I recently watched a video of Ram Dass, a Harvard trained psychologist and spiritual teacher, and my heart warmed as he tenderly repeated again and again, "I am loving presence." To me, loving presence means being connected to our inner nature of love and allowing it to radiate out to others. Knowing and experiencing our loving presence is one important outcome of mindfulness practice that can help us gain freedom from fearful people pleasing.
Pleasing and caring for others can be a joyful part of life, but when you try to please others out of the fear of being unloved -- and maybe even abandoned -- problems usually arise. Typically, the goal of chronic people-pleasing is to receive the love and acceptance that you didn't receive enough of as a child. But since chronic people pleasing involves doing something to achieve love, you simply can't be accepted exactly are you are. Your attempts are in vain.
As a result, you may become locked in a habitual and unconscious cycle that not only doesn't work but prevents you from experiencing your own loving presence and those of others. This is only one difficulty that arises as you don a mask of chronic niceness, say "yes" to nearly anything you think anyone wants of you, and disconnect from your inner life in order to gauge what others want of you, all to the detriment of your well-being.
Mindfulness, the awareness that arises when we bring openhearted, non-judgmental attention to the present moment, can help us emancipate ourselves to care for ourselves and others out of love instead of fear. This newfound freedom allows us to see ourselves more lovingly, open to our inner wisdom and goodness, and dare to choose our own paths.
As we practice mindfulness, we learn to inhabit our lives, live them as if they matter, and meet our experience with openness and compassion instead of avoidance, loathing, and struggle. Mindfulness is practiced informally by bringing kind awareness to daily experiences, and formally, by setting time aside from activities to practice mindfulness meditation. I think of mindfulness as coming home to loving presence after spending years focused on others and denying our own inner wisdom and nature. Here are some ways to come home and gain independence from the painful people pleasing cycle:
• Practice mindfulness meditation, out of which grows a sudden and gradual awakening to love, compassion, joy, and non-reactivity.
This practice can act as a foundation for the practices given below. There are several meditations: the body scan, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful movement. You can find free versions of these guided meditations here.
• Ground your awareness in the moment as often as possible.
- Stop and take a conscious breath to get off autopilot. Create reminders to come to presence on your smart phone.
- Perform activities such as taking a sip of coffee or walking to your car with non-judgmental awareness of the sensate experience of the moment.
• Reconnect with your body through the practice of the body scan meditation or mindful yoga.
Most of us disconnect from our bodies as children in order to defend ourselves from being hurt. Reconnecting to the body is critical to open to your loving presence, since the body is where you actually feel love.
• Cultivate an independent perspective on your thoughts through mindfulness meditation and reminding yourself about the nature of the mind.
Since the mind thinks all by itself and has a mind of its own, you're not responsible for your thoughts. This perspective may help you experience your thoughts as simply events in the mind and not believe everything you think.
• Open to your inner loveliness and let loving presence shine through you.
Practice loving-kindness meditation.
- Notice and let go of self-judgment.
- Remind yourself that you are loving presence. You can experiment with simply saying to yourself, "I am loving presence. I am loving presence," as often as you can remember.
• Befriend your emotions by compassionately welcoming them instead of pushing them away.
The non-reactivity developed through mindfulness meditation can help us to open to our emotions.
• Nurture self-compassion by acknowledging moments of harshness toward yourself, softening a bit, and offering yourself kind understanding.
You might formulate kindness statements such as, "This is a difficult moment. How can I best take care of myself right now?" or "Dearest, I'm sorry this is so hard."
Through sustained practice of mindfulness and loving-kindness you can gain an independent perspective of your experience and welcome deep inner love, worthiness and wisdom. You'll find that you already have everything you need to be happy and free. Then you don't need to rely on others for approval and can risk being real with others, taking care of yourself and others out of your loving awareness instead of fear, and dare to say "no" and follow your own path. You can let your loving presence shine through.
If we all connected with our loving presence, imagine what the world would be like! We would take care of others and ourselves out of love rather than fear and resentment. What a wonderful world this could be.
Micki Fine, MEd, LPC is the founder of Mindful Living in Houston, TX and a certified mindfulness teacher. She has been in private psychotherapy practice since 1990, and currently teaches mindfulness in her private practice, The Jung Center, and Rice University. She is the author of The Need to Please: Mindfulness Skills to Gain Freedom from People Pleasing and Approval Seeking.