Remember that kid’s game of Mother, May I? A line of fidgeting kids stand across the field from ‘mother’, the game leader. ‘Mother’ calls out a direction, like ‘3 baby steps forward’, and if someone moves without asking , ‘mother may I?’ they are out and return to the line. The one who remembers to ask for permission with each direction and takes the longest steps to reach the line tags mother and gets to be the leader for the next game.
I spent a lot of my life at that line, sometimes waiting for permission to dash ahead, following rules, breaking rules, making my assumptions about what is required, needed, or wanted from others to get ahead, to win, to reach success. My head spun with anxiety as conflicting assumptions and stories about what others needed swirled in my tornado mind twirling with my own negative thoughts about myself. It’s exhausting being me.
I have tried for years to sit and meditate- which for me meant torturous silent mind moments. SO hard for me. My mind isn’t designed to just sit there, focused on the void. A few minutes maybe, but never the twenty or thirty minutes my counselor talks about. Sitting thinking about nothing for 30 minutes? Crazy impossible, and not gonna happen.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have repeated studies about the effects of mindful breathing, movement and meditation on PTSD, high blood pressure, dementia, depression and anxiety. The interesting thing is that regular mindfulness practice, in whatever form patients use makes a difference in the body and mind. The question researchers are asking now is how to use mindfulness or meditation as a prescribed therapy. How often? What types of mindful breath and/or movement are the most effective? Which have the longest lasting results?
One type of meditation or guided practice that they studied had extraordinary results. It has a long history in many cultures, and it begins with the words, “May I.”
I was taught a version of this guided practice in my yoga teacher training, and I have seen it several times over the years in mindful practices. It is often called loving kindness meditation. I have a hard time with this one too, I tried to use it with the yoga classes I teach, but honestly it felt a little false and uncomfortable. I thought it was because it has Buddhist roots, and religion in any form is a bit uncomfortable for me. Then I realized that my discomfort comes from my own deeply imbedded belief that I am not loveable. Oh, I am ok-ish. I have some good qualities, but seeing myself with all my bits as the beloved?
Opening up honestly to genuinely loving myself as I am, as I was, and as I might be seems wrong, and felt just plain impossible.
So, like I do with any practice, I try again, with a new focus.
Can I truly ask myself permission to be loved?
I repeat the words of the guided practice and really focused on the words ‘may I’ which are repeated over and over, for myself and for others, ‘may I..”, ‘may you..”, ‘may we…” and I feel a softening with that word, ‘’may…”. May allows for..it makes gentle space..I feel my shoulders release a little. Maybe I can give myself permission to open just a little more, find a little bit of judge-free mind. Maybe I am a little more lovable and loving and loved than I have held in my head for so long. Maybe I can love this interesting, conflicting, confusing, creative person that I am, that I was, that I will be. And as I maybe add space for that, I open just a little more to love. Maybe. May I?
PS. There are so many versions out there of this guided practice, Tara Brach has a lovely one, Thich Nhat Hanh recorded and wrote about it nearly 50 years ago, and now in the Radical Self-Love Decade, loving kindness meditations can be found all over the internet. Here is my version. May you open, giving yourself the love you richly deserve.