Monday, August 16, 2010

How to love myself

In a couple of days I am leaving for a retreat that will begin my grad student career. I am very excited; I am so ready to start this next part of my life! Before I leave for the retreat though I want to share a couple of posts that I have been thinking about for several months. This first one is actually something I wrote several months ago when I went home (to Kansas) for my sister's graduation. It was a journal entry I was writing for myself, so is very personal, but I think it is worth sharing because I think this is a moment when I figured out some of the mechanics of how to actually practice self-love--whenever I tell a friend about how I am learning to love myself, I come back in my head to this moment.

The background first:

I wrote this on one of my last nights during my visit home for my sister's graduation. This was after all the festivities were over and my sister and I were staying with my grandma for a couple of days. Earlier in the trip home I'd been feeling a lot of despair--despair about my present situation. This was before I found out I got into grad school, so I was trying to figure out how I was going to find a job, where I was going to live, how I was going to survive the next year--I felt very hopeless; things felt very dark.

A couple of things changed that started to change this despair. One is that I called one of my best friends--and he told me that it is totally okay to feel despair, and he reminded me that despair is a feeling and not a truth. This was a little difficult to assimilate--feelings *feel* so true when you are in them--but I was with a little thought able to remember that this was true--I was feeling despair, and that feeling was real and legitimate and ok, but it did not also mean that my future would actually be gray and hopeless.

The other thing that changed my despair is that being in the Midwest (rural, Kansas, Missouri, etc.) does deep things to me. Sometimes it brings out despair but also, the Midwest is the last place where I knew what it was to truly dream and hope. College and teaching crushed some things in me, beat into me the futility of dreaming with any substance or real hope of happiness. I think when I go back to the Midwest, I remember the ways I felt alone growing up yes, the ways I had to constrain myself, but I also remember the days when I was a brilliant girl from a small town in Kansas yet untested on the bigger world outside. i.e. I remember what it meant to watch the landscape pass by through the window of a car and the sky and the beautiful complex clouds--what it meant to watch the land and the sky slide by and to feel my spirit begin to soar. Growing up, I knew there was more out there--and there was more in me--and I hoped that when the me met the out there, all the more would come to light, and I would finally be wonderful and beautiful and worth something.

So after several days of feeling bad and hopeless, I worked my way out of my despair and wrote this (I've edited slightly just for clarity and quality of writing--but I haven't added anything or taken out anything important):

For the first time since not getting into grad school, I perceive a glimmer of sunshine when perusing my future.

I feel more powerful than I normally do.

I feel more powerful than I normally do; I do not seek a power of domination; I do not wish to dominate life--for how could I ever imagine and produce all the wonderful things and surprises life has in store for me?

But that doesn't mean I have to simply submit either.

I will get knocked down. I will be reduced to a huddling mass.
And I will huddle, and I will let grief roll through me and depression overtake me.

But I will not huddle forever. Even grief cannot last forever as an immutable object--each wave is a new experience of grief, and even if the waves never disappear, they will be always changing.

And I do not have to hold onto my grief, imagining that I can only deserve love and care if I am in pain and in need. Grief is not the only path to my humanity. It is not the only marker of my worthiness of love--; I deserve love when I am great and beautiful and strong and happy, not only when I am in dire need of compassion and care.
Love does not only love those in need, in pain; love does not only exist from compassion. Love loves the good. I can see this because I love the good in others. (I love the whole of others--but how can one look at the whole of those dearest to me without being overjoyed and awed at the sight of such good, such beauty?)
Perhaps I can deserve love not only because I suffer, but also on the merit of the incredible good coursing through my veins.

The Buddha says there is no one more deserving of my love and affection than me.
I think when trying to learn to love myself, I often take the approach of trying to learn to love any person because I hold myself in such low esteem that I believe that I could only deserve love if everyone--if the most wretched being--deserves love. (Side note--I do, for the record, believe that even the most wretched being deserves love! haha)
Maybe I could learn to love myself for my good; for all that I am; seeing all that I am. Seeing the magnificence in me rather than just the dull, shadowed reflections that I normally perceive when contemplating myself.

Imagine, a love affair with myself in which I exult in all the good I do, exult in all the beauty in me.
Imagine! How that would open up my world; what possibilities it could create.
Such a love is so essential--self-love, a sense of my power and self-efficacy and beauty and goodness and love--to love myself!
--Is worth more than perhaps anything else I have so far encountered in this world.

Power, not of domination, but of strength and vision--a partnership with life where I do not have to be bowled over forever by pain, but can grapple and--by continually challenging my own strength--
--experience joy! Growth, love,--joy!

A full, joyful, clear, strong love for myself--

Not just pardon/forgiveness for my imperfections, mistakes, failures...Not just permission to be human.

But an exultation of all that I have done and am and can do--a vision of the beauty of this particular human being.

All this is in me. I would like to explore my ability to exercise it
--both by the giving of myself and the exultation of myself--
Without setting impossible (i.e. grandeur-laden, pressuring-bearing) marks for myself to reach.

Stumbling is ok. Losing sight is ok.

I have had this sight for the first time in a very very long time, and it is now a part of me, and even if I lose it for a while, perhaps I will see it again.

Self-love really is the most important thing.

Ah, I just heard some aching loss sad music in my head; it reverberates through myself, my feelings, my consciousness.
If it wants to wring, it may. Sleep comes soon for me.

Oh Kansas, what soaring heights you bring me to, yet also such despair.

There is nothing to crush me this time.

(I wish it ended there, but after contemplating sleep, I swung into a guilt cycle about having felt so good about myself....)

With hope comes fear. Oh my, what fear!

When I let go of my insistence that nothing really matters because nothing in my life can change very much and gray is gray, whether it be shaded lighter or darker....then--if colors exists--I am stepping into the unknown!
When I soar and hope--what fear! What guilt and shame encroach!

Ok guilt! Ok shame! Do your worst!

Am I actually so horrible for hoping? For soaring? Have I committed such a deadly sin? Have I been too prideful with my delusions of grandeur?
Must I grovel now?
Or must I fall from the heights? Plunge off the cliff?

Is it so horrible to believe I deserve love? Joyful love? Is that so selfish and unforgivable?

Just because I feel guilty does not mean I am guilty.

This is where I did finally stop and sleep! After I first wrote this it took me a while to look at it again because I was afraid it would be--somehow not okay--but it's held upon re-reading, feels good to revisit.

Ever since I wrote this I actually have had a more readily accessible sense of self-love and care, of holding myself with care and esteem. It gives me a sense of being rooted in myself, which I really like. I think there is a LOT of room for me to keep growing my ability to love myself; and I do believe that it is good work for me to do, because time and again I have observed that the more love I feel for myself, the more love I have to give to others.


  1. Several years down the road I can see this:

    Kate L.
    -Renowned Psychologist, Author, Teacher, Humanitarian, Musician, and friend. :) <3

  2. Ah, thank you. :) You are a lovely human being, Frank; I count myself lucky to consider you my friend!