In the book You are Here, by Thich Nhat Hanh, the author focuses a great deal on being kind to yourself. As of late, I have been working, odd as that may sound, on being kind to myself. In part of the book, Hanh writes that we should say to ourselves, especially in times of trouble or pain,”I am here for you, dear one.” I must admit, it reads quite oddly. Calling yourself ‘dear one’? Odd. But the thing is, you are dear. We all are dear. We truly are.
And sometimes we lose ourselves or forget ourselves. I suppose we are all lost in our days in some way or another. In our chaos we slow down. But not in a good way. We lose our alertness. Our hearts close up a bit, our skin toughens. Our brains go on repeat. Often we find ourselves in recurrent circumstance that can’t be controlled. So we trudge along, stuck in a rut. In a word, we get….depressed. This is especially true for parents. It seems sometimes that there is no time for anything at all but the needs of others. Work. Home. Cleaning. Laundry. School. Homework. Dinner. Sports. Piano. Whatever. But trudging through these events is not fulfilling to our hearts. We are not caring for our dear selves when our dear selves are nowhere to be seen in our day-to-day lives.
When we do not treat ourselves with tenderness and awareness, we lose ourselves. And we become sad.
So in honoring ourselves, we must ask this question: What do we need? What gives us joy? What fulfills us in our hearts? What makes us tick? When we are depressed, the answer is– nothing. But part of why we become depressed is because those things are lacking in our lives. Those embers that glow in our hearts, leftover from more carefree days, become almost extinguished. When you were a child, what gave you joy? I often think that children are our truest selves–what we were before the world took our innocence, and with it, our love for ourselves. We liked to write, so we stapled paper together and wrote books, free of our own critical judgement. If we felt like coloring we colored. I played piano for hours just for the joy of it. Maybe you disappeared and climbed trees or biked with your friends for hours. Maybe you vanished and read late into the night. You did what gave you joy because…you honored yourself quite easily. You naturally did very easily what is so hard to do now.
As a child, my love for myself was beautifully intact. As an adult it faded. A lot.
And no wonder–since now we spend so much time ignoring ourselves. But remember: you are as dear now as you were then. Be there for you, as you were when you were a child. Water yourself with that which you hold dear. Breathe life back into those precious things that make up the roots of who you are.
Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s quiet time with a book. Maybe it’s a walk in the deep, cool quiet woods or a fabulous homemade dinner that you never have time (or the heart) to make. Lord knows I lose inspiration when my children weep at every meal that isn’t tacos. The joy can be sucked out of life in unexpected ways. But it is our duty to grow our own joy, to plant our own seeds of happiness, and to water them. And we do this because we are dear. Because we must be here for ourselves. If we are not, we can never be here for others. How can we give of ourselves if there is nothing there?
So in the past year, as I have grown in my practice, I have started a very tiny a capella women’s group. It’s like 4-5 of us most of the time. We haven’t gotten very far but it’s been an extraordinary learning experience. We all said together, as a group, hey. Singing brings us joy. Let’s give it a shot together. So, together, we are watering that little seed of joy. I am going to pick up the piano again. Because it brings me home to myself. Those are the seeds that were planted in my heart when I entered the world. I write. Because writing is what I have done my whole life, since I can remember. I am finding myself and honoring myself. And my heart has opened in such unexpected ways.
When I am doing well, my dogs give me joy. My newfy’s dumb adorable face kills me, and I often get down on the floor with him and hug him. My children give me joy. When I am feeling good I take a billion photos and videos and post quotes about the hilarious things they say. Music gives me joy. When I am happy I dance and sing a lot of the time. Being closer and more aware to the things that give me joy allows me to be closer to myself. I know I am unhappy when I wanna kick my dogs out of the house and let them run away. (As they get older they get a tad incontinent.) When I am unhappy I don’t take pictures or videos of the kids and I don’t quote their funny little sayings. I work hard to get through the day and I try my hardest to end the day with smiles. I don’t always succeed. When I am sad I don’t dance and sing. I am pretty morose. And being keyed into these things has given me a powerful litmus into how I’m doing. Those little seeds that in such large part make up who I am, wilt and fade with exhaustion and monotony. That is why it is so very important to water them regularly. They are fragile. They get trampled, but they never really die. We can always revive them. And it brings us back to our dear selves, who are always with us. As my dear self pops up for air, my heart opens. And as my heart opens, my dear self grows. The sad self and the tired self are sucking up a lot less air. And that’s a nice thing.