In Buddhism, as well as in yoga philosophy, there is a term maitri, which means loving-kindness or friendliness. Imagine someone you hold most dear: a partner, a parent, a child. Feel that very simple and uncomplicated love – an unconditional love which means you love them despite any of their faults; you want only the best for them; you talk and act in kindness to them. This is maitri.
Now try to apply that kind of loving to yourself. Can you be that kind, that uncritical, that forgiving, that accepting of who you are? This is something a lot of us find hard to do. What kind of language do you use when you talk to yourself? Do you call yourself names, do you criticise yourself and laugh at your own dreams? There are plenty of others who will do that for you.
Now think about someone in your life who is difficult, someone who is tricky to get along with. Can you apply this loving-kindness to them? Hard, isn’t it?! And yet this is something we all need to try to become a more loving, caring and peaceful society.
Buddhists practise meditations in which they expand their ability to love, from their most dearly loved, through to themselves, their friends and neighbours, to those they have no strong feelings about either way – they don’t love them but they have no negative feelings about them either. Only when this feels easier do they start to expand their circle of loving-kindness even wider – to those truly difficult people in life, and to those they have never met.
To apply this practice in our own lives, we start with ourselves , or with our loved ones, and work outwards in ever-increasing circles of love and kindness. We start to see more clearly that others are not so very different from ourselves, and we see the ways in which we make them different – the ways in which we use our attitudes and our beliefs to put a wall around ourselves. Working gently with ourselves can help us to show more compassion to others as well. Talking more positively to ourselves, switching off the negative mind-chatter through meditation or yoga practice, can enable us to grow into our true potential. Cultivating maitri towards ourselves and others is one of the ways that Patanjali recommends for creating a calm and peaceful mind, alongside compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (Samadhi Pada, Sutra 33).