This young man who works security at my building stopped me yesterday to ask a question. He said someone long ago predicted that he would be obese or a criminal. He said he still thinks about this from time to time. He asked if there was anything he could do to get this thought out of his mind. Now, to be sure he is neither obese nor a criminal. To the contrary, he is wonderfully personable, responsible, in shape young man with a beautiful singing voice that I catch if I am lucky to be headed to the lobby when no one else is there.
I have been reflecting on this encounter and thinking about the negative thoughts I used to have about myself in general and about my appearance in particular. I have done a lot of work to put those thoughts away, and for the most part I have been successful. This is not to say I no longer have those thoughts. I am thinking they will always be there because their origin goes back decades. My success is in noticing them and smiling at them. They seem to have lost their power over me. I am grateful!
How pervasive is this “self hatred”? Considering there are volumes of books and many poems written and countless meditations and Dharma talks given about it, the answer seems to be VERY!
How come we internalize these negative messages about ourselves? Perhaps because they come from the ones we love, the ones closest to us, the authority figures in our lives. Some of these messages are repeated regularly until we believe them ourselves. Some are uttered once but cut so deep that we can’t seem to shake them off, like Joe’s.*
Noticing that we are caught in a thought storm or rumination is not easy. I owe my success in this area to my mostly regular meditation practice. Meditation is really mind training in its simplest form. Thoughts will come, both good and bad. There is not much we can do about that. But, with mind training, we can catch them before getting caught up in them. And once we catch these thoughts they lose their power. I know exactly from whom I heard each of those thoughts, so each time I catch one I send a smile of forgiveness to that specific person. This is my simple practice in self compassion and it seems to work just fine.
My wish for you is that you too are able to understand your thought patterns and overcome any stale messages you have internalized. Whether it is through mind training or daily affirmations or any other type of practice, self compassion is an important step to get us unstuck in our thought and behavior patterns and on to achieving our goals and desires.
* Name changed to protect privacy