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Why it’s so important to love oneself

A reflection on language and compassion

Sometimes I wish I could write the uplifting, inspiring articles I see so many of on this site. I devour quite a few. Often, they inspire me, they give me hope. Sometimes though after an initial uplift, I crash. I compare myself, wondering why I don’t feel this positive about life, why I seem to lack the self-discipline these writers have, why depression so often rushes in to fill what seems to be a vacuum inside of me.

I have a sometime yoga practice with a gifted teacher who has done the hard work of true spiritual growth. She has dedicated her life to the pursuit of deep self-inquiry. In class, she coaxes us to be present with our experience, to reject nothing in our experience, to “stay close” to ourselves. For me, this is complicated stuff to write about. It’s complicated to do, to explain, to feel.

But, when I do, when I have, it has been profound. Once, in a yoga class, after focusing on my breath and struggling to stay present for an hour, I looked out of the open door and literally fused with the glimmering tree outside. It felt like the tree and I met in mid-air and touched one another. I felt the spirit of the tree deep in my heart, and the feeling spread in a kind of super-grounded, quiet elation. I still remember like a flash bulb memory the color and shine of the leaves and the way they moved silkily among one another.

I’ve had transformational experiences while meditating too, where a feeling of intense well-being, safety, and security seems to rise up from the ground beneath and fill me with a steady, unshakable faith and light. It’s quite profound and deeply reassuring.

I know this force exists because I’ve felt it. You’d think, having had these experiences, that I’d be a die-hard proponent of yoga and meditation, that I’d be preaching the good news of a beneficient and loving God, power, or force in the universe and writing about that on Medium.

Yet, I don’t meditate every day. Far from it. Instead I have a sometime meditation practice. I don’t practice yoga daily. Sometimes, weeks go by without setting foot on my yoga mat or showing up for class. The question is, why? Why not, when I know it’s important to me?

I think there’s a way that I won’t allow myself to self-realize yet. I hold myself back. A part of me still feels I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to feel better yet. I don’t deserve to come into my power. Or is it just regular human laziness?

Regardless, because I don’t completely stand with myself — because I still have a mean troll inside of me that jerks me down when I reach for air, I am split off from myself. I am not patient and compassionate with myself. And because I’m not patient and compassionate with myself, I am not so with others, even with those I love.

I wrote a quick, flippant essay called “On dating men with ‘potential’” that did what I guess you call “going viral.” It got a crazy amount of views in a short space of time. It seemed to touch a nerve in people, in both positive and negative ways. I received many supportive comments. The negative comments were hard to read, and I’m not sure I’ve read them all yet. I’m taking them in a little at a time.

At first, I was defensive. I said to myself, “Gee, people really don’t understand writing! This was just a single tiny prism of my experience! It’s not the Truth, it’s just a rendition of my experience and feelings in the moment I wrote the piece. It’s a truth, for the particular place and time and from that particular person, and where she was in her experience at that moment.”

However, one comment came in this morning that I was able to hear with no interference from my ego. A reader with an icon depicting the word “Coexistwrote via Twitter, “Self-care = good. Labeling people as losers = not good.”

I thanked Deborah, for that was her name, for her comment and acknowledged she was absolutely right. She followed up with, “I relate to a lot of what you wrote… as someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, (and) unrealised potential… maybe others have done the right thing for them by ending a relationship with me. Sometimes I feel like a loser. Sometimes, living with honesty, compassion, & humour is success.”

Of course, she’s exactly right. What I was trying to acknowledge in the essay I wrote was that the reason I’m attracted to men who won’t or can’t meet their potential is that I also limit myself. In other words, I also — by my own definition — am a “loser.” But, it’s one thing to call myself a loser and another to label others that way. In fact, it’s flippant, cruel, and arrogant to do so. This is what many commenters were objecting to, and rightly so.

This reminds me of what Brené Brown writes about. The difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort” while shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” And it’s all-eclipsing, annihilating.

There’s nothing wrong per se with describing the people I’ve loved that have frustrated or disappointed me, but that’s on me. Not them. Their path is their path, their own, and none of my business, frankly. What I should have said, what I think I meant, was, sisters, think carefully about what you want and choose carefully your mate because the mate you choose will have a big impact on your lives.

