Recently I ran into a friend of mine who had been traveling for some years. After a long hug and reacquainting ourselves with new smile lines and fledgling gray hairs, she asked me what I had been up to since we’d last seen one another. When I responded, I found myself saying: “You know, what I’m up to these days could best be described as a gentling.”
I’m not sure if I came up with this word or not, but all I know is that when I said it, it sounded True, like the first, wonderful warble of sound from an instrument played after many years of lying in dusty silence.
Yep–-these days when people ask me how I’m doing, I just want to say: “Gentler.”
It’s taken a very long time for me to start to be gentler with myself. Perhaps for the majority of us the initial moment we realize we could and maybe should be our own best friend occurs only at a very low point in our lives–when we can no longer afford to make our self adversary, but instead must become advocate.
Becoming kinder with our selves is a process. I think for me it started by watching what happened when I felt regret after an “unskillful” exchange with another. I began to pay attention to a sequence of thoughts about myself that became progressively less generous and increasingly more hateful–a whole lot of “yuck” turned inward. This was a first step in seeing where and when I turned against myself and how immediate the loneliness of that experience was. It was very painful. And I had to become realistic: If I couldn’t befriend myself, how could I expect everyone else to?
Someone once told me, “You teach people how to treat you.” I believe this is a very accurate statement. How people respond to us and treat us is how we are treating ourselves on the inside.
Forget worrying about everyone else for a while–where do we disregard our own boundaries? Where do we lie to ourselves; betray ourselves; act disloyally with ourselves? Where is it that we, in fact, aren’t kind, respectful, generous, considerate, and loving with ourselves? And yet we expect everyone we come into contact with to respect us, honor us, be loyal and unconditionally loving with us–or else!
Do we really believe that people in our lives should be “unconditionally loving” and “nonjudgmental” even if we haven’t yet learned to give our selves that same courtesy?
A while back I was doing some yoga in the living room. I’ve practiced various styles of yoga for many years now and I go through phases where going to a yoga studio feels good, and phases where “living room” yoga feels better. So there I was one morning, stretching this way and that into whatever posture felt like the next, best one, and the next posture I flowed into was one that had me low to the floor and reaching a hand under a leg and around and out of sight behind me, where apparently my other hand would somehow find it.
But as I reached under and around and up through space my attention wandered and, no longer focused on my breath, my mind was lost in thought–so much so that when one of my hands opened and gently took the fingers of my other hand into it I was surprised. It was as if a kind stranger had suddenly taken my hand and had softly squeezed it. Warm tears sprung to my eyes. I squeezed back, shaking hands with someone I was pretty happy I’d be getting to know.
Who knew I could have my own back and my own hand at the same time? That’s Yoga for you.
And also Kindness.
– em claire
To Love Yourself
To Love your self start here:
Take your own hand, and
put it to your lips.
lay the soft of your cheek
to the round of your shoulder–
where the faint musk
of the enduring dreams
and the labors of your life
It’s a start.
It’s a beginning.
Now the ache of your heart
“To Love Yourself”- em claire
©2005 All Rights Reserved
(Em Claire is an American poet whose work appears in her book Silent Sacred Holy Deepening Heart, as well as in When Everything Changes, Change Everything. She may be reached through www.emclairepoet.com)