Your Most Important Relationship Is the One You Have with Yourself

Art by Victoria Kutsuris, 2012.


Although I must confess that I know very little about the Chinese New Year, that we have recently -on February 8th, the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice – entered the “Year of the Red Fire Monkey” hasn’t escaped even my attention.

I like blogger/author Noelle Vignola’s description of it the best:

This is the Chinese year whose focus is about letting go, shaking things up a bit and transformation. It bodes of possible chaos, tumultuous turn arounds and the need to go with the flow more than anything else. I suspect for many of us we’re thinking, “Wasn’t that the last five years?”

In my case, more like three years than five perhaps, but otherwise: Yes.

But the Red Fire Monkey has already started to reveal some of its tumultuous turn arounds and sound its clamorous call to chaos as, less than two weeks into the Chinese New Year, I turn my life upside down and inside out; disrupting the flow of my life and others’ with what I can only describe as the single biggest act of self-sabotage I have ever enacted.

I’m leaving the finer details for other posts when I’ve had more time to absorb and process the loose and hanging threads.

Suffice it to say that my initial (fear-based) reaction left me nauseous, clammy, cold and physically shaken for a good couple of days.

Purely by chance, the timing of this coincided with me reading and working though Imagine Self-Love: A Journal, by Reba Linker; another blogger/author friend of mine.

Self-love is actually what my journey these past three years has been all about. Unlearning my outmoded ways of thinking that don’t serve and support me and my greatest and highest good; swapping them out for ones that do.

To be honest, I’m still not sure if the incident in question was more an act of self-sabotage or the Universe shaking me up, giving me a chance to look deeply into what is it that I really want.

Whichever way the ensuing fallout was tumultuous to say the least – real Red Fire Monkey stuff.  Throughout the entire experience of upheaval, discomfort and distress it was the things I’ve learned through my self-love practice that upheld me; giving me the courage to confront the situation head on.

Ultimately, to walk through the combat zone with far more grace,  presence of mind, more compassion for myself and the “mistake” I’d made than I ever would have managed to summon before my journey into self-love.

This translated directly into action that honoured both myself and the other person involved; the result being that however the situation pans out – and it’s still not quite clear – I am proud of myself and the way I interacted with my experience.

There is gold to be found there. I know that I have interacted with the situation with integrity and done my best to integrate the lessons it has brought into my life.

And I am at peace with that.

The timing of it was perfect in some ways, for to my great good fortune I was able to use the exercises in Reba’s Imagine Self-Love book to help me move through the experience.

Reba’s book is a treasure trove of ideas for people new to the practice of self-love and self-confessed self-love aficionados alike. My experiences this past week have, however, reiterated for me that however much work on ourselves we may have done, there are always new practices we can integrate to help us as we expand and evolve into more and more of our potential.

I’d like to take a few moments to mention a couple of the activities from the book – it’s a very practical book and you work on yourself as you work through it, doing journaling and taking self-love action steps – that supported me the most; literally helping me to navigate my experience in more self-sustaining ways.

First, a journal prompt that encouraged me to “look at the themes presenting themselves in (my) current experience… (and) … unravel the illusions and arrive at a core of truth.” The journal prompt being, “My life is asking me to notice…”

Well, as is likely the case when we are experiencing some kind of conflict, my life was asking me to notice quite a lot!

Journaling around this really helped me to get clear on my own feelings about the situation and my motives, as well as empowering me to uncover some deeply rooted patterns of interaction that had been influencing my relationships with others without me even being aware of it. Talk about a good journal prompt!

Now that the light of awareness has revealed these patterns it’s up to me to mindfully – and with great compassion for myself – find ways to interact in ways that don’t repeat the pattern. But you can only begin to do that once you’ve become aware that such a pattern exists. In that sense, this journaling prompt was invaluable in supporting me over the weekend, and it’s one that I’m definitely going to continue to work with.

Second, the action step of taking a mini-vacation “in the midst of your busy life.” I have to admit that I did this one rather unintentionally, only realising halfway through that that was what I was actually doing.

Some customers of a cafe where I display my pottery had asked if they could meet the artist, so, despite the rather climactic nature of my weekend, Sunday morning saw me setting off with some pots carefully loaded in my car and ascending the mountain to reach the cafe at the top.

It was a beautiful day with more than a hint of spring in the air, (for those of you who read my last blog post – again!), and they were the sweetest and loveliest couple. As I talked to them I felt my heart space expand and relax. I decided to stay and have lunch there, and as I ate the delicious and nourishing food and gazed out on the mountains I felt my calm return.

This space I took for myself in the midst of all my turmoil allowed me to return to center. It was a much needed space of self-nurturing and upheld me to such an extent that that night I was able to focus on and finish a work project that had also been looming on the horizon all weekend.

Third, the action step of consciously changing your perspective so that you view your challenges through the lens of “not(ing) your progress; prais(ing) yourself for learning; applaud(ing) your growth; remember(ing) that you are mastering life’s lessons.”

Well, I have literally been doing this all week; celebrating myself for showing up; for being brave enough to acknowledge my shadow side and dive into its depths; for being open enough to learn the lessons it has for me – or the ones I’m ready for at least.

It’s largely thanks to the practical application of this action step that I’m now able to say that although this has been an extremely painful week in many ways, it’s also been an incredibly important one. This entire experience has allowed me to see where I’m still being controlled by my past, and heal and release. I’m glad for this experience now, for it has given me the opportunity to evolve on so many levels.

Hurray for simple, supportive and effective actions steps!

Fourth, another action step – this time about consciously  choosing to manifest opportunity in your life. I loved this one, which asks you to recognise yourself as deserving and actively ask the Universe for what it is you would like to see show up in your life in a written message. I had actually written my request to the Universe and put it on my bedside table before all the “drama” showed up in my life. But I promptly forgot all about it in my absorption in my pain body.

