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Start where you are

Deeply content with me. Nothing startles me more. Years and years and years of feeling never enough, always should be more, always lacking, wanting, burdened, ashamed.

For various reasons—my own biology and the circumstances of my own little place and tribe—I grew up with that sense of "less than". Never secure. Always embarrassed by ME. Getting involved in the church greatly reinforced this insecurity in two ways. One was that ideal, submissive-to-men-but-strong-in-her-kitchen woman that I kept trying and trying to be but could just not quite get right. This left me with a 25-year-long case of culture shock--never quite fitting in. The second was the teaching that God loved me IN SPITE OF my desperately sinful nature. This constant refrain inside the church just confirmed my "piece of shit" self-image that was pretty well entrenched without divine reinforcement. Attempting to be myself inside the confines of church doctrine was enervating...actually more like suffocating. Ultimately these things, combined with my own life circumstances, drove me into a deep depression.

Climbing out of that vat of self-despair and hatred involved a scene in the tiny little bathroom of my tiny little house where I lived after my divorce and from which my kids came and went according to schedule (this alone was heartbreaking but I talk about that elsewhere). I was sad but beginning to recover a bit and had the realization that if I had to spend all day, every day living with Lyn then I probably should LIKE her. For many years leading up to this I had pondered why it is that we feel so free to be so mean to ourselves—in ways that would be unthinkable directed at someone else. Questions like, “Who gets to decide when a life is worthwhile?” or “Why is my standard for ME pretty much perfection when I use a standard of compassion for everyone else?” This notion that holding myself, caring for myself, being loving and gentle with myself was a tiny little seed—but it was there. And so, on some random day about 15 years ago, I walked into my little bathroom, looked into my mirror, and said, OUT LOUD, “Lyn, I love you and I am going to take really good care of you.” Each time I tell this story those words sound sort of silly to me—and yet even this morning it moves me again to tears.

I didn’t really believe it. I didn’t feel much self-love. I still felt a lot of self-disappointment and a lot of sadness. But I somehow knew that if Lyn was going to get better, it had to start with Lyn not being so mean to herself. I recently read the simple truth, “Start where you are.” That is where I was. Broken and sad but wanting badly to live differently and well. LIVING like that meant holding Lyn close, comforting her, allowing space for her humanity. Treating her with the compassion I would usually just direct outward.

Fifteen years of cultivating and breathing and allowing things to be. At some point along the way that bathroom declaration began spreading roots. Lyn became just Lyn...a reasonably lovable, flawed human being, deserving of as much care and compassion as I could offer her.

These days, when I sit in my office and talk with people about the essential practice of self-compassion—that deeply contented feeling overwhelms me. I sometimes cannot even believe it is me. That I feel okay with me. That there is no need to beat myself up. That when I am behaving badly or thoughtlessly or impulsively, I need to notice and adjust or correct or repair—but berate or flog or feel the kind of shame that says I should not exist are no longer my go-to options .

Start where you are.

If self-loathing is where you are starting, try to be gentle. Humanity is where we all dwell. Try altering the standard from perfection to compassion. Try that silly idea of looking into your own eyes and offering loving-kindness. So, so grateful for that morning and the years that have passed since. Lyn needed me. Your self is waiting.

Love After Love

The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

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