Meditation for Self-Love: Teachings and Guided Meditation Script

Meditation for self-love

Self-love—to feel, honor, and appreciate our own goodness—is among the most beautiful and powerful things there is. We are always worthy of self-love, but because of the difficulties of life, we may struggle to find it. Fortunately, meditation can help.

In this article, we will explore self-love meditation. We will first share simple meditation teachings on being kind and caring toward ourselves. Then, based on those teachings, we will share a detailed guided meditation for self-love that you can use to immerse yourself directly. Let’s get started!

Self-Love Meditation: Learn to Love Yourself

This article introduces self-love meditation. If you would like to dive deep into the topic, please view our full online course Learn to Love Yourself, with senior teacher Sabine Rolf. It’s a detailed exploration of self-love meditation, and how meditative mind and warmth toward ourselves can support one another through our lives.

Learn to Love Yourself

Explore Self-Love and Meditation in Learn to Love Yourself

Learn to Love Yourself, with senior teacher Sabine Rolf, will help you cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance through mindfulness and loving-kindness practices. Learn to embrace yourself with kindness and care.

Self-Love Meditation: Simple Teachings to Support Our Practice

In my experience, many meditation practitioners, even if we’ve been practicing for years, don’t always feel strong and stable self-love. We may be very good at being present with our feelings, at caring for others, and so on—but when it comes to how we actually feel about ourselves, moment-to-moment, we may not always experience a lot of warmth.

This is a huge shame, because we are worthy of true self-love. It’s also the case that if we don’t feel real, genuine, simple kindness and care toward ourselves, that will make other parts of our meditation path very challenging.

Many longtime meditators struggle to feel strong and stable self-love, which can be under-emphasized on our complex paths.

On our meditation paths, it can be easy to move quickly from self-love to related topics, like wishing for the benefit of all beings through contemplating the Four Immeasurables, and taking on the suffering of others through Tonglen (sending and taking) practice. I feel that it can sometimes result that we do not fully connect with the warmth of self-love itself, before moving on to more “advanced” topics that should have self-love as a foundation.

Relatedly, many of us carry various kinds of personal, family, and cultural trauma that makes it very difficult to love ourselves. This means that we need to be more creative and tenacious to work with and begin to process this trauma and find true self-love, and moving on quickly to other topics might risk leaving this work incomplete.

Because under-emphasizing self-love is such a risk in our complex meditation paths, I feel that it is good if we practice self-love meditation using the most fundamental teachings we can find: the ones that teach us to love ourselves directly, before we take on additional ideas, practices, or projects in areas like compassion, universal altruism, and so on.

We can practice self-love meditation using the simplest teachings we can find, before taking on additional ideas, practices, or projects.

Below are some of these simple teachings, teachings I’ve found helpful for discovering self-love directly. At the bottom of this article is a detailed guided meditation for self-love, which will help you put these teachings into practice in your direct experience.

Maitri: Self-Acceptance

Maitri, a widely used teaching across many Buddhist traditions, is a Sanskrit term that is often translated into English as “loving-kindness.” (Metta, another widely used term in Buddhism, is the Pali version of the same word.)

Pema Chödrön defines maitri as “unconditional friendship with oneself,” and says that this warmth for ourselves is the basis of, a necessary ingredient for, true compassion for others.

“Maitri is unconditional acceptance of oneself, unconditional friendship with oneself. It is the basis of compassion.”

Pema Chödrön

Because maitri is so widely taught across Buddhism, you will see it presented many ways. However, I feel that Pema Chödrön’s presentation of maitri is a wonderful place to start: working with accepting ourselves, as we are, with kindness and friendship.

This is a big process for all of us, and it certainly won’t click all at once. However, I feel it can be very helpful to notice the overall attitude: not “I’ll love myself once I’m better” or “for these reasons,” but rather “I love myself unconditionally.” Even beginning to contemplate that perspective of unconditional self-love can help begin to orient our minds in that direction.

Tsewa: Tender-Heartedness

Some of the most direct teachings I’ve encountered on self-love are from Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, and they’re about a Tibetan term not commonly discussed in Western Buddhism: the Tibetan word tsewa, which Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche calls “the innate tenderness of our own heart.”

We may feel that we just don’t deserve love. In this state, it’s very hard to open up to receiving warmth from anybody.

This is when we have to remember that no one is undeserving. Everyone has the same precious tsewa [tender heart].

