by Chelsea Doohan
Are you a perfectionist? Do you know one?
Do you struggle with self criticism or beat yourself up over things big and small?
Do you get tired of telling a friend or partner that they are okay, that they are good enough?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be interested in some tools that yoga and Buddhism have to offer, tools are available to you even if you are not a Buddhist or a yogi.
If you are not a perfectionist, you probably know one. And if you work with one or live with one, you feel and deal with the effects of the perfectionism, even when it is not your own. Either way, could you use something to soften the sharp edges of perfectionism?
Take this from a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist: If there is an antidote to perfectionism, it is metta.
The translation of metta says most–if not all–of what you need to know about it: it is loving-kindness or loving-friendliness.
I remember sitting in a corner of the big studio at Solaluna one evening when I first learned about metta. The instructor led us in silently saying to ourselves phrases like “May I be well” and “May I be happy.”
For this conservatory student, accustomed to rigorous discipline and unforgiving self-criticism, the idea seemed almost alien. Sure, I was used to being kind to others, but to myself?! My mind revolted… There were self improvements to be made! Shortcomings to overcome! Deficits to make up for!
Saying kind things to myself was so radical compared to what I was used to, I ended up weeping that day.
But interestingly, this experience wasn’t a put-off. Rather, I felt strangely opened, almost cleansed by the experience. And I wanted to explore it more.
Practicing metta over time has revolutionized my relationship with myself, and if you struggle with perfectionism, it might do the same for you.
Metta comes from the Pali word for friend. My guess is that you know how to direct love and friendliness to your friends. You tell your loved ones how you feel about them, you wish the best for friends, you are probably exceedingly kind to animals, etc. You can start your practice by recognizing that you already have metta inside you. For some of us, the tricky thing is directing to ourselves.
Below I share a practice that can help you cultivate the same kindness towards yourself that you already give to others. Try it out, or share it with the perfectionist in your life…
If your initial experiences are anything like mine, it might be a tall order to fully accept yourself with complete kindness. That’s hard for almost everybody! A lot of complications can arise from trying the wholesale approach, so start small and start simple.
Choose one part of yourself.
Gently offer metta to your bones, to your breath, or to your blood. Or you could try sending metta to a body part like a “bum knee”. Alternatively, you could give metta to a psychological part of yourself, like the voice of criticism. You might imagine it like the voice of a person who is hard-edged but will soften a bit when shown kindness.
Use Simple Phrases.
These are some of my favorites:
“May I be well.”
“May I be happy.”
“May I be free from suffering.”
There is no rule about sticking to these phrases exclusively. If other phrases come to you, use them!
Take It into Your Life
You can try out these phrases while you are lying in bed before sleep or in the quiet moments of morning. If you have a meditation or yoga practice, that is a great space for metta. There are infinite opportunities to practice, including while driving, riding the bus, walking, running, waiting in line, etc.
In Oberlin right now, there are a number of ways you can get support and instruction in metta. First, there is an eight-week course in Mindful Self Compassion at Solaluna taught by Martin Thomson-Jones. For more information, go here.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for the eight-week commitment, there is also a weekly metta meditation at Solaluna on Mondays at 8:30 PM, which uses a drop-in, pay-what-you-can class structure. There you can benefit from some instruction if you are new to the practice, and everyone can participate in the group sit, which is followed by questions and discussion. No matter your experience level, you can always benefit from building community and support around your meditation practice.
You can also get a taste of metta in many of the yoga classes at Solaluna. Metta is an essential component of Simple Yoga, and Audrey also uses it in her classes. By including such practices, we at Solaluna want your experience in class to be nourishing to your whole self, so that you are practicing more than just physical exercise. Our hope is that we can help you toward a state of larger kindness, one that includes yourself in the breadth of its circle.