Self love is not a task for the faint of heart.
As a friend of mine said, “this business of loving, it ain’t easy.”
She and I were talking the other night about the process of learning to love oneself, what it means to embrace who we really are. As we sipped on white wine and talked over the flames of flickering candles, she confessed she had no idea where to even start, and that at times, she wasn’t even sure she liked herself.
I think we have all been here at different points in our life. Trying to find who we are, learning to turn the tremendous capacity for love we possess inward and finding the courage to address ourselves with compassion and acceptance. At times I think our lives should come with a warning label attached: extreme bravery required for authenticity.
Many of us equate knowing ourselves with the handful of characteristics we identify most strongly with. If we see ourselves as strong, independent, and positive, we often struggle to know what to do when other mood states pop up. How do we think about our anger? Our sadness? Our grief? The parts of ourselves we don’t always like?
Though we present a unified front, the truth is that we all hold an ocean inside of us consisting of a myriad of shades, nuances, and depths of being. We interact with the world though a fluid, evolving dance that is neither static nor limited to a handful of characteristics. We are a whole, composed of many beautiful parts. Self love offers us the journey of learning to love all of ourselves.
It takes a brave heart to acknowledge and accept all parts of oneself.
All means all. The good parts, the so-called bad parts, the parts that feel ugly, the parts that feel small and vulnerable, the parts that carry our secret dreams, the parts that feel scary, the parts that speak up and ask the hard questions when we are laying awake at night thinking. The parts that whisper “more.”
It is all a gift, a road map to You.
As always, such things are much easier said than done.
I’ve been walking what I like to think of as my “follow your heart path to authenticity” for awhile now. I thought I was getting pretty good at it, but life had different lessons to teach me this summer about how deep and rich this path can be. The passing of a friend from cancer. The year anniversary of a traumatic experience that had me never wanting to get out of bed, wondering if this world would feel safe again. The unexpected loss of a relationship. I really thought he might be the one. I really found out how wrong I was.
I took it hard. Things collapsed.
It was just one too many hits for my usually resilient heart to handle, and whether I wanted to or not, I soon found myself sitting on a rowboat out in the middle of The River of Eternal Tears, surrounded by parts of myself who did not make for very fun boating companions.
The Crier. The Deep Griever. The I Feel Everything in This Grand Canyon of a Heart. The Petulant, Pouting, Life is Not Fair Child. The Baleful, Raging Woman.
She can blow people up just by raising an eyebrow by the way, best stand clear if she’s around.
Trust me that this was not the kind of boat party anybody wanted to join, myself included. But I couldn’t make my recalcitrant guests leave, they demanded an audience. I’d sit in my sad little ship and wistfully stare out at the cool kids across the river, who seemed to be enjoying their summer of care free living, diving off the edge of their yacht into clear sparkling waters, laughing gleefully in the sunshine as pop music blasted from the speakers. In the meantime, a tiny rain cloud would appear over my head. As a stream of gray drizzle started to fall I would notice my boat had sprung a new leak.
Time to start bailing, again.
Somewhere mid bail, I also began to realize there were other companions with me. Parts of myself that offered comfort. Parts that refused to judge my process. Parts that were patient no matter how many leaks my boat sprung. A sense of radical self love started to spring up, a realization that even these seemingly bummer boat mates were part of me, and therefore no less deserving of my love.
I didn’t particularly like who I was this summer, but I gradually became aware that those pieces which felt so unwelcome within myself had powerful lessons to teach. How to more fully recognize my needs. How to grieve. How to let my tears wash me clean, water my inner soil, prepare me for new life. How to love that which can sometimes feel unlovable inside of us. How to navigate this ship towards a new shore.
I tell my clients all the time that wholeness is found in the integration of self. We will struggle to feel whole if we label parts of our self as bad, shameful or fearful, and cower away from full knowledge of our own being. If we cannot shine a light into ourselves and learn to see what is there, who will do this work for us? If we cannot learn to accept ourselves, how can we expect others to?
Authenticity is the beginning of learning to love ourselves.
Authenticity means finding the courage to acknowledge the full spectrum of self. It means extending a gentle invitation to whatever parts come out on any given day and inviting them into our inner sanctuary. It means giving them a cup of tea and asking with extreme compassion, how are you doing, what would you like to tell me, why have you shown up at this time?
It is all a gift, a road map to You. Even when you don’t understand where your road map is going. Even when you seem to be stuck in a pitiable boat floating on a puddle of your own tears, and your generic tea grows lukewarm while you are bailing water and desperately hoping for shore.
Even then, even then, invite yourself in.
Even that can be a gift.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Sara Crolick
Photo: Antonia Valentine Brune
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