Well, my note happened to catch my eye the next morning. I decided to rewrite my request in the light of the events that had since shown up in my life. “Today I find the opportunity to experience clear and true guidance, and awe and wonder at just how much I’m being supported by the Universe all the time,” I wrote. I read it back to myself and put it in my pyjama pocket, and promptly forgot about it all over again as I got sucked back into the drama…

I didn’t even remember it until the next morning when, back in my pyjamas, I put my cold hands in my pockets again and found the folded square of paper there. Taking it out and unfolding it, I was absolutely amazed at what I saw.

I may have forgotten all about my request, but the Universe certainly hadn’t neglected to do its part.

The preceding day, true to my request, I had received clear and true guidance from both a kind of spiritual mentor and an older friend who has lived and learned and grown and evolved from her mistakes, and is always willing to generously share her wisdom with me.

As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of our time together she said to me, “Julia, do you have any rice? My neighbours gave me some I’ll share with you.”

Only a couple of days before I’d been thinking about how I need some more rice…

What an awesome demonstration of how the Universe loves and supports us in just the way we need. As I’m sure you can imagine, this action step is another one I’ll definitely be using again!

Imagine Self-Love: A Journal is 80 pages absolutely jam-packed with journaling prompts and practical exercises that nudge you towards a deeper understanding of what it means to practice self-love.

As you work through it, you’ll see how much more alive you feel and how many doors open up for you as you begin to integrate more self-love into your life. You can download a free chapter at and the book is available for purchase on Amazon.

Reba has also been kind enough to put together a self-paced e-course “9 Self-Love Keys to Change Your Life,” which is currently being offered through the Daily OM on a pay what you wish basis. If it speaks to you, check it out here.

I highly recommend both the book and the course, and can personally testify to Reba’s generosity and commitment to helping people experience for themselves what it really means to engage in self-love.

However you decide to do so, I hope this inspires you to consciously embody more self-love in your life.

Do so, and you’ll watch the miracles start to unfold.


Harbingers of Change

Image credit: etceterawork canvas prints available at

After weeks of my kerosene stove registering ‘Lo’ first thing, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that there wasn’t the same need to turn it on the moment my feet hit the floor this morning.

The chill from beneath the thin wooden floorboards wasn’t quite as pervasive as usual, but it still came as a surprise to see that the thermometer in the living room was registering a full 8 degrees!

Remember, this was before I’d even turned on a stove.

To set the scene a little better, I live in an old farmhouse in the depths of the Japanese countryside where, despite the relative harshness of the winters, the older houses were built solely to help their inhabitants survive the intensity of the hot and humid summers and are ill-equipped for the cold winter months. To be able to reach a hand out of bed and leave it there, walk the floors in my bed sock clad feet without immediately reaching for the stove in February is nothing short of a small miracle – one I intended to enjoy to the full.

Once breakfast had been eaten I donned my sunhat and sunglasses and ventured outside with my beloved four-legged friend.There was a smell of freshness in the air and I realised I really didn’t need my jacket.

Pimo, my dog, has aged a lot in the last year and we no longer go very far on our walks, which often end in me carrying her back to the house. Imagine my delight when having only gone a couple of hundred metres, I was greeted with the sight of three or four small bees drifting around by the germander speedwell that was slightly straggly after several weeks of being submerged under snow, but was now opening its delicate blue flowers to receive the warmth of the sun.

Snow was still lying in all the places the sun doesn’t normally reach but the river was glittering merrily, bathed in light; the breeze was gentle and warm; even the blueness of the sky had a softness about it and, to my astonishment, I had the good fortune to come across a ladybird no doubt tricked into venturing out of hibernation by the unseasonable warmth of the day.

Beautiful harbingers of spring which occasioned a quickening of my heart and a lightness in my step.

The rush of hope and gratitude I felt was made all the more intense by their contrast to the dazzling snowscapes, the ice-choked stream that leads down to the river, the monochrome mountains made of bare branches peeking through snow, and the chill in the air that penetrates my fleece-lined gloves that are all symbolic of the winter months here.

As anyone who has ever lived in a place with distinctive seasons knows, the beauty of each is enhanced by the one before.

And winter to spring, with its hint of new beginnings in the air and the outburst of nature in an explosion of life and colour, is my own personal favourite here in Nagano and breathes a special kind of delight into my heart.

I got home and opened my Facebook page to find a quote about life being a circle of happiness and sadness, hard times and good times and it seemed to fit so perfectly with the rhythm of the seasons that had just moments before been flooding my senses.

After the cold winter there comes the spring.

And, in the cyclic nature of the Universe, day is followed by night and then by day again; and, difficult as it can be to believe at the time, our sadness and hard times are not permanent fixtures but gradually make way for happiness and good times again.

I have seen the indisputability of this in my own life. From the depths of grief so great I feared I might never surface, I rode the wave of change and renewal and now know happiness again.

And just as some of winter is carried over into spring in torrenting rivers full of snowmelt, our sadness and hard times leave their lasting impression.

But the cycle of life is always seeking balance, and gradually restores happiness where once it could not be found.

I know it is not only myself who has rode the troughs the last few years. Our planet and many of us on it are going through giant upheavals in our lives, most preceded by a period of deep grief and pain.

My own experience of riding the troughs taught me that the only thing I could do was trust in this cyclic nature of life. Trust that better things are on their way and that I was being led to a better place.

To any of you who may currently be riding the troughs not the peaks, I implore you to trust in this same cyclic nature of life and your ability to heal, and keep an eye out for the signs that better things are on their way.

Like the improbable bees and the ladybird the harbingers of spring, what harbingers of possibility can you find showing up in your life today?