Cultivating Self-Love and Compassion

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Gardeners of Our Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

Some people find it hard to know where to start when it comes to cultivating self-love and compassion. The idea looks good on paper but in practice the hangup runs along the lines of “How am I supposed to create something out of nothing? How am I suddenly supposed to love myself when actually I don’t even like myself? How am I suddenly supposed to feel compassion when actually all I feel is resentment and hostility?”

What we want to emphasize here is that all of us are the gardeners of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. All of us have spent many years cultivating certain states of being, it’s just that many of us have directed our energies in less than ideal directions, directions that may have seemed justified but actually ended up being unhealthy and destructive for us. We may have cultivated resentment and hostility towards the people closest to us or towards the world in general. We may have cultivated revenge fantasies. We may have cultivated the relentless drive for power or money or fame. We may have cultivated a highly negative self-image.

Cultivating Healthier Seeds

At any rate the point is that we all do have a great deal of experience with cultivating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We can apply the exact same strategies we’ve been using all along with our less than ideal states of being in order to start cultivating the healthier ‘seeds’ within us, to start cultivating our capacity to love ourselves, to be compassionate people, to be forgiving people, to use our insight and reason to see below the surface of things, to use our human powers to reduce suffering in the world.

Remember that all of those destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might be causing problems now didn’t simply arrive fully formed from one second to the next. They started as barely perceptible potentialities but then grew in strength over the days, months, and years before existing in their current powerful forms. It’s possible to do the same exact thing with the nourishing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors too. This all starts with deciding in no uncertain terms that the resentment, hostility, thoughts of revenge, and violent thoughts and actions aren’t working anymore. It starts with becoming determined to water the right seeds daily instead, the seeds of self-love and compassion, even though at first they won’t be fully formed plants, at first they’ll be weak and almost imperceptible, just like the hostility and resentment were a long time ago.

Say No to the Destructive Thoughts and Feelings

It can be a good place to start to simply say no to the destructive thought or feeling when it arrives and just as importantly to say no to the temptation to turn that thought or feeling into some palpable behavior. Saying no is like pulling out a weed from the psychic garden to create more space for the healthy seeds to be planted and to grow. When we remember that love and compassion are not nouns but verbs, that those who practice self-love and compassion in their lives act in loving and compassionate ways, it’s easy to see how saying no to the destructive behaviors is a good starting point for deciding upon an alternate constellation of behaviors in daily life that will serve to reinforce the inner work of cultivation going on.