This post is a sneak peek from my forthcoming book,
Living Gently with Myself. Enjoy!
Permission to Begin Again
I wrote the passage below many years ago while on silent retreat on the California coast. I’d left home and family behind to spend quiet days restoring my soul.
As the sun rises, bringing the dawn of a new day, celebrate and give thanks for the blessing of second chances.
I believe in second chances and our ability (our birthright!) to begin again. I’ve begun again so many times in my life I’ve lost count. I’ve also started over multiple times each day when things were not going as well as I’d hoped. The same can be true for any of us. We can begin again … over and over again.
Beginning again is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves. Why? Just imagine the opposite. What happens to you when you succumb to inner pressure to keep going even when your wise self tells you to stop? What happens when you keep pushing ahead even though your body says no? Beginning again allows us to lay down the tasks of the day when we need to. Granted, industriousness in many situations is admirable. In others, it's depleting, even damaging.
There is something in many of us that urges us to just keep going and going and going. This “something” can be sourced in a myriad of things: cultural and workplace expectations, familial habits, or personal agendas that are not rooted in reality. This varies with each of us and only we can know which “voice” we are listening to when we continue to push ourselves beyond reasonable limits.
I know this voice well. It truly is my nemesis voice. “Keep going,” it says. “Press on. You can do it!” It spouts off even when I’m tired or have done enough for the day. Like a chameleon, it might change its colors to whisper, “Just a little longer,” even overriding ache of body or fogginess of mind. I’ve ignored it in all its guises and I’ve finally learned that answering its beckon call is usually the worst thing I can do.
Enter “Permission granted to begin again!” a commanding voice as well, but one that is sourced in good self-awareness and the ability to honor the call of body-mind when enough is enough. When enough is good enough. Now that’s what a kind inner voice would say!
The truth of the matter is we can always begin again. The sun does always rise in the morning. We can depend on that. Will we always be guaranteed that we’ll have another day to welcome it, knowing that our days on earth are numbered? Not always. There is a path of clarity that runs between these two.
You can learn to trust the wiser voices inside your mind—the ones that care deeply for your well-being—and follow their sage advice. “It’s ok to stop. You can pick it up tomorrow. Begin again when you feel rested, clear and ready to go. I give you permission.”
I first found the word “befriending” from Sue Patton Thoele within the pages of her book, The Courage to Be Yourself. I was struggling with how to live more gently with myself, to get off the fast track and give myself permission to take good care of myself rather than everyone else. I came to understand, in fact, that I didn’t have a clue how to be good to myself—to “befriend” myself—to be as generous and loving toward myself as I was to others.
Think about it for a moment. What kind of friend are you? A faithful friend, a loving friend, a generous friend? I imagine you are, for, in truth, you must be or you wouldn’t have any friends at all! Mean-spiritedness does not bode well for friendship. True friendship is built upon a foundation of generosity and kindness.
Now, consider these attributes of friendship and apply them to yourself:
Do you talk nicely to yourself?
Do you listen to your wise self and heed her advice?
Do you set healthy boundaries?
Do you spend precious time with yourself?
Do you make kind choices for yourself?
If we can’t answer these questions in the affirmative, it’s likely we are too busy to take good care of ourselves, or overly focused on meeting the needs of others.
Befriending requires an attitude of generosity towards oneself. It invites you to take a long, loving look at how you are being with yourself on a day-to-day basis; whether you give yourself the attention and care you so easily give to others. How good of a friend are you actually being to yourself? If you were your friend, would you like to be on the receiving end of your own attention?
How do you begin to befriend yourself? These are some good places to start:
• Befriending requires that you become supremely aware of your thoughts as they emerge because these thoughts can lead to unkind choices. You can recognize these thoughts for what they are—habituated ways of reacting to life. You can see them and address them with compassion so you are better able to make new, empowering choices for yourself. This is mindful awareness.
• Befriending, composed of good self-awareness, allows you to “catch yourself in the act” of being less-than-kind.” This “act” can be any number of things that either minimize your needs, diffuse your energy, or sabotage your good intentions: unkind speech, procrastinating about healthy life style choices, pushing through when you are exhausted instead of resting, and so forth.
• Befriending invites you to new ways of thinking and being that create greater ease so healing can happen, so harmony can return. It beckons you to begin to let go of anything that causes stress or overwhelm; anything that keeps you sourced in frustration or anger, disconnected from your core of inner peace.
• Befriending encourages you to uncover the practices that allow you to feel more peaceful—and actually do them! These are acts of loving-kindness, kind choices that bring immediate calm, which, in time, transfer into long-term well-being. Choice by gentle choice, we learn what is good for us and we do it.