There is nothing fake about what lies at the core of all our hearts. We may have a lot of negative habits and shameful thoughts, but they are not our true colors.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

I’ve seen the power of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s own tenderness firsthand. I once attended a public talk he gave in Boston, in a large classroom at Harvard Divinity School. About an hour into his talk, he began discussing our shared wish to be happy. He mentioned that he had recently sat by a river, and had watched a small water skipper skim along the surface. He said, “I saw that every movement the water skipper made was from a desire to be happy.”

As he continued speaking, I noticed a strange feeling: Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche seemed to be sending out waves of compassion. The environment felt soaked in love and tenderness, which pulsed in slow waves, like the air on a warm, breezy day. The waves felt like they were radiating from him, as he sat below us at the front of the room, the way heat radiates from an open stove.

The tsewa quality of tender-heartedness is wonderful to feel in ourselves, and, as Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche says, it means that none of us are undeserving.

Love

In Buddhism, we often make distinctions between terms like “loving-kindness,” “compassion,” “sympathetic joy,” and so on. However, love—the simple feeling of powerful warmth and affection—is very much a part of the path of meditation, and if we’re looking to deepen our experience of self-love, then love is a great starting place.

To begin with, we can notice that we do feel love, whatever that love might be for. Even if we dislike many things, and feel like we dislike ourselves, we certainly love something. This is the source of one of my very favorite quotes:

“Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In my own practice, noticing the love I have for so many things—plums, lilac bushes, the feel of cashmere sweaters, hot showers, and many other things—helps me feel love for myself.

This isn’t an act of logic. Instead, it’s like what happens when I see that a dog really, genuinely loves its family: that makes me love the dog. Similarly, noticing the love I have in my heart—for anything, it doesn’t really matter what—makes me appreciate myself, love myself.

Basic Goodness

In Shambhala, our core teaching is basic goodness. As a Shambhala community member says:

“In Shambhala, we recognize and believe that everyone possesses innate goodness.”

Shambhala Member, Florida, USA

We have many teachings on basic goodness itself within our community, but probably the simplest is: “I am basically good.”

If we’re having trouble with self-love, we may not feel we are good. Instead, we might say something lukewarm like, “I am often well-intentioned.” It can be very tempting to make “good” complex, to fit our more negative experience of ourselves.

To work with that tendency, I find it helpful to emphasize the meaning of “good” as, very simply, good: worthy, worthwhile, as-we-should-be. In Shambhala, we discover that this simple quality of good is our most basic nature. We are basically, fundamentally good.

Even though the term “basic goodness” comes from Shambhala specifically, the spiritual truth of basic goodness is not only within our community. For example, in the Nyingma tradition—generally considered the home of the most profound teachings in Tibetan Buddhism—the primordial Buddha is named, simply, “All-Good” (Samantabhadra in Sanskrit, Küntu Zangpo in Tibetan). This means that, in that tradition, “All-Good” is the deepest personification of our true nature.

A great way to begin to feel basic goodness is as a sense of belonging. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche says: “You have a perfect right to be in this universe, to be this way. You don’t have to apologize for being born on this earth.” Feeling this belonging—that we are right to exist in this way, that we belong on this earth as we are—can help us begin to open to our simple, living goodness.

Meditation for Self-Love: Guided Meditation

With the teachings above as support, below is a simple, step-by-step guided meditation practice for self-love.

Throughout the steps below, please listen to yourself. If the practice feels good or helpful, please do it for as long as you’d like, as often as you’d like. However, if the practice feels weird, unsafe, or unsettling for any reason, please discontinue the session. You can always make a relationship with a meditation instructor. Additionally, we all struggle with trauma to varying degrees, so if you feel that this may be an obstacle, consider finding a holistic therapist.

1. Setting and Posture

Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down. Whatever posture you are in, try to have a straight back, with your spine straight but not tense. You can have your eyes open or closed, whichever best supports your practice.

2. Breath and Relaxation

Take a few deep breaths from your stomach (this is sometimes called “diaphragmatic breathing”). If you notice tension anywhere in your body, you can “breathe into” that tension, allowing it to relax as your body breathes. Notice your body and mind begin to settle and relax, and keep breathing deeply until you feel somewhat more settled. (If that’s not happening after a minute or two, that’s fine—move to the next step.)

