Self-affirmations as a path to self-love

At my latest hair appointment, I was feeling sad and overwhelmed for various reasons. I’ve been going to that stylist for a number of years, and we’ve had a number of reasonably substantive conversations. I can’t remember what the segue was for this question, but I asked her how she approaches self-image and not being thin in our society where that is so prized, so perceived as necessary by so many people.

I have written about this before, but one thing that has been a source of sadness and frustration for me is my reaction when my boyfriend (or anyone else, for that matter) tells me I am beautiful: that is, I simply cannot relate myself to the word, and it slides off of me as though just under my skin there is a paper-thin but impenetrable shield. I wish to feel pleased by the compliment. I have felt that to be impossible. Sheer effort of will is not enough to flip the switch that has been cemented in place since I was very little, the switch in my self-identity set to fat/ugly/repulsive/loser.

On the other hand, of course, a negative comment or expression directed my way has a thousand channels into my psyche, where it can enter freely and pick at the wounds from previous encounters. Over the years I have worked hard on healing those wounds, and I have made a lot of progress. I used to feel repulsed by my body; now, most of the time, I do not. I have even made progress in softening and walking away from the identification with the self-hatred described above.

But believing that I am beautiful? That has really felt impossible. The best I could hope for, I believed, was a lack of self-hatred, an alliance with my body based on mutual positive intent, respect, appreciation for function, teamwork. My mental calculus has been, beauty = x, and I am y, so it is impossible for me to be beautiful. It doesn’t feel like self-hatred: just a logical acceptance of reality.

But really, a denial of love is at the least neglect, if not really hatred in another form. And, whether I would like to be or not, I am not indifferent to my body.

So, after that conversation with my stylist I decided to try the self-affirmation tack that has been recommended to me before, but which I have felt resistance to. That is, I look at myself in the mirror every day and say, out loud, “I am beautiful.” I also list details about my face or my hair, or my body. And lo and behold, it is working! I am shifting how I feel about myself, and now beauty is not something which seems to belong entirely to other people. I have also added, “I play cello beautifully” (though I want to change the wording of that), and, “I can be angry and still be a good mother,” because those two items are often equally problematic for me.

Of note, however, is how insidious our thin=beautiful societal definition is. I noticed that when I feel better about myself, I look different to myself, and what that actually means is that I look THINNER to myself. I see the shape of my body differently. When I am feeling bad about myself, I see myself as fatter. So, my goal now is to look at myself, at all of me, at what I really look like, and state that my body, as it is, is beautiful. And that is an act of rebellion. But for the first time, I believe that it is possible.

Advertisements

Conquering the fear-god

When I have placed fear of making a mistake in the god-chair of my psyche, I play quite a lot worse. This is not a surprising or shocking revelation, of course, but because I’ve been playing so much of late, the difference has struck me anew. When I am terrified, my movements are more stilted. When I am afraid of making my entrances in case I make a mistake, and I am more likely to be late on my entrances. It’s harder to get a good sound, because I am more stiff, more tentative, have less flexibility and therefore less control from a technical standpoint. Of course, then a vicious cycle begins in which I fear making mistakes, and then I play worse, and then I make more mistakes, and then I fear them more, etc ad nauseum.

When I was in my first masters program, upon me playing something out of tune during a lesson I was having just a day or two before my recital, my teacher said, “There’s always something ugly.” Because I have an ego-identification with being ugly, incapable, and irresponsible, this went straight in, burning an acid path into my heart. I accepted it as a part of who I am. And my already extant fear of making intonation mistakes got an upgrade and was elevated to punishing-God status. It is very easy to project those judgements externally, and when I am in an internal place of fear, it’s easy to assume that others are feeling that way about me too. And then, every external input gets run through that filter.

Music and the music world can feel so wildly vulnerable, because when you perform you are out in the open, can’t hide. So this issue of mine gets quite a lot of play sometimes.

But music and the music world can also be incredibly healing. I had the exquisitely wonderful experience this weekend of performing in a concert in which the joy of the music, the performers, and the audience was palpable. The sense of connection was loving and vibrant. To be able to do that, to be in the heart of the glorious sound-ocean that is ensemble playing is an honor and a joy.

Prior to that concert I called my boyfriend and said, “Can I make mistakes and still enjoy myself?” In the conversation that ensued, I was able to kick fear back down to a more appropriate position in my internal landscape. And then, not being consumed with fear, my heart was open for more possibilities, and was able to receive the joy that arose during our performance.

Contrary to what that fear-god claims, self-flagellation does not in fact make me a more responsible human being; just a more unhappy one. And unhappiness is not a virtue.

All of this applies in other areas of life too, of course. It’s hard to muster or execute with grace when tied up in chains of terror of being wrong. I am slowly accepting this lesson in my heart, and allowing it to penetrate my feelings and my actions. There’s nothing wrong with fearing being wrong, or being not good enough, etc, etc. But using that fear to build a cage doesn’t help anyone. So, I am working on engaging with the fear from the point of view of discovering whether it has a useful message for which I can thank it and then dismiss it, or whether its aim is merely to reduce, imprison, and punish. Then, I can expand my point of view, open the window, and invite other input.

Love poetry, of a spiritual nature

I am thankful for my friends every day. Some days the gifts I receive from them are so plentiful, important, and life changing I give thanks with an even more passionate heart.

