mi querida amiga: the law of making friends with yourself
in the law a “shall” is an always, and a “may” is permissive. so here’s the law of self-compassion: i shall pay attention to my heart. i shall remember that i am love. i shall best friend myself. i shall practice daily awareness and gratitude.
i shall participate in sangha. i shall advocate for those who can’t and don’t. i shall teach and be taught. i shall learn and forgive.
sometimes this practice is easy, and at times it takes me a while and a lot of work to remember and really feel, know, and trust that my best friend is me…and that the way i hope to treat others, with kindness, respect, and authenticity, is the way i shall be treating myself. the practice of self-compassion is one that requires frequent practice, as the habituation of the mind towards internal critic mode is generally high. (thank you ana forrest for teaching me how to connect with the breath to be present when this occurs.) although i know this, and have tools to be present to the patterns of the monkey mind, i still need reminders and support. for this i have much gratitude for dear friends and teachers, both old and new on the dharma road. their help allows me to rein “it” in. when googling ideas about self-compassion and mindfulness practice i came across a truly remarkable free mindfulness based stress reduction (mbsr) program. dave potter has archived a treasure trove of practices that are free and available online for everyone from moscow, idaho to moscow, russia. thank you dave, you are a new friend and teacher.
while perusing dave’s website i came across a distillation of teaching by pema chodron called the 4 keys to waking up by andrea miller. the article originally appeared in shambhala sun in march 2014.
below you’ll find a summary of the points, i’ve included the entire text of the making friends with yourself one as it’s particularly poignant and relevant at this stage in my path and feel that it may resonate strongly with you:
1. stabilize your mind
“You could call it training or taming the mind to stay present,” Ani Pema says, “but a more accurate way of describing it is strengthening the mind. That’s because we are strengthening qualities we already have, rather than training in something that we have to bring in from the outside.”
2. make friends with yourself (or mi amiga querida)
One of Pema Chödrön’s students wrote her a letter. “You talk about gentleness all the time,” he began, “but secretly, I always thought that gentleness was for girls.” When Ani Pema recounts this story, the retreatants—predominantly female—laugh. Unsurprisingly, once this student tried being gentle with himself, he had a change of heart. In the face of things he found embarrassing or humiliating, he realized that it takes a lot of courage to be gentle.
Ani Pema points out that practicing meditation can actually ramp up our habitual self-denigration. This is because, in the process of stabilizing the mind, we become more aware of traits in ourselves that we don’t like, whether it’s cruelty, cynicism, or selfishness. Then we need to look deeper, with even more clarity. When we examine our addictions, for example, we need to be able see the sadness that’s behind having another drink, the loneliness behind another joint.
This brings us to unconditional friendship with ourselves, the second quality that Ani Pema teaches is critical for waking up. As she explains it, “When you have a true friend, you stick together year after year, but you don’t put your friend up on a pedestal and think that they’re perfect. You two have had fights. You’ve seen them be really petty, you’ve seen them mean, and they’ve also seen you in all different states of mind. Yet you remain friends, and there’s even something about the fact that you know each other so well and still love each other that strengthens the friendship. Your friendship is based on knowing each other fully and still loving each other.”
Unconditional friendship with yourself has the same flavor as the deep friendships you have with others. You know yourself but you’re kind to yourself. You even love yourself when you think you’ve blown it once again. In fact, Ani Pema teaches, it is only through unconditional friendship with yourself that your issues will budge. Repressing your tendencies, shaming yourself, calling yourself bad—these will never help you realize transformation.
Keep in mind that the transformation Ani Pema is talking about is not going from being a bad person to being a good person. It is a process of getting smarter about what helps and what hurts; what de-escalates suffering and escalates it; what increases happiness and what obscures it. It is about loving yourself so much that you don’t want to make yourself suffer anymore.
Ani Pema wraps up her Saturday-morning talk by taking questions. One woman who comes up to the mic says she’s been on the spiritual path for a while, yet it doesn’t seem to be helping her. Ani Pema—as she always does—fully engages with the questioner.
“Do you have a regular meditation practice?” she asks.
“And how does that feel these days?”
“It feels hurried.”
“I have a child with disabilities, so meditation has to be fit in. I can’t just decide to go sit down. It has to be set up.”
“I get it,” Ani Pema says slowly. “So, okay, that’s how it is currently—uncomfortable, hurried. Things as they are.” Then she comes back to what we’ve been talking about this morning: unconditional friendship. Ani Pema’s advice is this: don’t reject what you see in yourself; embrace it instead. Feeling Hurried Buddha, Feeling Cut Off from Nature Buddha, Feeling No Compassion Buddha—recognize the buddha in each feeling.
3. be free from fixed mind
“Fixed mind is stuck, inflexible. It’s a mind that closes down, that is living with blinders on. Though it’s a common state in everyday life, fixed mind is particularly easy to spot in the realm of politics.”
4. take care of others
the understanding that our sorrows and joys are not separate from the sorrows and joys of others.
buddha is famous for his lists: the 4 noble truths, the 8 fold path, the 3 refuges. pema’s list of 4 keys to waking up is modern, cogent, and could be added to leigh’s excellent site. (thank you leigh!). there is also a grounding self-care component in each of them. as the path unfolds with her many twists and turns, the practice of make friends with yourself is home, wherever we are. right here, in this body, in this awakened state of presence. mi querida amiga, i shall take good care of you on this journey.