A Beautiful Challenge for 2017

child hug
By April Hadley, LLMSW

I am going to give you a beautiful challenge for 2017! Are you ready? I challenge you to cultivate affection for your meditation practice! Did your face scrunch up a little as you wondered how affection and meditation could possibly go together? After all, isn’t affection better left to the realm of romance? Not anymore!

Affection can be defined as “a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.” If you dig a little deeper, you will find that affection is also associated with words such as devotion, sympathy, caring, warmth, and tenderness. Take a moment to imagine the sweet anticipation of meditating because you think of it as a place of tenderness and affection. Doesn’t that sounds so much better than thinking of it as a place of judgment?

Reflection on Affection
The easiest way to get in touch with the spirit of affection is to do a simple reflection.
Close your eyes and think of an activity that you enjoy.
What is it? Drinking a cup of coffee? Snuggling on your couch with a good book? Taking a walk? Visiting with a dear friend? Stroking the fur of your beloved pet?
Choose one activity and imagine you are doing it right now.
What feelings are evoked when you think of doing this activity?
Warmth? Peace? Calm? Ease? Relaxation? Happiness? Enjoyment? Safety?
These are feelings of affection and they are the very reason why you want to keep doing the activity you chose to reflect on!

What if you could approach your meditation practice in the same way?

The Dalai Lama said, “We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” Read those words again. Did you catch it? The Dalai Lama himself says that we can live without meditating, but we cannot live without affection. Affection is so important that your life depends on it!

The Dalai Lama specifically mentions “human affection.” We can receive human affection in one of two ways. Another person (or animal) can offer us affection or we can offer our self affection. However, in his research on self-compassion (another word for affection), Paul Gilbert has found that many of us are afraid of receiving compassion. Consequently, we often need to go through the back door so to speak. You may not be ready to offer yourself a bunch of sappy, gooey, lovey-dovey affection, but I bet you can bring some affection into your meditation practice!

Here is a list to get you started:
1. Meditate in a pleasant space such as by a window or in a comfy chair.
2. Drink a warm cup of tea or coffee and hold the warm cup in your hand for a few moments at the start of your practice. Studies have shown that we naturally feel more affection when we are holding something warm.
3. Light a candle with a scent you enjoy. The smell and the view of the candle flame can be very calming.
4. Gather a few favorite objects that evoke feelings of comfort and ease and place them in front of you as you meditate. Your object could be a feather, a special stone, or an image of someone you love such as a dear pet or someone who inspires you.
5. Wrap yourself up in a cozy sweater or a favorite blanket.
6. Put on the coziest pair of socks or your favorite slippers.
7. Listen to a favorite song before you meditate.
8. Invite as much comfort into your sitting posture as possible. It’s okay to NOT sit cross-legged on the floor!
9. Offer yourself some soothing touch – gently rub your hand on your heart or on your belly.
10. Read a favorite passage or a chapter from a book before you meditate.
11. Use the guiding voice of a beloved teacher. Soak up their calm and ease.
12. Use the buddy system and meditate with a friend.

The list can go on and on. And here’s the thing, when you cultivate affection for your practice, it is the same thing as cultivating affection for yourself because when you take care of your practice, you are ultimately taking affectionate care of you!

So who’s in for my beautiful challenge for 2017?

For more encouragement, I recommend two books: The Meditator’s Dilemma by Bill Morgan and Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan