A common loving kindness meditation begins by focusing on someone who is easy to love, then slowly expands to others. Eastern traditions often start by cultivating feelings of love and kindness for oneself. From there, the realm of compassion is expanded to a close loved one. Then to a good friend, and eventually to the whole world, including even the most difficult people.
In Western culture, we often find it easier to cultivate loving kindness for others than for ourselves. Even though — or maybe because — we are so focused on self-realization and individuality, it’s common in our culture to feel unworthy, guilty, or unlovable. We can benefit most from self-compassion precisely when it is so difficult.
The traditional method of cultivating compassion can work better if you make a small adjustment: Instead of starting with yourself, begin by cultivating kindness for a closed loved one, especially a young child. As you expand your realm, you can start cultivating love and compassion for yourself. If this is still too difficult, it may help to visualize yourself as a baby or a toddler.
This is important work that may lift a great burden and allow you to contribute to the world more freely and spontaneously.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
— Jack Kornfield