Today’s offering comes from my dear spiritual mentor and friend on the path of awakening, Aditi Devi Ma. She has been contributing her teachings to our retreat since it began four years ago, and also teaches in the Denver/Boulder area. Her book, In Praise of Adya Kali: Approaching the Primordial Dark Goddess Through the Song of Her Hundred Names is available on Amazon.com. Her teaching schedule can be found at aditidevi.com.
“Sacred greetings to all of you participating in this year’s winter retreat with our beloved Arwen Pema. I had the great honor of writing about love and self-love for last year’s winter retreat and it is truly a joy to be with you again this year.
Arwen Pema asked me to share a bit about compassion and so I’ve been thinking about how self-compassion is the foundation for developing compassion. From this, we can see that self-love is actually the foundation of self-compassion.
Here is a small snippet of what I shared last year to help link the ideas of self-love and self-compassion:
Once you are comfortable with feeling the love of the cosmos pouring into you with every breath, you can begin to feel how well resourced you are in the love field. There is no lack of love! From this, you can begin to expand your loving out to others in small ways. The best way to love, in my humble experience, is through presence with others and through kindness. Along with the loving-breath, small random acts of loving presence and kindness will change everything.
What is important to note is that talking about love has us talking about kindness. Talking about kindness is another way to talk about compassion. Kindness, compassion, is an integral part of the spiritual journey and a beautiful part of the entire journey of life.
One of the sublime teachings from the Tantric lineages of the Himalayas is that we must apply spiritual principles to ourselves first before we can use these principles to serve others. So, to use someone else’s metaphor (I think this comes from the A Course in Miracles), our own personal cup must be full before we can serve others.
Service to others is the overflow from the full cup, not the contents of the cup itself. The practice of compassion and kindness towards others begins with our own wholeness, self-love, and self-compassion. First we fill up ourselves and then, from that sweet sacred sourcing we have what we need to serve others.
Even in the ancient Buddhist practice of tonglen, where we exchange the self for the other, first we must bathe our own hearts in love and goodness before we can offer that love and goodness to anyone else.
What might be ways to begin the sacred practice self-compassion so that we are nourished and our cups fill to overflowing? First and foremost, we must develop a genuine and stable sense of self-love and self-acceptance. Self-love, and by extension self-forgiveness, bring a kind of internal relaxation that is vital to health, wholeness, healing, and a life rich with meaning and connection. Self-love is genuine kindness, a genuine act of compassion; as we learn how to love ourselves deeply, we are learning self-compassion. I remember one spring when I was in India visiting the temple where I spent long periods in spiritual practice. One morning early, just as dawn rose, I awoke to hear the voice of the great goddess Kali speaking to me. She said: “Eradicate self-loathing. Replace it with fierce self-love.” These were the first teachings She ever gave me on the importance of fierce self-love on the spiritual path. Indeed this kind of fierce self-love is truly nothing but fierce loving compassion offered to oneself. We must love ourselves as vessels of the divine and to truly open to this depth of self-love is a radical act of compassion.
Yet what does fierceness have to do with compassion? As people embroiled in the stress of modern living, we know how easy it is to be in the thick of our busy lives and forget about taking care of ourselves. We can get lost in serving others and then forget to care for and love ourselves in the midst of this. Most of us make up for this by over indulging in some form or another to give us the temporary sensation of being filled. What Kali meant when She spoke to me about fierce self-love, was that we must fiercely defend the habit of filling up our own cups before we serve others. If we are always depleting ourselves by serving others first, we will soon become exhausted and perhaps even sick, and then not be able to care for ourselves or others. So, just like when we are on an airplane, we put on our own oxygen masks first before we help others with theirs. When we do this, then we are able to care for ourselves authentically and find our way to actual fullness instead of a temporary fix or bandage. Just as the Holistic Homestead offers us support for caring for ourselves now, before we get sick or run down (among other things), so too must we care for our inner world with this same fierce self-compassion.
It is also important to remember that caring for ourselves first is not selfishness. In fact, in the world of “I can do everything and everything”, we are sending ourselves the wrong message, a meassage that we aren’t good enough if we don’t do everything and everything for everyone all at the same time. This feeds the cycle of “I’m not good enough” and therefore “I’m not loveable.”
We can break this harmful inauthentic cycle by learning to love ourselves fiercely and then we can love the world fiercely too. This is the kind of radical compassion that is the true spiritual path.
It takes time to practice changing this habit and learn to apply fierce self-love and self-care. It takes fierce conviction not to give ourselves away to others or to the circumstances of life. It takes fierce self-compassion to sit for our meditation each day when we are anxious or stressed. It takes fierce self-compassion to eat well when we are tired or a little short on funds. It takes a fierce self-compassion to get a little bit of exercise every day, even if this is just a brisk walk from the house to the car. Yet, these small acts, when done with love and awareness, are actually radical acts of self love that will fill the cup of our being. When we cultivate compassion towards ourselves first, we may then serve others with compassion.
For today, see if you can begin to watch your thoughts and notice if self-loathing or judgment arise. If they do, each time you notice them, inhale and send a little bit of love to that thought. Surround it with love and then as you exhale, breathe it out, releasing it completely. On next the inhale, breath in the compassion of the universe and let this compassion fill the space where the self-loathing or judgment was. Pretty soon, you will see that the simple act of breathing is an act of fierce self-love. With the breath, you are eradicating self-loathing and replacing it with fierce self-love.
To each of you, I send blessings of fierce self-love and compassion. May you be healthy and whole. May you be filled with blessings and the goodness of existence. May your participation in this winter retreat continue to be an act of immersion in the radiant and loving compassion of the universe.