February is the month we're bombarded with the joy of romantic love: sweetness and candles, chocolate and wine. If you're single, it's easy to drift into the illusion that all loneliness and frustration would be resolved by the relationship thing. If you're in a couple, it's easy to imagine you should be with someone else who's better at, or more, or less — something.
Why not take this month to get serious about your relationship with yourself? Have you committed yet? I'm not talking about taking yourself out to eat or treating yourself to a bubble bath (check out the magazines at the other stores for that). I mean self-love that involves consistent kindness to yourself. I mean self-forgiveness applied not only in big moments of cutting loose some monster from the past, but through ongoing, daily, moment-to-moment practice. I mean refusing to tolerate self-talk that puts you down, refusing to lie in bed at night obsessing over what's not done, what wasn't done right, what you shouldn't have said, what you'll never catch up to or make happen. By self-love, I mean supreme self-honoring.
How? You could begin by dropping your version of the perpetual negative self-talk people practice and think nothing of practicing daily. It's the air most people breathe. Sure, we could reach back and find something about mother, society, or other culprits, but as a personal-growth coach working outside of a therapy model, I focus on the present, on what people are doing right now that doesn't serve them — that in fact constitutes ongoing self-deprecation and -violation. (Please note that I'm a fan of good therapy and have benefited from it myself. It's simply not my perspective here or in my coaching.) Most human beings, in short, tolerate a level of harassment from themselves that they'd be outraged to receive from another.
What if they didn't tolerate this? What if you didn't?
My wish for humanity is that everyone be struck by the absurdity of what they say to themselves that's all about what's wrong, imperfect, incomplete, unattractive, unimpressive, lacking in social grace or ease, a total failure, evidence of permanent "stuckness," and on and on. Would you talk to a growing child this way? Would you talk to anyone this way?
You are an evolving being. Look for the evidence that you've grown, learned, improved, mellowed, blossomed. This could be your focus, or the lens you look through—and whatever lens you choose determines a whole lot about what you see and experience. When that lens is about shortcomings and failures, to put it mildly, you just won't be at your best.
What if you committed to no more negative self-talk? Let me get out my meditation metaphor. When you meditate, you don't sit down and clear your mind and sit in a space of gorgeous clarity for twenty minutes. Far from it. If your focus is the breath, you're bound to catch yourself off in a thought far away from the breath, in other places and times, even the future, maybe oceans away. So what? As soon as you catch yourself in a thought, you simply come back to the breath. Best not to beat yourself up — simply bring yourself back to the breath. Thus, for twenty minutes, you'll be in a constant process of catching yourself in a thought and coming back to the breath, catching yourself and coming back, catching yourself and coming back. This is valid meditation, and it actually does something. And eventually, you get better at it.
In the same way, should you decide to eradicate negative self-talk from your inner world, you won't clear it out once and for all with that decision. More likely, you'll catch yourself in negative self-talk and bring yourself back. If you're clear on the worth and efficacy of this process, and stay with it, it actually works. Don't give yourself another talking to about what a loser you are at giving up negative self-talk. Just bring yourself back.
As in romantic love, a good relationship with yourself can be cultivated in bed. Stay with me — this is rated G. When you're ready to sleep, notice the anxiety or frustration that accompanies letting go of a day. Notice the parade of images that call up dissatisfaction, or anything negative, right down to shame. This is the stuff not to tolerate. Will you consciously be kind to yourself instead? Will you deliberately forgive yourself for each thing your mind offers up as evidence of failed or not-enough? Will you systematically look for all you've handled well, all you feel good about? Connect to all that is love. What if you told yourself you're amazing and beautiful, your day is complete, it's all good enough, and isn't life sweet?
So it's the month of romance. Let me add that self-honoring is sexy. In or out of a relationship, you're more attractive when you love yourself. You're less needy; you don't look for reassurance or approval (you're getting these from yourself). You're more compassionate and accepting, better able to see the beloved for who he or she is right now, not through tired stories and negative lenses. We tend to give those we're close to whatever we give to ourselves, so that fault-finding and dissatisfaction toward the self often gets extended to the other. This doesn't promote thriving — neither for the individual nor the couple.
Would you like to thrive? Honor yourself. Talk to yourself like you're worthy of love. And when you catch yourself speaking unkindly to yourself, just bring yourself back — back to the reality of your magnificence, your beauty, your complete worthiness just because you're here in a human body. This is the love I wish you this month and every month. I invite you to it. I dare you.
Jayalalita (a.k.a., Jaya the Trust Coach) works in Ithaca as a personal-growth coach with both individuals and small groups, gives inspirational talks, and leads workshops and retreats. See information on her website, www.jayathetrustcoach.com, about the Supreme Self-Honoring retreat for women coming up in March at Light on the Hill retreat center in Van Etten, New York.
By Joe Romano,
You know, if I listened to Michael Dukakis long enough, I would be convinced we're in an economic downturn and people are homeless and going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed.
— Ronald Reagan
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