In last week's post I wrote about holding presence for yourself. Here's the thing. It's much easier to hold presence for yourself when you're feeling good and things are going well. It's not so easy when life gets difficult. In fact, it can get downright hard.
When I find myself struggling with a mood, dealing with bad news, or unexpected outcomes, I try to remember what a wise Buddhist teacher once wrote: "Life is so very difficult, how can we be anything but kind?" The being kind part, in this case, is pointed toward myself.
Self-directed kindness may take the form of compassionate breathing, stepping away from a situation, setting a healthier boundary, resting, taking a walk to move swirling energy from one's body ... there are so many ways to be kind to oneself. So many! Hopefully, we can pick one that can turn us back toward a little bit of equanimity.
But if we can't, there we are. We're stuck. In the muck. In the yucky feelings. And that is not a pleasant place to be. But it's part of being human, not perfect, and so when we are up against the wall of ourselves, let it be. In time, the feelings will calm down. They'll move on like storm clouds across a Texas plain.
Sometimes we just have to wait out the difficult moments. Kindly waiting, breathing, being. This can be good enough. No need to beat ourselves up that we couldn't get over it faster. No need to criticize, feel shame or guilt. We bit the hook as Pema Chodron teaches and what happened happened.
Let's not be afraid of difficult present moments. Let's meet them as best we can with gentleness, trusting that we can begin again when we feel a little more clear, a little stronger, a little wiser. Tomorrow is another day.
As caring individuals, I believe we are always hoping that we can be kindly present to others. To listen well. To have compassion for them. This is part of being able to hold presence for others.
What is "presence"? I am sure there are plenty of definitions, but this is the one I like best: "... the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another ... believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness." This beautiful explanation is offered by James E. Miller.
I imagine that if we really could be present in this way to others, our world would look and feel very different. Presence is a learned skill and one that we are not taught how to create for ourselves, and within the context of relationship.
And what about this holding of presence for oneself? For me, this is pivotal and a precursor to actually being able to offer presence to others. If we cannot be fully in the present moment with ourselves--just as we are, warts and all—providing self-compassion, in touch with our innate wholeness, even as we tenderly embrace our woundedness, how can we possibly do the same for others? We can't.
So, for me, the starting point to being more kindly present to others is to begin with ourselves. We turn our attention inward. We breathe. We transparently notice what is there. We tenderly acknowledge what we see and love all of it. Yes, all of it! Without ego or agenda, without small mindedness or mean-spiritedness. Loving ourselves just as we are, holding an intention to remove anything that keeps us from feeling whole, lovable and loving.
This is the starting place. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron advocates, you start where you are. And you do it with a loving glance and a tender touch, welcoming your whole self in.
With time, love, and tenderness (thank you Michael Bolton)—and plenty of actual practice—we will find that our ability to hold presence for ourselves has become a reality, and it actually feels natural to be present to others.
And might I add, not just being present, but whole-heartedly available to another without exhaustion, resentment, or self-diminishment. Without judgment or inner bias. Not holding to hope that this person will change because you think they should.
Genuine presence allows us to be purely there, heart in tact, compassionately holding space for each person, just as they are. Never forgetting that this entire process begins when we can do the same for ourselves first.
I've just returned home from a busy time of travel, interaction and care-giving. There is nothing I love more than being present to my dear ones. I sit. I listen. I care. I hold presence for. I physically hold when it is welcome. For what purpose are we here if not to love?
And yet, after periods like these, I find it is it is important for me to rest in solitude; to take time to catch up with myself. Yes, even to comfort myself and apply tenderness to any worn edges.
Some writing about this from one of my retreat times...
When was the last time you gave yourself permission
Today, may you give yourself permission
to be alone,
to savor the silence.
May you find respite in your soul and be well.
