How would your life be different if you could accept yourself unconditionally? Where would your life take you if you celebrated instead of apologized for who you are? What would you have to give up in order to whole-heartedly embrace every aspect of you? Maitri is a Sanskrit word that means unconditional friendliness towards oneself. For the majority of us in the west, this is a counter-intuitive response to the way we treat ourselves.
Through our conditioning—our up-bringing, culture, and/or religion—we were taught that to put ourselves first is selfish, that to shine is inappropriate, and to be anything less than perfect is unacceptable. In order to win the love and approval of parents, teachers, and peers, we learned to put the needs of others before our own, to dim our lights in order to fit in, and that failure meant rejection, disappointment, and conditional love. Through our conditioning, we learned to compartmentalize our lives and experience life in either or terms—good or bad, black or white, pass or fail.
While these techniques served to protect and safeguard our survival in our childhood, as adults they keep us stuck and closed off from the love we seek and deserve. Maitri helps shift our perspective, expose ourselves to our raw potential, and join together the discarded aspects of ourselves that we worked so hard to deny. Offering unconditional friendliness is fundamental to the acceptance, compassion, and gratitude necessary to, ultimately, open our hearts to ourselves.
Learning to treat ourselves with unconditional friendliness, as if we were our own best friend, helps shift the internal dialogue from criticism and ridicule to support and acceptance. We begin to listen to the wisdom of intuition. We acknowledge and put our needs first. We recognize that in doing this we have a greater capacity to honor the needs of others, coming from a place of joy and service versus resentment and obligation. We appreciate that our ability to accept others unconditionally is directly proportional to our ability to accept ourselves unconditionally. In other words, we cannot do for others what we cannot do for ourselves.
Loving Ourselves Unconditionally
At the same time, maitri beckons us to embrace the gifts and talents that are unique to us. At our core, we know we must break through our earlier conditioning and give our light permission to shine. As we allow unconditional friendliness to envelope us, we realize we need to access our gifts to fulfill our life’s path (Dharma). It doesn’t serve anyone to stay small. In fact, by giving ourselves permission to shine, we inadvertently grant others permission to do the same
Maitri also creates the space to join together the disconnected aspects of ourselves needed to experience wholeness. Experiencing the world in either or terms tells us that there is something inherently wrong with us. Our conditioning taught us that only the “good” aspects—only the good girl/boy is able to come out, you are to be seen but not heard, only express positive emotions, etc.—are acceptable. Maitri delves deeper. Through unconditional friendliness we open our hearts to all aspects of ourselves. Through maitri, we learn to unlock the door to the shame we have been hiding for years, dip into the fear of not being worthy, and access the anger at having to stifle our voice for so long. We learn through the gift of maitri that each facet of ourselves is essential to being human, for personal growth, and for learning how to open whole-heartedly to ourselves.
Accepting Ourselves Unconditionally
Maitri invites us to lean into ourselves, even the shadow side. Allowing the shame to wash over us lessens its grip on us. This creates the space to challenge the beliefs entwined around the shame to begin with. In accessing our unique gifts we embrace our worthiness and life’s purpose. Instead of ignoring our suppressed anger, we recognize it as a warning that boundaries are being crossed.
Through unconditional friendliness towards ourselves, we learn to shed the labels and conditioning that keep us stuck in staying small. We learn to accept ourselves unconditionally, celebrate and share the gifts and talents that are unique to us, and embrace every aspect of ourselves whole-heartedly. The greatest gift of maitri is that we step more completely and fully into ourselves. In letting go of what no longer serves us, we come to realize our True potential and connect more whole-heartedly with our life’s path. We open our hearts to ourselves and ultimately to all humanity by honoring our life’s Dharma through the gift of unconditional friendliness.
About the Author
Carrie Hensley began teaching and practicing yoga in 1998. Through the years, she has had training in Astanga, Healthy Backs, Anusara, and Forrest Yoga. Carrie uses yoga (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), mindfulness, and humor to guide her students to uncover limiting patterns and beliefs that keep them stuck in playing small, realize their true potential, and reconnect to their life’s purpose (Dharma). To learn more about Carrie visit her website: CarrieHensley.com