In my compassion and mindfulness course, the session on core values is always a pivotal session in which many participants realize that they have never acknowledged them directly and with respect.  Then when they do, their life starts to embody alignment, clarity and direction.

This metta blog #20 is to introduce some ideas on how to cultivate core values and a practice to help you recognize your values so you can live in accord with them.

The quintessential self-compassion question is, “What do I need?” But we really can’t fully answer this question unless we also know what we value most—our core values. Both needs and values seem to reflect something essential in human nature. Needs are more commonly associated with physical and emotional survival, such as the need for health, safety, or connection.  Whereas values tend to have an element of choice, such as the choice to focus on friendship or creative pursuits. Knowing our needs and values supports our ability to respond with compassion in challenging times regardless whether we’re struggling to survive or searching for happiness.

Our suffering depends, in part, on our core values. For example, if you value free time and new adventures, losing your job may be a blessing but if you want to provide for your family, losing your job can be a catastrophe. If you value connection, having a friend cancel a visit may be deeply disappointing but if you value private time, it may feel like an unexpected gift.

The differences between goals and core values are that goals can be achieved where as core values guide us before, during and after achieving our goals. Goals are destinations and core values are our inner compass to orient ourselves. Goals are something we do and core values are something we embody. Goals are set by us and core values are discovered.

Some examples of core values are:

  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Reliability

Many of our core values have to do with how we treat others, but many have to do with meeting personal needs that are deeply important to us. Examples of personal core values include:

  • Autonomy
  • Strength
  • Personal growth
  • Tranquility
  • Exploration
  • Nature
  • Compassion
  • Solitude for Personal Reflection

Many times our values will bring up seeing the social norms that we are asked to support or agree to.  These social norms may go against our personal values, rights and goals.  There are differences between social norms and core values. If you feel energized and inspired by a particular motivation, then it’s probably an authentic core value and not simply a social norm. An important aspect of living deeply is learning from our struggles and challenges in life. While most of us are afraid of failure and hardship, it is often failures and hardships that teach us lessons we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. From these struggles, they bring to light our values and what we stand for in life.

Challenges force us to go deep inside and discover resources that we didn’t know we had. Sometimes we learn nothing from suffering and our triumph is simply to return to ordinary life. That’s okay.  Sometimes a critical inner voice is internalized from early caregivers with no redeeming value whatsoever. We see clearly the voice and learn to disarm it with compassion.  This is a monument moment of embodying the values of learning, compassionate listening and growing.

What happens when we realize we are living in accord to our values? Many times when we begin to define our values, feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and anxiety will arise out of an awareness that we are not living in accord with them. When we discover that we’re “in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, with the wrong people,” it’s time to remember our core values. It means re-orienting and understanding that this is part of living in the world with some many influences.  It is time to find the inner strength to redirect our life on the keel of our core values.

What helps many people is to transform our values into a vow. Examples are:

– A vow is an aspiration to which we can continually reorient ourselves when we’ve gone astray in our lives.

– A vow anchors our life in what matters most. It is not binding contract.

– A vow functions like the breath in breath meditation—a safe place to return to when we’re lost and adrift.

– Loving-kindness phrases can also be vows if they reflect core values, such as “May all beings be happy and free from suffering.” Or, “May I learn to love all beings.”

We need to be very compassionate with ourselves when we notice we have strayed. No shame, guilt flinging or self-recrimination is necessary.  Simply refocus on our core values again with interest and kindness.

Core Value Exercise: You are invited to practice defining your core values and then taking a vow to live from them. Understand like a ship changing it direction, seeing the affects of living from our values takes time.  Be compassionate with yourself if impatience or frustration arises. This is normal and a good sign because it means you are trying to re-orientate.  if frustrated, a good idea is to ask friends who share your values for support, ideas or help.

Please select a core value that you may like to manifest for the rest of your life. Write it in the form of a vow: “May I…” or “I vow to … as best I can.” Close your eyes and repeat your vow silently. How does it feel when you set your intention in this direction? Does it feel right? You might begin repeating your vow first thing in the morning, before you get up, or create a little ritual such as lighting a candle when you say your vow. Starting the day with a vow keeps us headed in the right direction throughout the day. Or you might remind yourself of your vow before you go to sleep, especially remembering small ways that you behaved consistent with your core values.

In my 8 week course CPR: Compassion, Presence and Resilience, we utilized visualization techniques and insight contemplations to discover and define our core values.  We will be practicing some of these techniques during the Presence and Gratitude Retreat on December 16th, 2018. Click here to know more and register for the daylong retreat. Presence and Gratitude Daylong Retreat