Journaling excerpt from Awakening the Spirit Within,
©Janice L. Lundy (2000)
What a wondrous year this has been, this "Year of Living Gently." I want to thank each of you who has joined me for an incredible year of learning and growth. It began with the intention to create a supportive community and opportunities to learn and grow together as my book Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook was birthed. It ends with marvelous new friendships, internal knowings, new life practices, and so much more than words can possibly convey. Suffice it to say, that my heart is full to overflowing for this "Year", and for your companionship.
As 2018 winds down and the new year beckons, here are a few of my observations about this journey. Granted, they're not anything glaringly new for me. I'd say they are expansions and deepenings from personal experience, a gathering up of what I've learned from journeying with so many of you over the last twelve months.
I've chronicled many of these here at this blog already so I invite you to backtrack and review the archives. But here are the nuts and bolts, for me anyway, of what has become a truly miraculous way to live well in the world (and with others) as I am. Any of us can do the same.
1. Living gently is not a destination to be arrived at but a process of expanding and deepening. Expanding our awareness about all the ways we struggle with perfectionism in its many guises: holding too tight, pushing too hard, expecting too much, resting and engaging in are too little self-care. Deepening our self-understanding to the point of knowing what is "the kindest thing" we can do for ourselves in any given moment, dipping into self-compassion, letting be and letting go.
2. As we are willing to look transparently at our habituated ways of operating, we can see all of the ways we continue to be unkind to ourselves, despite our best intentions. We can look at ourselves through lenses of love, with eyes of compassion. We acknowledge how we continue to struggle and have tender mercy toward ourselves. No guilt, no shame, no self-recrimination.
3. As we look with kind eyes, we begin to soften towards ourselves. We let go of what hurts and what doesn't work. We embrace that which helps and heals. We talk more kindly to ourselves and extend comfort and care especially in times of personal suffering. Very simply, we start treating ourselves better and that has a profound effect on how we intersect with others too.
4. Living more gently with ourselves transforms us. We are better people because of our own self-care. This naturally results in our ability to live more kindly and gently with others. Funny how that works.
I invite you to continue—to expand and deepen—your journey of Living Gently. The book can help. Staying connected through events and gatherings, online or in-person helps too, because we do best when we are connected to one another—heart to heart, soul to soul.
My own living gently journey continues in Spirit-led ways. I keep listening and paying attention to how I am being guided to live my best life—happily, healthily, in service of others. May it be the same for you!
May you always live gently with yourself and feel Love's embrace.
I've admired the work and philosophy of Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, for a long time now. With great heartfulness, she consistently reminds us how important it is to listen to one another. She writes:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
As a spiritual guide, I know what Dr. Remen says is true. Genuine listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person.
The other day, when I read this passage yet again, I was struck by how, in the spirit of good self-care and self-compassion, we could change the orientation of her words to acknowledge how important it also is to listen to ourselves—to our inner voice. Consider this shift in language:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes within ourselves. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within us. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
This word play touches a chord of recognition in me. You?
How often do we ignore our inner wisdom? How often do we silence the parts of ourselves that need to speak? To be seen and heard? If we take our healing journey seriously, it is vital that we listen to "the still small voice" within us and pay it heed. It knows things! It can know what's best for us on the deepest level. It has something important to say about our well-being.
Again, in the spirit of healing it might whisper, "Slow down, you're pushing yourself too hard." Or, "Stop saying that you "should" do those things, especially to please others?" Or, "You are good enough, just as you are." If we desire to feel more whole—at home within ourselves—then we simply must offer listening presence to ourselves, just as we would to others. And offer a hospitable welcome to all the parts of ourselves that need a warm and loving home. Nobody wants to feel homeless.
For many of us, the predominant message today is “do more.” Our society it seems is so achievement oriented that we have unconsciously adopted this maxim, wrapping it around anything that reeks of “not enough.” As a result, we continue to work hard at being thin enough or successful enough. If we are not self-aware, we can fall into the trap of applying “not enough” to everything. We may find ourselves caught in its web, working too hard in multiple arenas, trying to get everything “just right.” And why? Because on a very deep level, we still want approval and recognition. It’s an ironic fact that we may even want approval from the people who contributed to our lack of feeling good enough in the first place.