For most of my life I have had an allergic reaction to anything smacking of religion. The idea of a soul never made sense to me. The word “God” gave me the heebee jeebees. As I have gotten older, I have gotten more comfortable with not knowing, with mystery, with a lack of clear answers, with feeling and intuition, and with receiving wisdom from different sources and in different presentations.

After a pivotal and emotionally powerful conversation with my friend P today, about love, self-love, wounds, grief, and healing, she sent me the following poems. I share them in case anyone else resonates with them and finds them useful. “My Eyes So Soft” is particularly moving for me, as loneliness is something I experience as being so painful, and have since I was a little kid. One of my big emotional/psychological/spiritual/life tasks is to be with myself, gently, without judgment, without trying to change my own feelings in an effort to be more comfortable or happy. “I shouldn’t feel x way” is one way in which I make myself not ok with being me.

If I can learn to be more comfortable with my emotional realities, then I suspect I’ll be more comfortable with my kids’, too. So this is for me, and it is for them.

—–
NOW IS THE TIME

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

A CUSHION FOR YOUR HEAD
Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.
Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.
You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

MY EYES SO SOFT
Don’t
Surrender
Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
Tender,
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

STAY WITH US
You
Leave
Our company when you speak
Of shame.
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern sad.
Stay with us
As we do the hardest work of rarely
Laying down
That pick and
Shovel
That will keep
Revealing our deeper kinship
With
God,
That will keep revealing
Our own divine
Worth.
You leave the company of the Beloved’s friends
Whenever you speak of
Guilt,
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern
Very sad.
Stay with us tonight
As we weave love

And reveal ourselves,
Reveal ourselves

As God’s precious
Garments.

MANY LIVES AGO
Your tastes have become refined.
It used to be
If someone stole all your coins
Or locked your sexual pleasures in a room
You could not reach
This world would have no meaning
And a thirst for a hemlock brew
Might arise.
But that was many lives ago.

Now look at yourself:
You are often still a mess
Though these days,
At times,

You weep because
You miss
God.

A victory of epic proportions

Today I realized that, for the first time in my life that I can remember, it has become more important to me to be the person I am than to be thin. I am letting go, in stages, of shame. I claim myself, my emotional, expressive, round, creative, messy, dimpled, philosophical self. This is a victory whose proportions I can’t fully see, let alone describe completely. I am glad to be me.

Am I Pretty?

Well, last night was awful, but I’m starting to feel better. I really hate sore throats. But being sick did remind me that it’s been quite a while since I had a cold like this. So that’s good. Today we had a full day of babysitting scheduled, thank goodness. I was able to rest in between nursing the babies. That helped.

—–

What’s on my mind right now is Hazel’s recently acquired focus on appearance, and her frequently asked question, “Mama, do I look pretty?” This is often followed by, “I’m going to put on chapstick and a dress, and then I’ll be pretty.” I have been struggling with this. I really dislike the whole pink/princess thing, and I thought I’d have more time before the issue of how Hazel looks kicked into her thought process and our dialogue. I’m definitely doing more parenting on the fly (is any parenting not that way?) I was reminded by a dear friend of the “Free To Be You And Me” movie which was standard viewing material at our very liberal school when I was a kid. I think I’m going to get the soundtrack. I can’t excise the princess virus from society, but I can add other things into the equation in our own home and family.

There’s a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are
Take my hand come with me where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live

In a land where the river runs free
In a land through the green country
In a land to a shining sea
In a land where the horses run free
And you and me are free to be you and me.

Every boy in this land grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me
where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll run

To a land where the river runs free
To a land through the green country
To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the horses run free
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be you and me

It does feel far away to me, but at least I can play the CD here, and I can play things other than princess with Hazel. The harder thing is to find creative answers to the pretty question she’s started asking. I do wonder where she’s getting that. Not from us. I appreciate the link my friend reminded me of, to return to when I fall into the insidious trap of thinking it’s not a big deal: the Poetry Slam “Am I Pretty?”. It’s good to be reminded of some of the consequences, so that I can be well-informed, intentional and careful in how I address these issues with my daughter(s). But I thought I’d have more time before having to field this one. I was crying about it today. The focus on appearance as a meter of self-worth starts so early. My dear, darling daughter is a beautiful, fantastic, interested, kind, caring, adventurous, strong, interesting person, and I want her to know that in her bones and her cells, her heart and soul.

I will not tell Hazel that she’s pretty. Too much cultural baggage. But I will tell her so many other things.

I will tell her I love her eyes, her curiosity, that she likes to share and give things to people. I will tell her that her voice is so musical and sweet; that there is wonderful strong muscle all over her body; that I love seeing her hair up in hair trees like I used to have. I will tell her that listening to her sing is one of the delights of my life; that she has gorgeous long black eyelashes; and that it’s so fun to go swimming with her, because we share a love of the water. I will tell her that her Dad and I love to build things with her out of the fantastic blocks sent to us by her granddad. I will tell her that it’s so wonderful to see her making friends with other kids and adults.

The list will go on and on through our life together. And as Hazel has been telling me lately (after I explained that our babysitter was still her mother’s kid even though she’s an adult), “I’ll always be your kid, Mommy.” Yes, sweetie, you’ll always be my daughter, and I’ll always love you.