“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I spent the greater part of my life not being beautiful, not being myself. Sure, I had core beliefs, morals and all the other external things that gave me a sense of self, but I had very little idea of who I really was. I began getting pierced at 16 and tattooed at 18, which was the earliest I legally could do so in my state.
It was around Junior High that I began becoming aware that I didn’t believe I, just as myself, was enough. I needed something more to make me feel special, or like I had something more to offer. I know it probably sounds weird that something like piercings and tattoos made me feel that way, but it did. It wasn’t long however, before they failed to give me that false sense of self confidence and worth they’d been providing temporarily. (*Note: I still get tattooed today and am in no way speaking out against them. Today however, I get them for a different reason than before.)
From there, I moved on to drug and alcohol experimentation, abuse and finally, addiction. During that time, I was rushed to the emergency room easily over two dozen times and was subsequently left with plenty of mental and physical scars so I’ll never forget. I’ve also been hospitalized twice in psychiatric facilities for attempting suicide. Granted they were feeble attempts, which were more of a call for help than anything but still, they were serious enough to have me institutionalized. I have woken up in jail cells not knowing how I got there on more than a few occasions. I have used, lied, manipulated and inflicted so much pain on family, friends, girlfriends and strangers that at times, it’s almost unbearable to face.
I have spent the better part of my life not being beautiful, but I am not a victim and this isn’t about me writing for sympathy.
This isn’t about some sappy, Hollywood story where things magically turn around and life becomes perfect after finding a way out of active addiction. You see, there’s still very much a part of myself that is rooted in the darkness of my past, and all the shit that’s buried from years of selfish, self-destructive behavior. Sure, it’s important to focus on the better things of today, but it’s also highly irresponsible for me to ignore and pretend like the wreckage of the past isn’t still taking up residence inside.
“It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning.” ~ Ouspensky
If I truly care about myself today, and honestly care about trying to help others through my writing, then I have to be completely honest about what’s inside. It’s not all darkness by any means, but the dissociation of those things I’d rather forget about and pretend weren’t there will do no one any good. If I am to be responsible to myself, and you, then I have to accept that discomfort and acknowledge those aspects of myself that scare the shit out of me and make my heart sink. That is where true healing begins.
I can tell you that today life is beautiful more of the time than it’s not. I can say that. But I recognize that I’m only able to say that because I’ve spent a lot of time working on cultivating the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion for myself. It may sound selfish that I’ve worked on cultivating those qualities first and foremost for myself, but I had to face the hard truth that while I’ve always believed myself to be a typically compassionate person towards others, (with the exception of my time in active addiction,) the majority of it was a façade. I’ve never maliciously wanted to hurt others, even while using, but as much as I’d like to think I’ve always wanted the best for them, if I was at a place where I didn’t care about myself, how could I truly care for them?
If I’m coming from a place where I really don’t care about my own well being, what does that say in general about my own mental state? If I’m at a place where I really don’t like myself, the self I base all my judgments and perceptions from, how then can I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, offer someone else compassion and loving kindness? After a very thorough and honest look at myself, I can say that it’s honestly not possible for me to.
If I’m spending time wishing others to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, yet not including myself, or maybe I say I’m including myself in that, but it’s really just an empty gesture, than who are my aspirations really helping? If I’m coming from a place of pain and suffering, of self-loathing, then how sincere can my loving-kindness and compassion be towards another? How can I sincerely give what I don’t have in the first place?
Loving-kindness and compassion toward myself have been the most difficult areas to work with since I’ve embarked on my spiritual path, but I’ve come to recognize that they are absolutely essential. A big part of this recognition hit me like a ton of bricks one day while I was contemplating non-duality. This may sound ridiculously obvious and simple, but it really was a huge “aha” moment for me.
So as I sat contemplating my interconnectedness to all beings, I began thinking about the people whom I’m wasn’t particularly fond of, the people both directly and indirectly in my life- acquaintances, family, politicians, conservatives, racists, sexists, homophobes. Then, I extended them all loving-kindness from the sincerest reaches of my heart, laying my own judgments of them aside on focusing strictly on love. Things all came crashing however, when an image of myself appeared in my mind.
I felt my body tense up as I shrieked back from the imagery, when all of the sudden, a sense of calm and deep recognition came over me. I realized that if I truly believed in the interconnectedness of all beings, and that at our core, we’re all love, (which I do thanks to the ancient Rishis of India, Quantum Physicists of today and most importantly, my own personal experiences), then who was I to exclude myself from that?
How was it, that in my mind, God, The Universe, Buddha, Krishna, Christ Consciousness, whatever you care to call it, that the Divine’s Love was applicable to everyone, literally everyone, except me? If we really are all One, then who the hell am I to make an exception for myself from God’s Love?!
So I realized that, when I’m condemning myself mentally for my past actions, on a deeper level, I’m condemning you too.
That’s not to say I’m not responsible for keeping my side of the street clean, and you yours, because we all play just as integral of a role in this as the other, however, in order for me to do my part, I have to forgive myself. I have to learn to truly offer myself as much compassion and loving-kindness as I can muster so that I can share it with you and we can heal together, because at the deepest possible level, when I heal, we all heal. When you heal, we all heal. Through healing our wounds we lessen the tight grip of our ego nature and are able to begin coming from a place of unity rather than separation, a place where we have our best interest in mind.
I don’t want to live separated anymore.
I want to see past our exteriors. I want to see directly into the light that is the real you, the light that is shining so brightly that it blinds my heart with the bliss of remembrance. I want to see past it. I want to see through it. We are past it. We are through it. We just have to remember. Remember that I am. You are. We are. We are Love. We are God. We are Buddha. We are Christ. We are Krishna and Mohammed and Gandhi and Mother Theresa and at the same time, we are all the people we mentally condemn too, because who’s really condemning who? Namaste—the divine in me salutes the divine in you. Well, where do you draw the line? You can’t, because that’s cheating.
The Divine that is in us is nothing but love, and it’s the same exact Divine love that is in every other sentient being that ever has been, and ever will be. So who are we to decide who’s worthy of this love and who isn’t?! Love does not judge, love does not condemn, love does not choose, love simply is, and when we’re truly at a place where we’re in touch with that love, we also will neither judge, condemn nor choose. Love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, healing—they’re only as hard as we make them.
Sigur Ros- Hoppipolla
Editor: Kate Bartolotta