Self-Kindness: The Key Ingredient to Wholehearted Living

We may often find ourselves talking a lot about love, connection, and relationships that are close to our hearts. This time of year, we may find classrooms filled with decorations, hearts, sweets, and thoughtful greeting cards. All of these reflections invite us to consider the friendliness and kindness we receive from––and offer to––others and the world.

In these moments, we may also consider what type of relationship we have with ourselves. In fact, developing a kind and friendly relationship with ourselves is one of the most powerful expressions of mindfulness practice. This month we offer you a practice for self-kindness.

You can listen to this Practice of the Month on Self-Kindness and read more below.

Self-Kindness Supports our Well-Being

Throughout history, many of the world’s greatest thinkers talk about how kindness and friendliness are the bedrock of well-being, happiness, and connection. It is also the basis of cooperation, which is a key function of empathy.

Richard Davidson’s research at the Center for Healthy Minds shows that a regular practice of kindness–in as little as two weeks–can improve our well-being.

This month, we are focusing our attention on developing an attitude of kindness and friendliness towards ourselves. Just as extending kindness to others is important, extending kindness and friendliness to ourselves is a basic and powerful expression of mindfulness that can support our well-being.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your kindness and affection.”

― Sharon Salzberg

Developing an Attitude of Kindness

Finding and placing attention may come easy, but developing attitude can be much more nuanced. Here are a few ways to approach practice with an attitude of kindness.

  • As we find ourselves attempting to bring our attention to the sensations of the in-and-out breath, we can ask ourselves, how can we do this with an attitude of kindness?
  • When we begin to recognize that our attention has wandered from our breathing, how do we return back with an attitude of friendliness?
  • When we find ourselves judging our ability to practice, how do we meet that with a quality of kindness?

These challenges during practice–wandering attention, judging–are common. We must see our practice of present-time awareness, woven together with kindness, as an ongoing relationship.

Is your mind a friendly companion? Let’s take an everyday example of how this might look. Bring to mind the experience of going to meet a good friend for tea or coffee. As you sit down to meet them you are immediately confronted by warmth and connection. As you sit and talk, there are two qualities in place that exemplify the characteristics of kindness: interest and attention. These are the natural components of friendliness and kindness. Your friend is both paying attention to you, and is also interested in what you are saying. With self-kindness, we are practicing meeting ourselves with an attitude of kindness and friendliness–the same kindness that our good friends offer us.

In the guided practice above, we’ll explore three phrases:

May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be at ease

Dave Smith began practicing mindfulness in 1994 and is an internationally recognized mindfulness teacher and published author on Ethical Mindfulness. Over the last decade he has brought mindfulness-based interventions into jails, prisons, youth detention centers and substance abuse treatment facilities. He has developed programs and trainings for mental health agencies, private high schools and non-profit organizations. Dave speaks nationally at behavioral health conferences as an advocate for the implementation of Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence skills into fields the of mental health, substance abuse, and education.

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