By Lana Lensman
I first learned about the value of self-kindness from my yoga teacher.
This wasn’t a lesson in how to be kind to others; in fact it was quite the opposite. She was showing me the value of redirecting my attention back to myself. She was teaching me the importance of going within, connecting more deeply with who I am, and greeting every part of myself with more kindness.
When I began to contemplate her teaching more deeply, I realized that I had always found it is easy to be kind to others, but I hadn’t spent much time considering the importance of being kind to myself.
Growing up, my parents placed great importance on kindness and generosity. This emphasis created within me a heightened awareness of other people’s needs. I learned to focus my attention outwardly, instead of intuitively sensing what felt right to me. Over time, this external focus caused me to become disconnected from my own body, my feelings, and my intuition, to the point that I wasn’t supporting my own life.
Many of us believe that in order to be considered good people, we have to put the needs of others before our own. Yet to practice self-kindness, we consider what is best for us first. We realize there are times when it is more important to focus on our own lives, instead of so quickly taking action to meet the needs of others.
When I first began my practice of self-kindness, I was often called self-centered. This usually happened when I made a decision to listen to my own inner-wisdom and take better care of myself. As I examined this experience more closely, I saw that the messenger in this circumstance, was calling me self-centered because I was not doing what they wanted me to do. They were attempting to change my decision because they were primarily interested in getting their own needs met.
We can maintain healthy boundaries, and still be kind and respectful of others. Sometimes maintaining healthy boundaries means we do nothing, say ‘no’, walk away, or end a relationship when it is not good for us. The people who really care for us, will want us to do what is best for ourselves.
When we are too focused on pleasing others, we miss opportunities to follow our own inner truths.
In the beginning of our practice of self-kindness we may feel confused when old feelings of guilt and obligation surface, or we may feel badly when we are choosing to focus on our lives instead of caring for others. In these situations, it is best to take the time we need to explore our feelings more deeply, and to determine what our right action should be.
One of the most important lessons I have learned is that no matter how kind you are, no matter how much you give of yourself, there will always be someone who believes you haven’t done enough.
Giving to another doesn’t always mean we are doing the right thing. There are times when it is more important to be a role model of authenticity and care for ourselves than it is to be kind and giving to another. In the process of an act of kindness it is beneficial to stay aware of our conditioned responses, and understand the true reason for our actions.
A practice of self-kindness ensures that our actions come from consciousness, not from conditioning.
I am actually a kinder person now. In the past, I appeared to be kind on the surface, yet I often felt angry that I was not meeting my own needs. At times I felt resentful about how much I was giving, or I had an expectation that my giving would at some point be returned.
Now, I am more authentic. I don’t act in kindness unless it is aligned with my true feelings. I rarely operate from old patterns of guilt or obligation, and if these feelings do surface, I investigate them before I act.
When I choose to be kind to others, it is more meaningful to me. I am present, and clear that I am doing what feels right. When I am true to myself, I am more genuinely kind to others.
Through a practice of self-kindness we find ourselves listening more deeply to our inner-voices. We trust ourselves more. We begin to rely upon our intuition to guide us instead of turning outward for a reflection of what is right.
Over time a practice of self-kindness teaches us to honor ourselves and our lives. From this place, we then extend out to others the same kindness, respect, and honoring.
Lana Lensman is a writer, teacher and consultant in the holistic health field. For over 20 years, she has guided healing practitioners, movement specialists and bodyworkers to transform their practice and their life. Join her at her website here.
Editor: Peter Schaller