3. Self-Love Phrases

Based on which of the teachings above connects most easily with you, try bringing into mind one of the following simple phrases:

  • “I wish happiness for myself.” As you say this phrase, actually do wish for yourself to be happy, now and in the future. You can imagine yourself finding the happiness you wish for, and notice any emotions or bodily sensations that this brings up.
  • “I am worthy of love and happiness.” As you say this phrase, consider that you love, that you have hopes and dreams, that you feel joy and sorrow. As a living, loving, aware, feeling being, you have a perfect right to be on this earth, just as you are.
  • “I am basically good.” As you say this phrase, consider yourself to be, simply, good: worthy, worthwhile, as-you-should-be.

You can rotate through these phrases if you like, but in general you might want to stay with, and feel, phrases that most resonate with you, rather than “pondering” or “considering” phrases that don’t resonate as much.

4. Feel Bodily Resonance

As you stay with the phrase or phrases you’ve chosen, feel anything—any senses or emotions—that this brings up in your body. This might be pleasant or unpleasant, whole-body or very closely located, highly emotional or just a simple physical sensation. Simply allow whatever you’re experiencing, without analyzing it too much or trying to fix or improve it.

Our sensations are always changing, so allow this natural flow while staying with the phrase or phrases that connect with you most, and see what happens over a few minutes.

(To repeat a note just for safety: if what you are experiencing feels unsafe or more than mildly uncomfortable, feel free to pause the session. You can try another time, or connect with a meditation instructor or other support person.)

5. Share Self-Love Throughout Your Body

If, after a bit of time, you are feeling some resonance of self-love in your body, such as a feeling of warmth or tenderness, you can share that feeling with (or “move it throughout”) your body. This can help feelings of self-love more fully suffuse our experience, and it can also help us release any tension or resistance in different parts of our body as we attend to them one by one.

This isn’t a difficult or a forced process. It’s more like allowing a glow or warmth, which is initially located mostly in one place, to slowly radiate or spread into each part of your body, as you notice those body parts in sequence.

So if the phrase “I am basically good” is bringing a feeling of warmth in your heart area, you can allow that same warmth to expand slowly, progressively, body part by body part: outward into your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers; upward into your throat, jaw, face, and head; and downward into your stomach, pelvic floor, seat, thighs, knees, lower legs, ankles, feet, and toes.

Once the sense is full-body, you can simply rest with it.

6. Rest and Conclude

When you’re ready to conclude the session, you can let go of the phrase, and simply notice how your body feels for a few slow breaths. Lastly, you can relax even this noticing, and rest simply for a short while. Then, whenever you’re ready, you can conclude the session.

A Note on Embodiment and Self-Love Meditation

The bodily focus in the practice above might sound strange if you’ve never tried this kind of self-love meditation before, but working with energies and feelings in your body can be very powerful meditation practice. It can help us experience self-love in a very immediate way, as a direct feeling rather than as an idea.

Working with bodily sensation can help us experience self-love directly, as a feeling rather than as an idea.

The video below (which I like, except that I wish it had a “Music Off” option—oh well) is a similar guided meditation that instructs you to send love and appreciation into different areas of your body. You may find it a helpful support if you are new to the embodied and energetic side of meditation.

Discover Self-Love through Meditation

I hope this is a wonderful jumping-off point. Please share your experiences in the comments below! Different things will work for different people, so I’d love to hear what connects for you as you explore your best meditation for self-love.

If you want go deeper in self-love meditation, see our course Learn to Love Yourself. Joining community can be extremely helpful for this and all explorations in meditation. Have a look to see what Shambhala centres are near you, and, as always, look widely to find what connects with you most. Thank you!

Learn to Love Yourself

Explore Self-Love and Meditation in Learn to Love Yourself

Learn to Love Yourself, with senior teacher Sabine Rolf, will help you cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance through mindfulness and loving-kindness practices. Learn to embrace yourself with kindness and care.

This article is part of the Shambhala.org Community Blog, which offers reflections by Shambhala community members on their individual journeys in meditation and spirituality.

2 thoughts on “Meditation for Self-Love: Teachings and Guided Meditation Script

  1. Hi Frederick
    I enjoyed reading your article and liked the practice and I feel there is a further point to make which links self love to the profundity of Buddhism and the essence of maitri: that we are practicing opening up to softening, touching any phenomena, thoughts or feelings that arise. Ultimately self-love is that nothing is excluded and one’s personal experience is not separate from buddha nature, “nothing has gone wrong”.
    This might be too rarified but I think it is important to not lose the profundity of basic goodness, which I think is that ultimate self love is agelessness, wisdom and compassion to all things including everything that one experiences.

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2024-07-15 18:43:52