When I first heard “Be kind to yourself” I thought, “That sounds right.” Nice thought. But just agreeing didn’t stop my habitual grinding pace at work. I was productive but tired and cranky. At day’s end I could hardly wait to sink into the couch. 

The pattern had advantages: discipline in time management, crossing items off a list. I was willing to work hard on worthy service projects. “Times are tough, people are suffering. No time to rest!” However well-intentioned my approach, it led to a bad case of burnout. 

Then, reading Dzogchen Ponlop’s book, Emotional Rescue, I zeroed in on this guidance, so simple and direct:

“We can give ourselves a little love and compassion, especially in hard times. Of course, we think of others, too, but we won’t have much compassion to give others if we’re not being kind to ourselves.”

Kindness to myself wasn’t just a nice idea. Even in tough times, why deprive myself of kindness? How could I help others if I drove myself so hard? A relentless work ethic didn’t allow space for the heart to soften. To help others, I had to give kindness to myself first.

I began taking breaks to relax. Looking out my home office window, I enjoyed a moment of spacious awareness. Trees waving in the wind, birds soaring across the sky.

Occasionally I got up and moved around a while instead of cranking out a “few more minutes” of work that might turn into hours. If I felt unwell I asked, “What do I need?” Food. Or a nap. Liberating! With a little kindness to myself, work stopped being a burden. Inspiration flowed.

You Deserve Kindness – An Exercise

Only a couple of minutes of self-kindness can quickly shift our view from closed to open.

  1. Sit up a little bit straighter. If you’ve been slumping, let your back and neck stretch upward. Take a deep breath and relax.
  2. Pause. Notice the light of your own awareness. Rest a moment.
  3. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” Wait for the answer. “I feel like this is silly” doesn’t count! The answer could be “I feel tired and a bit bored” or “I feel curious and interested.” 
  4. Now ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Needs are universal – food, rest, respect, love, and the like. Listen for the real answer.
  5. When you discover your need, give yourself empathy: “Of course you need that. Everyone does!” Add a smile of encouragement. 
  6. Now ask, “What could I give myself that would help fill this need?” Think of something you can give yourself right now. (Not “a million dollars.”) Simple gestures are surprisingly nourishing: a self-pat on the back, a cup of tea, a short walk, or a few words of self-appreciation. 
  7. Enjoy this self-nourishment. Enjoy the positive feelings that come with giving yourself appreciation and support. Wish for everyone to have this positive feeling.
Ceci Miller
Ceci Miller

Ceci Miller has been a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche since 2009. She is a book editor and author. Through CeciBooks publishing consultancy, she helps authors and experts develop their work and expand its beneficial impact. A mother and grandmother, Ceci lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington.​

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