(I wrote this, for the most part, a couple of weeks ago now but it can take me a while to finish my often lengthy posts and I feel this one is always of relevance).
I had great plans for Monday morning, the first morning of a fresh new week.
I was going to get up with the alarm, do my morning practices and attack the day with zest.
I was going to do the washing, walk my dog, do the last little bits to prepare for my afternoon classes, sterilise some jars, make a phone call, answer the mails in my inbox, get behind the pottery wheel and create.
After that, if time allowed, I was even thinking I could get a start on cleaning my house and/or work on a half-finished blog post, depending on in which direction my mood led me.
All before eating a late lunch and heading out for my afternoon classes at three.
Looking at it on paper like this, it sounds entirely possible. Or the first half at least.
But plans on paper don’t take into account the ebb and flow of energy.
I woke up on Monday tired, with a latent tension in my shoulders that spoke of the need for rest.
Even the day was gray; not a day for doing the washing – giving me an excuse for that one at least.
This compulsion of mine to make excuses for myself and my lack – in this case of activity – is significant, worth taking a few moments to delve into.
I have made huge strides in the areas of self-love and self-acceptance in the last couple of years. But my need to make the excuse reveals a part of me that is still striving to prove itself worthy through ‘doings’ – specifically, the amount that gets done; rather than allowing me to just be, accepting myself, however I may be, in each passing moment. Essentially it’s showing me where I need to heal, what still needs to be surrendered to wholeness.
But coming back to Monday… I don’t often neglect my morning practices. And I did manage to sterilise the jars… It goes without saying that I walked my dog; and I also cleaned her ears and slathered her in the aloe gel I’m using to combat her ear and skin problems and, of course, I got everything ready for my classes. Then I treated myself to an hour or so writing.
But all of that was after I’d stayed in bed way past my alarm and spent a couple of hours easing myself into the morning very, very gently… doing quite a good job of doing nothing really – zoning out on the sofa; eating breakfast; checking Facebook; a few gentle stretches… And on a weekday, a Monday no less – the day I had planned to get myself off on a good footing for the week ahead.
In the not too distant past I would have beaten myself up for this, spent the morning feeling guilty for all that I wasn’t getting done, making myself feel worse in the process.
But I’ve wised up to the self-destruction inherent in this. We encounter enough people who make us wrong during the course of a lifetime, without inflicting the same pain and guilt-ridden shame on ourselves.
As our body, mind and spirit are intricately intertwined – an integral whole, the words we speak to ourselves and the narratives with which we fill our heads literally determine our state of well-being. if we want to be healthy, happy and whole, we need to start loving and accepting ourselves as we are; not beating ourselves up for not being somebody else or some way else – in this particular case somebody more efficient, better at getting things done, and more successful at staying in alignment with their proposed goals for the day.
I have intoned these and other harsh words of criticism to myself more times than I care to count, their abrasive edges violating the sanctity of self. While the tendency to self-condemn is not yet extinct I now see it for what it is – a defunct narrative that doesn’t deserve to take up any time or space in my head. When I catch it knocking on my door, I make the conscious choice to send it on its way and to administer a dose of self-compassion instead. This, I have discovered, is what learning ‘self-love’ is all about.
A big part of it for me has been learning a new lexicon – one that is centered around building me up, not tearing me down. I am choosing not to negate but to uphold and uplift; to be easier on myself, kinder. To honor the person who I am with my limitations and to embrace the wholeness of me – that which I still want to label ‘bad’ as well as that which I can more easily embrace as ‘good.’
So on Monday morning I didn’t pay any attention to my to-do list. I declined to play the game that says there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in. The one that has us obeying the clock, contorting ourselves like acrobatic circus performers trying to juggle too many balls at once; subjugating our body wisdom, the call of our hearts, the longings of our souls to the demands of All The Things That Need To Be Done.
I have played that game way too many times in way too many ways, and now, at last, it is me that is Done.
I chose instead to honor my body and its tiredness; to listen to its wisdom; to respond, lovingly, like a mother answering the call of her child, to its whispered plea for time and a place to rest.
(Not that I’m denying that there was still that part of me that questioned why I should feel so tired, what had my days done to warrant it; searching for reasons… never satisfied…)
Be that as it may, I acknowledged the truth of the moment: Whatever the reasons for it, ‘justifiable’ to my mind or not, the overwhelming feeling of tiredness was the fact of my present circumstance.
Ad really, why fight against myself?
What more futile resistance than that?
So I allowed myself to take the morning slowly; to stay in bed an hour past my alarm. I didn’t succumb to the notion that now that I’d got up late I had to rush through my day to get everything done, but instead allowed myself to be fully present, enjoying my walk with my slow senior dog – noticing the purple clover peeping through the grass; the patterns of the lichen on bark; the butterflies dancing duets in the air to inaudible music… Feeling the joy and release in my spine as I elongated it skywards, matching the trees with their strong, straight trunks.