Reorientation, for me, has often been the key. When a disempowering message of "You are not enough" breaks through, I can turn my attention in another direction. I know this message is untrue, so it is up to me to turn toward that which is true. I am enough—and you are too. We all are.
Loving yourself more—just as you are—is a good solution. Can affirmations of this truth be helpful? I believe they can. Statements like, “I am enough,” repeated often can become more comfortable, as if they are seeping into our consciousness like warm, syrupy love. In this case, self-love! And self-appreciation. We now know that thoughts, intentionally heard or repeated and internalized, whether positive or negative, can change our brain, forging new neural pathways that are beneficial or injurious in terms of self-image. In my journeys with women over the years, I am amazed how the use of the simple phrase “I am enough” can minister to what is injured inside of us. Like a healing balm, we have an inner knowing that if we use it often, its reparative nature will work. Why? Because on the deepest level, we know these words are true. We are enough.We are not broken or damaged goods. We are not a self-improvement project. We do not need to win the approval of others. We are good people and simply being here in the world—just as we are—is enough.
1. In what areas of your life do you strive to be more, do more? Do you have a sense of where this striving comes from?
2. When you say the words, “I am enough” to yourself, how do you feel? Practice using this phrase when you catch yourself striving, pleasing, or doubting your choices for yourself.
© 2018, Janice L. Lundy
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
Our journey with making friends with ourselves is not a selfish thing. We’re not trying to get all the goodies for ourselves.
It’s a process of developing loving-kindness and a true understanding for other people as well.
~ Pema Chodron
(from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-kindness)
As I read this quote this morning I thought to myself, “Yes, yes!” This is exactly what I try to tell others about the importance of befriending ourselves. The idea of treating ourselves as kindly and gently as we would others is so often perceived as mushy gushy, self-centered, the harbinger of laziness, and, yes, selfish—a word I have come to abhor. There are not many things or words I abhor but this notion is one of them. I’ve actually banned this “S” word from my vocabulary.
We are living in a culture (U.S. culture, I can only speak from my own experience here) that feels as if it is becoming so absorbed in ideas and actions of “me and mine,” we are losing all sense of what it really means to be kind and generous human beings. And, yet, when someone like me or Pema Chodron or any other person who is passionate about self-awareness speaks of “befriending”, we are often perceived as self-absorbed navel gazers. Oy vay. What a tangled web we weave for ourselves!
What I discovered over the years was this: the more I WAS able to treat myself compassionately—like a dear friend would—I naturally felt more loving toward others. By seeing all of the ways I would push myself, judge myself, and feel as if I were never enough, I could look around me and see that so many others were doing the same. I could see more clearly how we are ALL trapped in ways of behaving that are not beneficial to our ultimate well-being. This can range from stressing over things that have not happened (or may never happen), to not ever feeling good enough because we consistently compare ourselves to others.
When we are ready and able to look into the mirror of our own heart, we can see the many ways we are still be caught up in “if only.” If only I were more attractive. If only I were smarter. If only I were further along on my spiritual path. Meaning, all the ways we could be better, or our lives could be better, if we just put our shoulder to the self-help grindstone one more time.
The truth of the matter is, if we talked like this to someone we cared about we’d stop ourselves mid-sentence, realizing this would not be a kind thing to say: “If only you were …” “If only you had …” reeks of disappointment. And disappointment—many disappointments stacked one upon the other—are absolutely soul crushing.
I heard a psychologist speak to this truth on Oprah’s daily show many years ago. She said that the great destroyer of intimate relationships is disappointment—disappointed in the partner about what they did or did not do. Stack up all those disappointments year after year and intimacy fades. The relationship will most likely fall apart. I have never forgotten her words.
Applying this to ourselves, if we are continually disappointed in our self, how will our relationship with our self eventually end up? Bruised. Defeated. Broken.
