What is love? When it comes to answering that question, motherhood has been my greatest teacher—leading me to the realization that loving myself would make me a better mom and allow me to share more love with the world.
As a new parent—now, a mom of three—I wanted to be seen as a “great” mother, successful in my roles as caretaker and wife. I expected myself to smile brightly on three hours of sleep and maintain a calm voice when I really wanted to just scream.
In truth, my husband and I often felt under siege. We were grasping in darkness, trying our best to navigate blindly through some of the hardest moments in both of our lives. I held educational and professional titles all in the name of health and wellness, but the knowledge was short of the wisdom I needed to ignite my own love towards myself. I would judge myself for failing and then judge myself for judging my mistakes. I kept adding more critiques and standards. More walls seemed to rise up.
It was in the midst of chaos, temper tantrums, sleep deprivation and the ultimate unknown that a deep truth emerged. My ego (and the walls it built around love) was about to be investigated. Rumi, a renowned poet said “not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers we have built against it.”
Raising a child is hard enough, and I was adding negative narratives about how I was handling it all onto that challenge. I was tired, confused, and barely able to breathe at times from the pressure. The dark space I was in drove me to make a change. In Ulysses, James Joyce writes, “His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Errors and failures can be openings; I did not know at the time that I was just on the edge of my own discovery.
The Buddha said, “The first arrow is the initial event itself, the painful experience. It has happened; we cannot avoid it. The second arrow is the one we shoot into ourselves. This arrow is optional. We can add to the initial pain a contracted, angry, rigid, frightened state of mind. Or we can learn to experience the same painful event with less identification and aversion, with a more relaxed and compassionate heart.”
As my inner critic grew fiery, I could feel that second arrow. My words were harsh and blistered my spirit. My life seemed dim, my body tight and blocked. I realized I needed a kinder, softer way to support myself and flow with my family, and I sought out teachers who could assist me on this path. They encouraged me to have a daily meditation practice and that allowed me to start to reignite self-love.
Through meditation, I cultivated the muscle for neutral observation. My inner critic became quieter. It was more like a mix of whispers and faint white noise. Some days, pure silence filled me. In the quietude, I found what I was searching for: the inner wisdom of pure awareness that we all have the capacity to cultivate.
What I learned is that love is an inside job; the essence of love resides within us freely. There is a limitless supply of love within us, but we have to choose to tap into it. Then, love moves out from our hearts in all kinds of ways. It shines bright when we stop judging and stop comparing. This kind and deep love pours into the moment we say “yes!” to ourselves even though a voice may whisper we are not worthy.
Along my journey, meditation has assisted me in my connection with love and loving myself, which has in turn made me the mom that I want to be. I encourage everyone to take on a 30-day challenge where we offer ourselves 10 minutes per day to sit in loving awareness. Every day is an opportunity to breathe in the joy of love. Start with the practice below.
A Self-Love Meditation Practice for Mothers
Sit comfortably in a quiet space, either cross-legged or in a chair with your feet comfortably planted on the ground. Let your spine be long, engaged but not stiff. Settle into your breath with eyes closed or a soft gaze. As you inhale, see love, perhaps golden light, pouring into your heart space. As you exhale, visualize the love and light permeating through your entire body, through every cell, all cells glowing in light and love. Continue at your own pace. Each inhale brings light and love into your heart space. Each exhale spreads light and love through every cell.
You may also choose to add a mantra or affirmation. As you inhale, think “I am.” As you exhale, think “loving awareness.” I encourage you to begin to see the love pour into your heart space, into your entire body and cells, and then extend out into the space around you. Continue like this for 10 minutes. As your mind wanders, which it will, gently encourage your attention back to your breath and continue the practice of light and love coming in and spreading out. Breathing in “I am,” breathing out “loving awareness.”
A tip: Most people say they can’t meditate because their minds are always thinking. I have learned that thinking is absolutely part of meditation, especially in the beginning. It is not the complete absence of thought that’s important, it’s the action of guiding your awareness back to the breath. The action of coming back from being gone is what builds neuroplasticity. When you find yourself not paying attention, come back to the breath and the practice. I encourage you to build the “coming back” muscle over the 30 days.
Jolene Boris, MS, RD, CDN, NLC, is a registered dietitian and reflexologist. She began her studies at New York University where she received her master’s degree in clinical nutrition and food studies. She began working as a licensed dietitian at New York Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Eventually, she transitioned to a private practice setting, working as part of Keri Glassman’s Nutritious Life Team. She is certified in Adult Weight Loss and Weight Management from the Commission of Dietetics. She also graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a holistic nutrition coach. She completed her reflexology training with board-certified practitioner Annalise Evanson, with whom she also obtained her master-level certification in Reiki. Jolene lives in Chicago, where she advanced her studies in reflexology and meditation with her teacher, Eric Huffman, and is currently a practitioner at Deep Heart Reflexology in West Town.