Today was Sunday. I had a to do list a mile long. Thanks to a bad bout of insomnia, instead of getting an early jump on my day I got up really late.
As I dutifully crossed tasks off my list my inner child whined, “I can’t possibly get everything done. I want to relax. I want to play!”
Being a perfectionist and a type-A personality, I shushed my inner child and stoically moved on to the next task.
Until I realized that my inner child was right. I couldn’t get everything done. And I was exhausted. I did need to relax. I did need to play.
One thing that I try to do every weekend is post to this blog. I panicked when I realized that I was too drained to share deep thoughts with my readers. Like the stewardesses say, I needed to “put the oxygen mask on [myself] first.”
My to do list isn’t the only thing that clamors for my attention. I’m not always aware of it at the time, but my job, my husband and my pets often come before me and my emotional, spiritual and physical needs.
I was reading my emails (another task that demands my attention) tonight I came across this post by Cindi Lee that appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Tricycle. When I read the following paragraph, which referenced the oxygen mask example that I had reminded myself of earlier, I realized that the Divine was trying to tell me something:
Thinking of yourself first, when your goal is to help others, might seem counterintuitive, but in fact it is the only way it can work. In the end, the notion of putting oneself last is really an inside-out form of self-cherishing. That’s why during pre-flight instructions the flight attendant says to put on your own oxygen mask first, and then put on your child’s mask. When we are happy, healthy, safe, and at ease, we can model those qualities for others as well as make choices and take action from a place of sanity and lovingkindness.
The article suggests maitri or lovingkindness meditation (also known as metta in some other Buddhist traditions) as one way to “put the oxygen mask” on oneself. I have mentioned metta in previous posts and will undoubtedly refer to it many times in the future. In a nutshell, it involves repeating a series of phrases geared towards well being while “holding” loving, kind intentions in your heart: for yourself, for someone you love, for a neutral person, for someone you consider to be difficult and, finally, for all beings everywhere.
Somewhere along the line I forgot that I need to put myself first or I won’t be able any good to anyone else. I can’t help anyone else when I am utterly depleted.
With that in mind, here are the phrases that I use in my metta meditation. With the exception of the words in brackets, I learned them from the New York Insight Meditation Center’s website several years ago.
May I be filled with lovingkindness
May I be safe from harm
May I be well [and free from chronic pain]
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
I have been trying to take a quick mindfulness meditation break every hour. This week, I plan to repeat those phrases for myself after I take a few mindful breaths. I invite you to join me in this experiment and see whether it helps you to put yourself first.