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Last month marked a pivotal turning point along my life’s journey.
It was the month I turned 30.
For me, as for many others, entering another decade can inspire a mixture of many different shades of emotion, such as the dark gray foreboding that shadows our awakening into the awareness that we are mortal and that our time here is ultimately finite, to the softer tone of melancholy that dampens the lightness in our lens and sobers us in our vision of past, present, and future, to the sky blue semblance of hope we feel when we turn on our backs and gaze upward, toward a portal, into a vast space of a nearly infinite sequence of possibilities.
As a person who is a believer in seizing the moment and of making the most out of these new beginnings, I vowed to make this decade the best it can be.
For one thing, I decided that I would never again lay my heart flat for any person to trample. Never again would I give anyone the same all-consuming devotion I had in the past and receive only crumbs in return. Nor would I abandon what is nourishing to me in favor of mending what is irreparable.
Instead, I resolved to pour water into my own cup, to let flow a body of inner presence I had never before, and to swim tirelessly toward my goals, as though the river itself depends on it.
Most importantly, however, I vowed to keep promises, however big or small they may be, to myself in ways the people I most loved could not, in order to affirm that I am worthy of commitment—the only kind I could count on.
In my 20s, I loved wildly and without abandon. I made the woman into an idol, some larger-than-life figure at whose alter I so faithfully knelt, blinded by my rose-tinted glasses. I worked doggedly to be loved by her in turn, bending and twisting myself into a pretzel for the sake of keeping her satiated. This time, I promised, it is going to be all about me. I will be my own greatest wish fulfillment.
In this decade, I tell myself, I will write that book I’ve been dreaming about, take that trip I’ve always wanted to take, conquer some of my deepest fears, take care of my body and mind, make that career change, and so on.
On a simpler note, perhaps one day, self-love may look like pushing myself out of my zone of comfort and trudging through thick, heavy layers of exhaustion to accomplish an important task, whereas on another day, self-love may take the form of speaking kindly to myself after I’ve eaten yet another piece of chocolate and simply promising to eat better the following day, in lieu of berating the depth of my willpower.
No matter what the case may be from day-to-day or even from moment to moment, however, I know that any attempt at being gentler and more mindful is a step in a more favorable direction.
Now, the challenge is:
Can I love myself with the same abandon I did another woman? Can I keep promises to myself the way the women I loved could not? Can I invest in my growth with the same vigor I funneled into keeping a romantic connection alive far past its point of expiration? Moreover, can I be the love I’ve been seeking all these years but never quite found?
One of my favorite quotes by Rumi reads, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to find all the barriers you have built up against it.”
To me, those words convey a special meaning. When I read those words, I think to myself:
The love I have been searching for throughout my 20s can only be found within me, in the deepest layers of who I am, in the nakedness of my soul, before I put on a mask and hid my light under a lamp shade due to all of the conditioning to which I was subjected.
My task, then, is to effectively unlearn what I have been taught to believe and to live closer to the surface of my skin and revel in that newfound, unapologetic authenticity.
In truth, we all have those barriers we have built up against unconditional self-love. We all have programs that run and rerun through our heads that perhaps no longer serve us.
Even the most outwardly confident among us have some occasional questions and doubts. This is part and parcel of the human experience as we know it. We spend parts of our life learning and the other half of it releasing what we’ve learned for the sake of personal expansion. We are all, as Louise L. Hay so candidly put it in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, victims of victims.
Our parents and other influential adults in our lives did not and could not teach us anything that they themselves did not know, and unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of us did not grow up in conscious households with parents who modeled self-love, and neither did those generations before them.
Instead, we were punished or rewarded by a points system that fed us fear, which in turn pressured us to conform, measure up, and achieve success based on the rigid expectations of a spiritually-bankrupt society.
The other day, my girlfriend and I were driving to one of our favorite destinations along the Niagara River. I woke up that morning determined to make the day a fruitful and productive one and I’d had this planned a few days in advance.
She and I both have a creative bent, so I suggested that she work on her music or read a book while I worked on my writing project. Unable to sit inside on such an exquisitely warm and sunny day, I was burning to head to a tranquil park in Niagara-On-The-Lake, which is my favorite nearby town, marvel in the quaint, natural beauty around us, and muster the inspiration to write something I could be impeccably proud of.
In our relationship, I would consider myself the slightly more methodical one, usually looking before I leap and thriving on a certain degree of organization. Compared with her, my energy is more quiet, contained, and introspective, whereas she is more loud, carefree, and spontaneous in her general expression—qualities and traits I sometimes wish I possessed more of myself.
Preparing to journey within and pull out something I considered masterful, I remained silent in the car, lost in a sea of thought as I circled my mind for the perfect topic of focus, in spite of the writer’s block I had been battling for a little while.
“Oh, look, an antique shop,” my girlfriend blithely pointed out.
Not wanting to lose my inner momentum, I offered a distracted and rather half-hearted response and continued to focus inward, on the birthing of my next writing project. After a few more innocent comments about observations she’d made, she could feel my subtle irritation rising. “I’m just thinking out loud,” she remarked, casually.
Instead of being gentle about it, this time, I snapped. “And I’m thinking in my head,” I shot back.
After I said this, I felt ashamed. I berated myself again. I can be so self-absorbed, I thought to myself. How could anyone possibly live or put up with me for an extended period? We sat in silence for a time. Lovingly, I finally reached out to grab her hand. “I’m sorry, babe,” I began, in earnest. I continued. “This is what I meant when I told you that it would be challenging to live with a writer who is often in her head. It just takes so much uninterrupted focus to pull out of me something of any real quality and I can’t get too distracted. I don’t want to lose my momentum.”
She softened. “I understand,” she responded. “I can be like that with my music or when I am editing something on my system. I guess it can be hard for us to work together.” Anxiety struck my heart.
“I love being with you while we work on our own separate projects. I enjoy being alone together,” I explained to her, “but I think we need a better system that takes both of our needs and styles into consideration.” Suddenly, guilt took a hold of me. I continued. “Sometimes I feel like you deserve better than me. I am not always very present or available when I am working on a project or mustering the momentum to write something, and I know you need more of that from me.”
That old, deeply ingrained pattern emerged once more, rearing its ugly head.
That self-destructive, self-deprecating tendency bubbles to the surface whenever I feel guilt, shame, or otherwise not enough for a person I love. Careful, a small yet powerful voice warned. If you keep on saying things like that, you may once again manifest those very same things you fear the most.”
My girlfriend, however, who is endlessly patient and understanding of me and of all my little “quirks,” reassured me that I am indeed enough.
“You’re a great person, Sarah, and I see so much potential in you,” she offered. A wide smile formed across my face. “Thank you for always finding the best in me,” I said to her. “That means so much to me, more than you realize.”
Tears formed in the corners of my eyes. “I’m not used to that.” She touched the back of my head with her hand. She offered a sympathetic look. “It’s okay, baby,” she soothed me.
That encounter, however fleeting, drew something important to the level of my conscious awareness. I realized I still have some self-love reprogramming and healing work to do.
However, instead of bashing myself for it, I choose to bow gracefully to the lesson and affirm: in this decade of my life, I am worth all of the effort it takes to finally see myself through.