Prescription: How to Love Yourself
A Strange Note in toban*
‘Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face… Love your mouth… This is flesh… Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms… Love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts… love your heart. For this is the prize.’
A Prescription for Self-Fear, for Loving Yourself
First, the diagnosis
Most of us are tired people. Tired because we sense (have sensed for a long time) an outsideness we find hard to articulate. We sense the self-rejection crawling at a snail’s pace within us. Biting. Sucking. Eating at us. We sense that we don’t love ourselves. The symptoms are there: anxiety, a desire to end your life, cutting, the feeling that you exist outside your body, panic, the feeling that you’re unloved despite being surrounded by people, or self-criticism — or all. We’re here because we’ve chosen to stay alive. And so we ask: where do we go from here? How do you fall for yourself over and over again? Where do I begin?
A Syrup for Self-Examination
Acknowledge your fear of self
‘When you surrender, the problem ceases to exist. Try to solve it, or conquer it, and you only set up more resistance.’ _Henry Miller in A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller
Then ask the why and what questions. What is it about yourself you fear? What do you not love about yourself? Why are you afraid of those parts of yourself?
‘I think it did me a lot of good. I think that self-confrontation is a good thing, whether you do it by yourself in solitude, or whether you do it in the presence of another person [a beloved or therapist].’ _Joni Mitchell in Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words
‘Perhaps the first rule of everything we endeavor to do is to pay attention. Perhaps the second is to be patient. And perhaps a third is to be attentive to what the body knows.’ _Barry Lopez in Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World
Pills for Self-love
And after you’ve examined yourself, here are some ways to meet yourself:
Regret. That’s the one thing that bites us silly. Then comes the oh, I wish I’d done x instead and the I’m so stupid and the how could I not have known better?. Then it grows like vines up your throat, curling and lengthening into a feeling of unworthiness. Into panic when goodness comes your way. Curling. Twirling. Tightening your air passage before overshadowing the last dot of hope within. If you’re lucky, you have a beloved or therapy to turn to, a way to find your way back from down-talking yourself. If you don’t have those anchors, living becomes unbearable. Until, of course, you try self-compassion. Self-forgiveness. Grace.
After all, ‘Grace is the strongest arm alive and yet it forces no one. Grace transforms us simply by being itself.’ _Eloghosa Osunde in The Paris Review
After all, ‘Almost everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy. Even (or especially) people who seem to have it more or less together are more like the rest of us than you would believe. I try not to compare my insides to their outsides, because this makes me much worse than I already am, and if I get to know them, they turn out to have plenty of irritability and shadow of their own. Besides, those few people who aren’t a mess are probably good for about twenty minutes of dinner conversation. This is good news, that almost everyone is petty, narcissistic, secretly insecure.. They can be real with us, the greatest relief.’ _Anne Lamott in Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
It’s time to let go. We keep too much we don’t need. Clothing pieces. Household items. Pictures. Email. Messages. Phone numbers we rarely dial; Numbers named after people from whom we’ve become separated. Numbers that only exist to fill an emptiness within us: a false hope of being connected to others when, in fact, we aren’t. How about letting go of items that don’t serve you? How about making room to enjoy the items and people that matter most to you? Let go, and see how better your breathing becomes.
Take this pill gently. Take it with tenderness and heart. Take it by yourself, with yourself, at your pace. But wait, how do you like it?
‘Music is the sound of the soul, the direct voice of the subjective world.’ _Franz Kafka in Conversations with Kafka
‘From pure sensation to the intuition of beauty, from pleasure and pain to love and the mystical ecstasy and death — all the things that are fundamental, all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence.
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ _Aldous Huxley in Music at Night and Other Essays
‘God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up, or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble.’ _Friedrich Nietzsche in Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography
‘A diary is useful during conscious, intentional, and painful spiritual evolutions. Then you want to know where you stand… An intimate diary is interesting especially when it records the awakening of ideas; or the awakening of the senses at puberty; or else when you feel yourself to be dying.’
