Awhile ago I received a note, via email, from a friend. I wanted to post it to Facebook, but realized it was way too long for that. Then, as I started typing it I realized I wanted to say more stuff about it. And thus this post was born. I’ll just copy tbe quote here first, in case you just want the inspiration without my blathering:
Pema Chadron, in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness writes:
When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” . . . But loving-kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about BEFRIENDING WHO WE ARE ALREADY. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.
I tell my students (and other people’s students when they let me) that quotes do not speak for themselves. When we write, I tell them, and we are quoting someone, we take their words out of the context that the writer has given them and we put those quotes into our own writing–so we have to give those words context. Now, granted, I haven’t read The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness so I can’t really tell how Pema Chadron contextualizes these words (though I do have this book on my reading list now). Thus, you poor readers are left with me and my thoughts on what this tells me. But then again, I guess that’s why you’re here, though I can’t imagine why you do this to yourself . . .
As you know from my last post, I have to make some life changes. And as you may remember from my first post, I’m on a journey of re-self-discovery. I lived through my twenties and early thirties believing I knew EXACTLY who I was and what I wanted. And then it all came tumbling down. I gained a lot when I became a mom, but I lost (or let go of?) a lot, too, and here I am trying to pull myself all together again and figure out who I am and what I want to be when my kids grow up.
I can’t remember a time when I did not want to throw some part of me away to be something better. My aggression towards who I really am has never been subtle, or hidden, or low-key. I wear my self-criticism on my sleeve. Berating myself for this, or that, or the other thing . . . it’s as natural as breathing.
I mean, I’m doing it right now. “It’s terrible you’re sitting here writing this blog post when you should be tucking your children into bed and going to spend some time with your husband. And you haven’t packed snacks or lunches for tomorrow, either. You really need to focus less on being a writer and more on being a better wife and mother. And what about your running? How are you ever going to improve your time if you don’t start hitting the pavement again? And your eating hasn’t been all that great lately. You really need to get some better recipes so you can be a better cook. You need to eat better. You need to sleep better. You need to work more efficiently. Oh, and don’t forget all that laundry. You really need a better system. And that office! Who can even walk in there? I wish you were a better housekeeper. Most people would have all that sorted away already.”
So much in our society is targeted toward making us “better.” Better people. Better women. Better wives. Better mothers. Better friends. Better daughters. Better citizens. Better readers. Better writers. Better employees. Better administrators. Better teachers. Better learners. Better. Better. Better. We’re NEVER good enough.
The cynic in me will say “Yeah, because if anyone tells us we’re good enough then they can’t sell us anything to make us better.” The optimist will say, “That’s because we should always strive to improve, to learn, to grow.” The realist in me, however, likes to pop up pretty often nowadays and say, “I. Am. So. F****ing. Tired. When have I reached the point where I can be enough???”
This is what I like about Chadron’s quote. She tells us that who we are is already enough. We can be friends with our imperfect, un-bettered selves. She clearly doesn’t mean that we should give up, give in, and walk away from any form of self-betterment. She just says, “Hey. Yeah. Do yoga. Run. Eat right. Get fit. But do it for the right reasons. Do it out of love for the YOU you are now, not the you that someone has convinced you you should become.”
We all know the phrase, “You are your own worst enemy.” What a great thing Chadron suggests in saying that we should be our own friend. How many of us forgive flaws in our friends that we excoriate ourselves for? How many of us see the beauty in those we love yet only focus on the features we find unattractive in ourselves? If you have not already seen this Dove project sampling, watch it now. What you see will amaze you.
It shows that when these women describe themselves to a sketch artist, they look VASTLY different than when virtual strangers, who have only met these women once, describe them. Strangers are kinder than we are to ourselves. Imagine how much kinder our friends are? Friends who know who we are inside? Imagine how they’d describe how we look when we’re laughing, when we’re sharing a joke, when we’re hugging our children, when we’re petting our cats, when we’re kissing our spouses? Imagine how they’d describe the inner us, the us that they love whether our hair is styled or frizzy, whether our make-up is freshly applied or barely washed off from the night before, whether we’re bright eyed and ready to face the day or barely breathing even after our first cup of coffee?
I sit here trying to imagine how I would treat myself if I was my own friend, instead of my worst critic. What would I say to myself if I loved and accepted all of me, warts and all? (No. I do not have warts. I am sunburned. But no warts yet).
I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’ve never thought about it. It’s like a foreign language to me. Be nice to myself? Say good things? How will I ever motivate myself to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, more efficient, more attentive, more perfect if I don’t constantly nag myself into improving?
I guess if I wanted to make a debate over it I’d be talking about whether discipline yields better results than nurturing. But I don’t want to dichotomize. I want to synthesize. Discipline through nurturing. Motivation through kindness. Self-acceptance as an agent of self-improvement. That’s exactly what Chadron is suggesting. It’s a phenomenal theory. It’s the practice that’s hard.
So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talking. After all, the house can’t get much messier, right? And I can’t do any less running than I’ve been doing. . .
Yet there I go again. Motivating myself by self-denigration. Let’s start that over again. Because practice, clearly, is necessary.
So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talk. Because I am a good and loving person, worthy of goodness, love and kindness. I am going to treat myself to a clean house this week. I am going to be kind to myself by making time for a run. And now, I really am going to give myself the gift of watching television with my children and my husband. And there’s a good start.