through us? What if we knew that true nature is love-filled, clear, open, pure, and generous?
What if when an inner voice cuts us down or tells us we failed, it is put in its place, immediately, as an untrue thought that is trying to pull us out of our power, beauty, and sense of well-being out of fear? What if we were to feel that fear without getting trapped in its stories about what it means, and to wish for ourselves, in that moment of shakiness, freedom from suffering? What if, when we get hooked or pulled into engaging with such thoughts, we noticed the sensations in our body, nurtured the wounds that weep these old hurts and insecurities, and then moved forward from a place of profound knowledge of our passion, purpose, and goodness?
How much more effective would we be in assisting and giving to others from this place of confidence in our own loving nature?
This is the work I do with my clients. For me, coaching is less about self-care and more about self-aware. Aware of self, we are awake to life and continually learning to relate to ourselves & others in a completely new way. We channel the power of the whole universe through our body, breath, being, for our unique purpose and path, motivated by an intention to share our best and express our individual talents & gifts.
In the ultimate view, the Buddha would say that the question of self-care isn’t relevant…our true nature points to an illusion of a separate self. I care for me means I care for you because we are the same, living out soul and spirit in our amazingly singular spectacular expression.
Don’t let society dampen you down or tell you who you should be or how you should live. Don’t believe the messages about what it is to be selfless, responsible, or successful unless it truly resonates with your soul.
Start here, with lovingkindness
And end? There is no end.
Just continue to practice lovingkindness. Breath by breath.
All else is illusion.