André Gide (November 22, 1869 – February 19, 1951). The Journals of André Gide
‘Meditation takes the mind down to that level of consciousness which is Absolute Bliss (Heaven) and through constant contact with that state — “the peace that surpasses all understanding” — one gradually becomes established in that state even when one is not meditating.’ _John Lennon in The John Lennon Letters
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
It’s time to go into the night
where the dark has eyes
to recognize its own.
It’s time to go into the dark~
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will make a home for you tonight.
will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.~
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
David Whyte. Poem: Sweet Darkness in The House of Belonging
Take any, try all. After all,
‘One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense — as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.’ _Adam Phillips in a Paris Review conversation with Paul Holdengräber
‘One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is teach us how to suffer more successfully. We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.’ _Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy
‘It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.’
Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7 1962). You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.
4. Farewells & Welcomes
Close doors and open up yourself to new bonds. You’re learning to love yourself and that means you’ll feel disconnected from portions of your past self. Friendships. Activities. You’re becoming, and you should embrace it. Expect the past to come knocking. And when it does, don’t be dismissive because the past enjoys that sort of response. It’ll come bugging and bugging and calling you to itself all because you failed to acknowledge its presence. Yes, the past is petty like that. So, listen to it and thank it for the lessons it served you. Then tell it that it’s had its time and it must free you for what’s ahead. Only then can you let go and make way for your better self.
And as you open up to newer bonds, remember this portion of John O’Donohue’s wisdom released in Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom: The one you love, your anam cara, your soul friend, is the truest mirror to reflect your soul. The honesty and clarity of true friendship also brings out the real contour of your spirit. A friend is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you.
John O’Donohue (January 1, 1956 – January 4, 2008)
‘Everyone has confusion… Simply by confronting paradoxes or difficulties within your life, designating a time to confront them several times a week, they seem to be not so important as they do when they’re weighing on your mind in the middle of the night, by yourself, with no one to talk to.’ _Joni Mitchell in Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words
‘Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography. That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.’ _Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost
‘The lesson here is that there is no fix. There is, however, forgiveness. To forgive yourselves and others constantly is necessary. Not only is everyone screwed up, but everyone screws up. How can we know all this, yet somehow experience joy? Because that’s how we’re designed — for awareness and curiosity. We are hardwired with curiosity inside us, because life knew that this would keep us going even in bad sailing… Life feeds anyone who is open to taste its food, wonder, and glee — its immediacy.’ _Anne Lamott in Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott (January 23, 1930 – March 17, 2017) . Love after love.
The Big Question
What does it take to love one’s self? I’ve been asking that question for a long time. Passively at first, and then actively once it became clear to me that self-love unlocks the door for loving life itself. So, I turned to books and Maria Popova’s insight in The Marginalian to bring this piece to life.
As you think through this question, here’s what you should read next: A reflection on what it means to be at home. What it means to be yourself. And the feeling of being alone.
*Toban is synonymous with the English word, ten. It is of the Somali language, a Cushitic language spoken by over 21 million people chiefly in Somalia, and across Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya. The Cushitic language is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and I use toban to represent the month of October.
Thanks for reading.
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I started Strange Notes because I wanted an open space to ponder on existence. That’s still true. But here, too, is a body discovering itself. A house beyond borders that’s open to you, to selves in search of, to heads seeking rest. A room where thoughts turn to words turn to records and meet you.
I share notes on my questions about life, conversations with friends and strangers, and art that shifts something in me (and could in you too). In this place, there are no rules. Move the vase around the tabletop. Shift the curtains to the wall. Pull the rug to the ceiling. Daydream. Come, find, ask still.
I publish Strange Notes monthly (typically on the first or last Sunday of the month), and as you read, I hope each note initiates a question about the fabrics of existence: the things that make us who we are and the events that define life.
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