Breathing in deeply I said a thank you to the Universe in gratitude for all I have; inhaling the expansive possibilities ahead.
And because I was fully present with myself and my world in this way I got to hear the song of the rainwater in the underground gutter; a gurgling that seemed to bubble forth from the belly of the Earth.
And on my return to my house and haven I indulged in a second breakfast; enjoying the smell of the coffee topped with milk, its warm comfort; the sight of my dog sprawled out on the sofa; the time to just sit and be.
A beautiful way to spend a morning indeed. And not an ounce of guilt or shame in sight.
It’s true that it’s made easier by the fact that I live alone. My friends with families find it a lot harder to take this time for themselves, caught up in the demands of others’ schedules as well as their own. But I also think it’s a question of priorities and that on this journey that we are walking together, all carving out our own path, making ourself and our well-being our priority is one of the most important choices we will ever make and the only way we’ll ever be able to carve a path that remains to our liking.
Do you see a tree or a flower sacrificing its own well-being so that another can live? No. Each sinks its roots as deep as it can and reaches up towards the light, concerned only with its own blossoming… and yet from such vital self-absorption is born a joy that is felt by everyone who looks on that flower or tree with eyes and heart that see.
It is the same with us. It is when we honor ourselves by choosing what is right for us not what is right for everybody else that we start to live authentically, to be true to the song of our soul. And it is only when we are in alignment with our soul that we can really blossom, effortlessly touching the people we meet as our joy and authenticity abundantly overflow.
But while this choice to put ourself and our well-being and happiness first may seem a simple one on the surface, it is by no means an easy one to make…
The road that leads us to this deeply transformative choice is usually rocky to say the least – while we may be in a state of constant flux and change, it is not in out nature to choose to change until our present circumstances have become so unbearable that they push us to the edge of a ridge where we can do nothing save admit that where we are and what we have been doing thus far is no longer working; there is nothing for it but to try something else, some new way of being in the world.
And just because we understand this and make the choice, it doesn’t mean that this new way of being comes easily to us at first, or that everyone around us is also going to understand and/or appreciate it. We have to contend with the responses of others to our new aspect, and find a way to balance our own needs and our new commitment to our self with our interactions with those around us in a way that honors all.
People who are used to the ‘old’ us may not get on with this new version of us quite as much; they may see her as selfish, and/or lazy, and/or, depending on who and where they are at in their lives, may even see the change in us and our priorities as the root of all their troubles. It is almost inevitable that certain relationships and circumstances will drop away, and it can be hard to come to terms with this even when we implicitly understand that they are falling away because they are no longer in our highest good.
And of course we have to maintain our vigilance, observing our way of being in the world and catching ourselves when we fall back into old patterns that do not honor who we are; renewing our commitment to our self by making that choice again… and again… and again.
So no, I would never call it an easy choice.
the most important choice we’ll ever make –
This commitment to myself and my wel-lbeing is one that I’ve made, one that I’m making and remaking each and every day. I’m learning the first steps in the prologue, but it’s a dance that I haven’t yet perfected and I often stumble along the way, fall over mid-dance.
I do, however, know that in making this choice I serve not only myself, but also others. I have seen the value in looking after – really listening to, honoring and taking care of – myself first. When I do I am whole and at peace, at one with myself and with my world; and it is when I’m in this place that the people and circumstances I come across in my daily life receive the best of me.
And that is what I want to give.
Some of that peace, that wholeness, that joy in being overflows from my life into theirs and I interact with then with more goodwill, more love, more kindness, more joy; more of my light radiates out from my life into theirs.
And that is what I want to be – light and love, joy and peace, kindness and compassion.
As for Monday, when I rounded the corner towards the end of my walk bringing myself face to face with the river, there in the shadows stood a heron silently watching the world go by.
The heron alone I might not have given a second thought – herons are one of my favorite birds but they are frequent visitors to my river and I often see them paused in stillness, neutral observers of all that is.
But just across from the heron, where the river turns into a bed of stones, was a solitary kite hunkered down on a rock, quietly observing the river flow.
I see kites often, too. Wheeling and circling in the sky above. But this was the first time for my attention to be drawn to one resting on a rock. And in such synchronous timing, too.
“Be still” the wisdom of the birds said to me. “Slow down. Allow your body a time of rest.”
A confirmation from the Universe.
A stamp of approval for the way I was choosing to spend my day – honoring my body and its call for rest rather than subjugating it to the demands of my ego and ambition.
Reminding me that life is less about the quantity of our doing than the quality of our being. That pushing myself to complete my self-made plans within my self-made deadlines may be a good thing sometimes – it’s what enables me to get stuff done after all; but not when it’s at the expense of enjoyment of the process and/or to the detriment of my physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health.
The Universe honoring me honoring my commitment to my self.
Reminding me that it’s okay to just ‘be.’