Once, not long ago I had a conversation with two different people, about two different things. Then I started reading “Eat, Pray, Love” and now I wonder if maybe they aren’t all wrapped up in each other?
The first conversation was with someone who asked me, “What do you want out of a partner/relationship?” And in my own, analogy driven way, I explained what I really wanted was someone who was a “Safe Harbor”. That I pictured myself as a large ocean going vessel – a merchant ship of some sort – crossing the oceans far and wide. Loving the life of travel, meeting people, visiting new and familiar ports-of-call; collecting interesting stories and artifacts, and not really wanting to be “stationary” in this life. It was important to understand if someone ever shared my life, they knew that I would always be “off and going” and not home for long.
As a steamer, some of the waters I sail through are rough and stormy. In many ways I am equipped to deal with those storms myself and don’t expect anyone to protect me or help me. But sometimes, a really BIG storm will arise, and then, what I need more than anything else, is a “safe harbor”, to pull into and batten down the hatches, until it blows out. But once the storm has passed, my partner needs to realize it’s time for me to take off again, and continue on my journey, but I will always eventually return to him.
The second conversation was with another friend. This friend’s observation was that although I was a “strong person”, it seemed that I had a problem with accepting/recognizing there are “good things” about me. Deeper than that, it appeared in on-going conversations, that I didn’t “love myself” very much.
Even though I was living the “examined life”, I was not willing to share my life with anyone until I felt I had “fixed myself” (as opposed to those people who think that having someone in their lives will “fix them”). But how was I going to reach my goal, if I couldn’t “LOVE MYSELF”?
Of course, I immediately shot back, “And how do you do that? How do you learn to “love yourself” when you feel like there isn’t much “loveable” about you? Or that the “un-loveable” parts must surely outweigh the “good parts”? They had no answer.
I’ve been struggling with the idea of “love” for the last six months. WHAT is love? One of the tenets of my faith is that God, “SO LOVED ME” that he allowed his Son to die, to save me. As a non-parent, this is a difficult concept to grasp. I mean, it’s easy to say you’d die to save someone else … but deep down … could/would you really do it? (and I’m sure if you’re a parent you are saying “of course”. But if you’re not .. maybe you understand my quandary.)
And so again, I ask, “What Is Love?” Is love, “Self-Confidence”? Is it, “Self-Sacrifice”? Is love, “Denial”? Is love, “Giving Away of Yourself”?
I think, love is something that gives me a lot of room, but also knows when to move in close. Love is something that encourages and strengthens “me” – but cannot be the framework I base my worth on. Love cannot be the “bondo” patching all of my holes and self-doubts. (that’s an auto-body reference, btw). I must be structurally sound on my own. True; love can help smooth out some of the places, maybe fill in a ding or a dent, here and there, but it cannot be the bailing wire and duck tape my personal self-worth is based on.
So – how do you promote “loving yourself”?
(Quick digression) I also want to point out that some people reading this might be saying, “What the hell are you talking about, “loving yourself”? These people cannot grasp this struggle, because they just, “like themselves” and this isn’t one of the struggles they face in life. Just as it is hard for me to understand “sacrificial love”, they have an equally hard time understanding how someone would need to work on “self-love”. They’d tell you, “it just IS”. (End digression)
Back to the question – how do you learn something that’s not, “natural to you”? And here’s an answer I’m discovering. Which ties in both “harbors” and “love”. (courtesy “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert).
“… [W]hat you need to learn how to [do is] select your thoughts just the same way you select what clothes you’re gonna wear every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” “Because if you can’t learn to master your thinking, you’re in deep trouble forever.”
To herself she thinks, “Control your thoughts? Instead of the other way around?” … “This is not about repression and denial. Repression and denial set up elaborate games to pretend that negative thoughts and feelings are not occurring.” “…[I]nstead [try] admitting to the existence of negative thoughts, understanding where they are coming from and why they arrived, and then – with great forgiveness fortitude – dismiss[ing] them.”
She goes on to say, “So I’ve started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: ‘I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.’ Every time a diminishing thought arises, I repeat the vow. I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore. The first time I heard this, my inner ear perked up at the word ‘harbor’, which is a noun as well as a verb. A harbor, of course, is a place of refuge, a port of entry.”
Further, she writes, “The harbor of my mind is an open bay; the only access to the island of my Self … ”. “This island has been through some wars, it is true, but it is now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect the place. And now – let the word go out across the seven seas – there are much, much stricter laws on the books about who may enter this harbor.”
“You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your slave ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts – all these will be turned away. Likewise, any thoughts that are filled with angry or starving exiles, with malcontents and pamphleteers, … you may not come here anymore. Cannibalistic thoughts, for obvious reasons will no longer be received. Even missionaries will be screened carefully, for sincerity.” “If you can abide by these new laws, my dear thoughts, then you are welcome in my mind – otherwise, I shall turn you back all toward which you came.”
And maybe that’s what “self-love” is … taking control of your thoughts. Recognizing the good ones and the bad ones. Forbidding the bad ones – and those who try to bring them into the harbor, and recognizing the good ones. Nurturing them, protecting them, encouraging them. Maybe once I learn how to love myself – maybe I can trust that I am worthy of good things in my life. That I deserve them and can count on them – and not expect them to disappear when “the real” me makes an appearance.
One final thing I’ll share with you. Ms. Gilbert writes,
“My prayers are becoming more deliberate and specific. It has occurred to me that it’s not so much use to send prayers out to the universe that are low key.” [During meditation] “… I was often dull-witted … tired, confused, and bored, my prayers sounded the same.” “…one morning … I muttered … ‘Oh I dunno what I need … but you must have some ideas … so just do something about it, would you?’”
It was a moment of recognition for herself and she realized, “.. that’s a little lame. You can imagine God regarding that prayer with an arched eyebrow, and sending back this message: ‘Call me again when you decide to get serious about this.’ Of course, God already knows what I need. The question is – do I know? Casting yourself at God’s feet in helpless desperation is all well and good … but ultimately you’re likely to get more out of the experience if you can take some action on your own end.”
So, I, Mit am taking action and being specific.
Some of these steps I’ve told you about: Gaining control over my sleep, setting aside time for writing, starting to exercise. Some I haven’t mentioned until now. I’m taking back my mental harbor. I’m going to learn to love myself. I (with God’s help) am going to banish those thoughts and people who don’t support this process. I’m going to be specific in my prayers and desires to God.
We’ll see where I end up – but it can’t be in any worse place than I’m in now, can it?