When we choose a mate who is still struggling at a level that impinges their lives and the lives of those around them to a drastic degree, it’s a problem. But, it’s not their “fault,” and no, they’re not “losers.” I think it’s okay to say, however, that they’re not appropriate partners yet, at least not for someone intent on raising a family. Like it or not, I think most of us would agree there’s such a thing as husband material. Wife material too. Partner material, let’s say.

I cannot yet write the blogs and articles I’d like to write — those that help and uplift others — because I’m not there yet myself. But, I must write because it’s the method I’ve chosen to try to make sense of myself and my past, to sort myself out and hopefully emerge a better person.

My hope is that it’s helpful for some to know that blighted or benighted as we can be, the struggle is the goal. Trying, attempting, not giving up, or at least picking ourselves back up when we have — this is a worthy pursuit. I give up altogether too much. But, then, I go to my yoga class, and I’m raised up by something greater than myself. It’s incredible to realize there’s a kind of power or force inside of me that’s always accessible to me if I would just get out of my own way.

After our 90-minute yoga practice today, as I was putting my props away, I glanced at a young woman near me who was also putting her props away. She’s about 20. Her face was composed, her expression calm and totally without guile. The purity of her face and expression startled me. And it moved me. As I walked back to my spot on the floor, tears sprang to my eyes. I felt so much compassion for this girl, for youth, for hopefulness, for the courage it takes to keep going, to wake up morning after morning and present ourselves to the world.

The feeling I had was one of exquisite pain. A quote from an old photography book I had in my teens came to mind: “There is pain when buds burst.”

It takes courage to be present because it hurts. It hurts in the most exquisite way to meet people fully, to not shield ourselves, to be honest and true as an arrow. It takes work. Attentiveness. Commitment. But, the pain of this work is very different from the pain of non-presence, when my mind and then my body in response, is roiled by doubt, angst, worry about the future, regret about the past, sorrow, confusion, defensiveness, and shame.

This also hurts, in a very different way.

One is exquisite and sharp like the brilliance of a dewdrop. One is heavy and dark, pulling one down like a shroud you just can’t shrug off.

When I left the class, I felt good, alive, quiet, and at peace. Walking down the street, however, automatic pilot began to take hold. I reached for my cell phone “to check messages,” “to be responsible” (nah, just to avoid being present, most likely). Then, I stopped mid-motion and removed my hand from my purse. I ambled along.

The wine-dark leaves of the liquid amber above me shook amid their still-green neighbors. The leaves fluttered in the breeze, dry edges catching on one another making an audible rustle. A hawk passing overhead cried out once. Ravens in the trees cawed and squawked. Nearing my car, fallen leaves turned cartwheels in the gutter, their brittle edges scraping the asphalt. The breeze off the bay was warm at the edges, but carried in its core a hint of the cool ocean, a harbinger of fall.

At that moment, Jim Croce’s 1973 hit “I got a name” popped into my head. It goes,

Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I got a name, I got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I got a name, I got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

In the second verse, he says, in part,

…I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I go there proud

…And I’m gonna go there free

There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino chose this exhilarating song in his movie Django Unchained for the moment of power and freedom when Django’s been outfitted in over-the-top dashing new clothes by his German pal and given a horse and a job to do. He rides straight of back and high of head.

As humans, we can wait till we’re sure, or we can just start. Instead of keeping the dream “hid,” we can move along the highway so life don’t pass us by. We can live the dream, sing our song no matter what it is, and if it “gets us nowhere,” we’ll go there proud.

Now that’s confidence.

My goal is to write every day on Medium. That means I can’t wait until I’m in a “proper” frame of mind to write. It means not every essay will be as polished as it perhaps could be. It means that sometimes I will be frayed and bleeding, unenlightened, bitter. Sometimes I will offend people, and they will be right when they criticize me.

And sometimes (hopefully), I’ll be “living the dream” and going to my destination free. Or as free as can be hoped for in this world where we are bound by the constraints of time, ego, and our fragile bodies, our “mortal coils.” Until we shrug off our skins, then, we’re here to stay, warts and all, and we have to be brave enough to show our faces anyway, like the tender young girl in today’s yoga class, open and free and willing to Be.

Writer, copywriter, editor, and word lover. Subscribe to my newsletter at christywhite.substack.com

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