If you tried the Breathing Love meditation I offered a few days ago, you know that the technique relies on bringing your breathing and your heartbeat into some kind of rhythmic connection.
But now, I've discovered a way to heighten the feeling of self-love generated during this meditation. Those of you who are familiar with Sharon Salzberg's extensive work with lovingkindness meditation know that it always starts with you extending love first to yourself, then to a sequence of other individuals in your life, until finally you are sending lovingkindness -- or metta -- to all living beings in the universe.
So this why I've been focusing on the Breathing Love meditation -- because it seems like a natural way of generating self love.
To start, place your right hand underneath your left breast, flat on your chest, so that you can feel your heartbeat. (Preferably place your hand onto your bare skin as it generates more sensation.) Then place your left hand over the right. Notice that with your hands in this position, you are cradling your heart.
Start to breathe in rhythm with your own heart beat. Find a rhythm that feels comfortable to you. My own rhythm is
Breathe in, beat beat,
Breathe out, beat beat,
Breathe in, beat beat,
Breathe out, beat beat
You may find three beats works better between breaths. Or perhaps just one breath. Play around with the breathing until you find a pattern that works for you.
Once you have a steady rhythm going, turn your attention to your cradled heart. Imagine for a moment that you are now cradling a newborn baby. Imagine this baby's tiny head, warm and soft, covered with downy fine hair; imagine how the baby's head would feel in your hand. Imagine the baby's body nestled up against your heart.
Instead of holding a baby, maybe you would rather imagine holding a soft and furry kitten, or a tiny puppy. Imagine how sleek the puppy's fur would feel under your hands. Imagine how reassuring the warm body of the kitten or the puppy would feel against your heart.
Feel the love you have for this very lovable baby, or this very adorable furry kitten or puppy.
And now, holding onto that love, see if you can turn the loving creature you are holding into your own self. Maybe you can picture yourself as a baby. Or maybe you just want to let your adult body fold around that of the baby or the kitten or the puppy that you are embracing in your imagination.
Remember to keep breathing, and feeling your heartbeat. Keep returning the loving breath back into your heart. Let the warm reassuring feelings circulate through your chest.
This meditation may bring a smile to your face. Or maybe you'll end up laughing at the notion that you are cradling your own baby self. That's fine. Just try to stay aware of the sensations of your hands on the skin of your chest, and the reassuring feel of the heartbeat.
Remember, this is an exercise in self-acceptance and self-love. It's your own way of saying to yourself, in a physical and tactile way, "I am a lovable creature just the way I am." With this exercise, you are demonstrating that you can love and accept yourself without doing anything more than breathing and feeling the beating heart that keeps you alive.