If we are genuinely interested in self-awareness (not so much self-improvement, there is a difference, you know) and embodying the truth of who we are and can be, we need to break this cycle of self-defeating behavior. I believe we can do this by taking baby steps toward befriending. Something as simple as catching yourself in the act is a good (and compassionate!) place to start.
When you hear yourself saying something unkind to yourself, imagine that your best friend (or your grandmother who loved you dearly) is gently placing her hand on your shoulder saying, “Shhh, don’t say that about yourself, sweetheart, because it’s not true.” And believe her because it’s not.
Who you are is so much more than a big stack of disappointments. Or a self-improvement project. Or something broken that needs to be fixed. Who you are is goodness. This is your true nature. This is everyone’s true nature.
And, so, we come full circle back to Ani Pema’s thought: “Our journey with making friends with ourselves is not a selfish thing. We’re not trying to get all the goodies for ourselves. It’s a process of developing loving-kindness and a true understanding for other people as well.”
When the door of loving-kindness opens for us, we invariably see that on the other side stands an entire group of people who are having the same kind of experiences we are. And because they are, each person is deserving of loving-kindness—as are we.
If we are committed to living more gently with ourselves there are some things that are not negotiable, in my view anyway. One of them is waking up to our own suffering so we can treat ourselves more kindly.
The problem is that most of us don't realize when we are suffering. Our suffering moves in like an invisible stranger, completely unnoticed. We are moving too quickly or completely caught up in what's happening to pause to notice "suffering".
Or we don't want to acknowledge that we are "suffering". (Such an unattractive word!) After all, other people suffer. But us? No, we are simply having a hard time, because we know from past experience that we can soldier on, pushing through with the best of them.
The truth of the matter is, when we're having a difficult time with anything, this can (and should) be acknowledged as a moment of suffering. It's ok to let go of our pride, our perfection, even our resiliency to say, "This is difficult!" and admit that suffering is happening. Period.
In the spirit of self-compassion, it is vital that we learn how to catch ourselves having a difficult moment ... caught right in the midst of struggle, like a fish dangling from the line, hook in mouth, flopping around, hoping to break free. By catching ourselves in a moment of difficulty, by acknowledging that we are hooked, we can do something different and kind. We can stop, take a breath (or two or three), and offer ourselves some empathy, a bit of tenderness. Let's do that right now, shall we?
Take 3 deep breaths. Then go with the flow of your breath. Breathe easily, naturally. Allow yourself to be breathed. Drop into a kinder, gentler place within yourself and rest your attention there.
Bring to mind a difficult situation in your life. This can involve you or someone you care about. Notice how this issue tugs at your heart strings. Notice any difficult thoughts that arise; any emotions that come forth. Breathe.
Acknowledge that this is a tender moment for you by placing your hand on your heart and saying with a kind, loving voice, "This is difficult." Or something like, "I am having a hard time with this." "I wish this were not so."
As you place your hand on your heart, feel the warmth of your hand. Feel a kind breath moving through you. Re-focus on your breath, letting go of the difficult story line.
Next, say something hopeful and tender to yourself, "May I be held in compassion." Or, "This too shall pass." "It's alright." "I trust my higher power to care for me (or my dear one)." "I let go and let God." "I can rest into Love." Find a phrase that works for you.
Anytime (no matter how large or small), when you are having a difficult moment, acknowledge this moment and surround it with compassion. Give yourself permission to be kind to yourself because this IS a difficult moment. Rest assured, by compassionately caring for yourself, you can change the intensity of the moment. Ease can be yours.
"At that very moment, when things are difficult - at that very moment of panic or fear, that moment of loneliness or anger - that is actually the key moment for a person who is wishing to open their heart and their mind, because these are the moments where life can soften us. The difficulties of our lives can soften us, make us kinder to each other and more compassionate."
~ Pema Chodron
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.”
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
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 co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.