My cat looks up at me as I enter the room, hope in her slitted eyes. Luna’s half asleep, but there’s a chance, however tiny, that I might come down to the tan, shaggy rug and cuddle with her. “Meow?” she asks. “Sure,” I say, and lower my comparatively large mass to her diminutive form.
“Yes,” her nuzzles say as my fingers find her soft, grey fur. “Again. More.” And even, perhaps, “I love you.” I think she does love me, though I’m not sure what that means to a cat. Some have claimed that feline affection is merely a way of making sure there’s no interruption in the food supply. But, in my experience, she relies on much less appealing means to make sure I keep feeding her—those evermore demanding meows that tell me how mean and stupid I am that I haven’t yet figured out that she needs more food.
But, back to the petting: as Luna fervently swipes her cheek once more against mine, I think, “Well, if she likes me this much, I must be a little special. I must be really sort of okay.” I lean into the notion—though it’s a foreign action for me. I, like so many of us, have often felt it so much safer, easier, and yes, God forbid, more virtuous to think less of myself rather than more.
Last week, I listened to a dharma talk given by Tara Brach (a meditation teacher, psychologist, and author) that speaks to the idea that much of our suffering blooms from this source—the belief that something about us is not okay, sometimes fundamentally and irrevocably so. And the antidote to this poison is that we find compassion for ourselves in those moments when we feel that self-hatred. So, I ask myself, “Would you speak to your niece this way? Or to anyone you loved? Or to a stranger?” And then I can remember that I am someone’s niece and someone’s loved one and many people’s stranger, so really maybe there is room for self-compassion in my heart.
One of the quotes Tara related during her talk was from Rumi: Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness. Lately, I’ve begun to pay more attention to my reflexive reactions in the face of kindness from another. The other day, after sampling a cake I had made for her, my mother informed me, “You sure are a great baker.” I can’t tell you how astonished I was to discover how ridiculously hard it was to say, “Thank you,” instead of “Well, I just followed the recipe,” or “It’s not like it’s hard,” or “Anyone can do it,” or “You’re just being nice.”
Instead, I tried to turn toward the notion of my goodness—not just the part of me that’s able at baking, but also the essential, limitless part of me to which I so rarely pay attention. I tried and—keep trying—to lean into a sense of kindness toward myself. I imagine myself like my sweet (and annoying) Luna, yielding her small head into the tenderness of my hand, knowing it is safe there, believing in my innate goodness, even when I am still unsure.
Please note: You can find a catalog of Tara Brach’s talks (all free) here or on iTunes. The one I have referenced here is from 4/22/2015 and labeled (Retreat Talk) Loving Yourself to Freedom.