• It is good and wise to be fully aware of what your particular patterns are when it comes to ways that you do not treat yourself as carefully and kindly as you should (and that’s a “good should!). This requires transparency.
You can begin to befriend yourself by becoming your own best friend, baby step by baby step. Doing more or doing less. Pushing through or letting go. Listening deeply to yourself so that you know how to treat yourself with “unconditional friendliness.”
When you lose sight of what is the “friendly” thing to do for yourself (which everyone does now and then), simply imagine what your dearest friend would advise you to do. Imagine her touching you gently on the shoulder and saying, “Dearie, what you need is …” and fill in the blank. Or, imagine what you would say to her when she is struggling. When we respond to our current dilemma in either of these ways, the answer is always clear. “Sweetheart, take a breath. Sit down. Let’s have a cup of tea.”
We can treat ourselves ever so gently, choice by tender choice. The key is having as much compassion for ourselves as we do for others. It takes time and perseverance to shift deep-seated patterns. Or, as Michael Bolton sang, “It takes time, love, and tenderness.”
"I remember sitting on the in front of the sliding glass door in my home, wrapped in a blanket, my forehead pressed to the cool glass. I was singing softly to myself, chanting, crying, certain my life was over. I kept asking why, crying out for divine relief from the pain, and I received a profound answer: 'I love you,' a voice said. 'Why can't you love you?' The "I" was God, who ever-so-gently, reminded her that even though she had been humanly betrayed, she was divinely loved and worthy of that love. Most importantly, she was deserving of her own."
This story comes from the lips of Sue Patton Thoele, my dearest mentor for life, who, like me has struggled with how to love myself—more. She shared it with me as I was interviewing her for my book Your Truest Self. Sue was the Holy Woman being portrayed in Chapter 6 from which this story is taken: "I Cultivate Compassion for Myself."
What Sue has taught me over the years, by her very example, is this: I can't even come close to having compassion for myself--living kindly and gently with myself—if I don't love myself.
And there's the rub.
So many of us have been taught that loving ourselves is bad. Loving yourself has been confused with being narcissistic—and this is simply not true. "Nor is it egotism, greed, self-righteousness, self-involvement, stubbornness, or conceit, all of which have given real self-love a bad name," writes Daphne Rose Kingma in her book, Loving Yourself: Four Steps to a Happier You. "Rather it is the singing spring from which each of us can become our most authentic self."
In fact, genuine self-love, tenderly cultivated over time does this:
"From the well of quiet acceptance, from the practice of a gentle unconditional care of ourselves, we can reach out to love others with exquisite generosity and bounteous open hearts." Thank you, Daphne!
If self-love was selfish, how could it result in something so beautiful as a heart overflowing with love for others?
I’ve been on a journey to live more kindly and gently with myself for over two decades. Today, in retrospect, it feels as if living gently is, indeed, my passion and my purpose. It continues to serve as my everyday lesson as well. Gentle living is my teacher, my guide, because, like you, I live in the real world and the world today is a difficult place in which to live, and living in it demands much of us. The world does not go gently …
And as much as the “too muchness” of life might overtake us, we cannot hide from the world as it is, nor shrink from our duties, nor escape to a mountaintop cabin to live in an imagined world of bliss. There is much to do here, families to raise and professions to embrace, including good work that can benefit humanity. The invitation then seems to be, "How do I live in the world, make a contribution, and still take good care of myself so I am calm, happy and healthy in the midst of it all?" That, indeed, is the $1 million question.
I believe the answer lies in learning to live more gently and kindly with ourselves. This sounds like an oxymoron and, depending on your life situation, an impossibility. From experience, I can tell you that it’s not. The “success”, if you will, of being able to live more kindly with yourself is to learn how to listen more deeply to the voice of self-compassion which lives within you, but has likely not been given space nor time to be heard. In the busyness of daily life, it is difficult to hear a voice that wisely whispers ever so subtly, “There is a kinder way.” But it’s there. I know because it took a health crisis 20 years ago, spending weeks in bed not doing much of anything, before I finally heard it.
To hear the sacred invitation to live more kindly with yourself is one thing. To actually listen to and do what the voice of kindness says is another. And to create a lifestyle rooted in self-compassionate awareness so that you can continue to make kind choices for yourself—so you maintain your health and well-being—well, that’s something else altogether!
This is why I can say that living kindly is both an art and a science. There is much to overcome, old stories to unravel, and new skills to learn. I maintain that living gently and kindly with yourself is absolutely possible whether you are the CEO of a corporation or a stay-at-home mother; a college student or a retiree; a “regular” person who is doing the best she can to live and work in harmony with herself and others but, perhaps, struggling along the way ...
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is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we are meant to live.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.