Befriending Yourself

Six principles for it, by Jeff Foster & Matt Licata (a summary by Pat Evert)

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz

– Introduction

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All of us find ourselves unwillingly caught in a cascade of painful feelings – anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, or uncertainty – that we just can’t seem to liberate ourselves from. We rush to “do” something about our pain. The invitation is to be present with the difficult material. Breathe into it. Infuse it with curiosity and love. This is our true route to healing. Turn toward it rather than run away from it.

THE SIX PRINCIPLES

1 – STOP TRYING TO BE HAPPY (happiness is not something you can “do”)

There is so much pressure on us these days from society – our friends, family members and even self-help authors and spiritual teachers – to be “happy.” But it’s a concept that hurts us in the end, an impossible ideal that actually takes us away from ourselves and makes us distrust our “authentic unhappiness.” The truth is that we simply aren’t meant to feel happy, inspired and joyful all of the time. We aren’t meant to be “up” all the time, or even most of the time! Rather, to be held in unconditional love, great healing could emerge. We are actually built to contain all of life – the sorrow and loneliness as well as the joy and excitement, just as the sky is “built” to contain all kinds of weather. The rain, the snow, the fog, and the thunderstorms as well as the pleasant sunny days. These are also sacred and healthy and even life-giving experiences, and we need to take some time in our day to really allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling. The deepest longing in your heart will only be met by discovering this true authenticity. To be truly happy, you have to be prepared to allow yourself to be truly “unhappy,” however counterintuitive and paradoxical that sounds.

2 – TRUE MEDITATION IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK (it’s what you are)

Be authentically unhappy, to embrace the “negative” aspects of experience, we can actually touch a deeper kind of happiness. The happiness of true self-acceptance, the joy of being exactly what we are. Befriending ourselves means giving ourselves a break from the exhausting Self- Improvement Project, and allowing ourselves to experience the entirety of the present moment without trying to fix or change it. True meditation has no goal. Feel your experience for all it offers, accept and trust it. Meditation means letting the present moment be as it is. Meditation means falling in love with where you are, even if where you are is hot and sticky and unpleasant and a bit scary and groundless.

3 – “ONE MOMENT AT A TIME” (this one idea could save your life)

We only ever have to process, or “deal with” a single instant of life. Nothing more, nothing less. Start by telling the truth of the moment, even if that’s humbling (which it often will be!). Start with, “I’m feeling overwhelmed,” or “I’m feeling really sad.” It is essential to remember that staying with yourself for very short periods of time is what brings lasting transformation and change. When you slow down and go baby steps, moment by moment, you’re telling the body, it’s okay, I’m safe, this is uncomfortable and intense but I’m present with it, I’m safe. Don’t press your nervous system for too much. Just for this second or two, no more. Pushing ourselves just a little, nudging ourselves gently into the dark and scary places, but not so much that we fall into overwhelm. We can come to see that this moment’s experience is workable. Tomorrow’s sadness, the next moment’s depression is too much.

4 – SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL (but sometimes pain and grief are inevitable)

What is worse, our pain… or our attempts to escape it (thereby making the pain into an internal enemy)? What is worse, our loneliness, fear, or sorrow… or our longing to be free from them, to get rid of them? What is worse, our difficult feelings, or we think these mean about us as a person (“I’m weak, there’s something wrong with me)? Are the emotions really the problem? Or is it the abandonment of ourselves in the moment when these experiences arise? The shaming and judging of our authentic experience? The devaluing of our worth, our progress along the path? Take some time and explore the true source of our pain. It can be incredibly liberating and life-giving to discover that the freedom we are longing for is not found from these difficult experiences, but actually in them, at their very core. Difficult feelings and thoughts are like quicksand. The more you struggle against them, the more they suck you in. Even if they do not “go away,” somehow they release you from their grip when you call off the war and allow them to come and go, as they will by their very nature. Strangely, they may actually be your path to freedom. Release through relaxation, not endlessly “working on yourself” and turning your life into one unending project of self- improvement. Begin to investigate how much of your pain is actually unnecessary.

5 – WORDS ARE MAGIC SPELLS (so cast them wisely!)

Does the word “flower,” the idea of it, really capture the inner mystery of a flower? Does the word “anxiety” really begin to capture the LIFE surging through the body in a given moment?

Rather than saying to yourself, “I’m anxious,” (or scared or angry or lonely or bored, etc.), try dropping the word, and attuning to the actual lived experience you are encountering. Be a beginner. Meet the moment as if you didn’t know anything about anxiety, but wanted to connect with it for the first time. What kind of sensations do you notice? Are they fluttering, pulsating, throbbing? Are they moving fast or slow? Do they feel shallow or deep in the body? Are they warm or cold? Are they intense or gentle? Are they moving in straight lines, circles, zig-zags? Are they sharp or dull? How far under the skin are they? Do they change when you bring awareness to them? Do they become more intense? Do they expand or contract? Do they start moving around in the body? Perhaps this is just a part of your body that is starved of attention and oxygen. Breathe into that place that feels tight, contracted, bound-up. This is an act of love. They are just parts of me longing for love and kindness. They are the abandoned parts, the parts I need to take care of right now. We can come to realise that feelings and sensations in our bodies are ultimately safe, even if they feel unsafe. We are actually bigger than any thought, sensation or feeling. We can begin to hold our fear and boredom and sorrow. We are Awareness, but we could also call it Love. Or Who You Really Are.

6 – THE SECRET OF “HOLDING, NOT HEALING” (“negativity” as a call for love)

Imagine or visualise a difficult thought or emotion as a child knocking at your door. They have not come to harm you in any way, but just to be held. Once inside, we can sit with them and have a conversation: Why have you come? What do you need? How would you respond to this frightened little one when you opened the door? Rather than becoming swallowed up by this energy, imaginatively allow it to form in front of you where you can ask it why it has come, what it needs to show you, what it wants. See it as a lost and helpless and forgotten part of you seeking love. “Befriending” is not as much about “healing” as it is “holding.” Nothing needs to be fixed. We slow down, and breathe, “I am here to meet with you, to hold you, to listen to you, to care for you. Let us be true friends. I trust that you are just a part of me, needing love. I want to get to know you, moment by moment.” We are holding and we are already being held – by the Universe. Even in the moments we feel we cannot “hold” ourselves, we are already being held by Life. Even when the present moment feels “unbearable,” Life is bearing us. Open your heart and soften into the moment.