Love After Love by Derek Walcott
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.
This poem has been on my mind a lot lately. The idea of becoming our own greatest ally rather than our own No. 1 critic. To some, the notion of befriending oneself sounds rather cheesy, wishy-washy and a tad narcissistic! But as Pema Chödrön says in her book,
Treat Yo’ Self!
When life gets hard, stressful, difficult… often our first port of call is to ‘Treat Your Self’! Treat yourself to the latest gadget… Treat yourself to new clothes… Treat yourself to a spa day… Treat yourself to half a slab of cake (we’ve all done it! :D)… Don’t get me wrong there is absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and again. Heck, it should be made mandatory at times. But perhaps not the whole time…
These days we tend to equate ‘treat yourself’ with the luxuries of life. But befriending yourself, showing some self-compassion and self-care are so much more than buying a feeling that will only last a little while (or until you look at your bank account)… That shine can wear off fairly quickly! The idea I am talking about involves coming up close to the nitty-gritty parts of ourselves; the parts we tend to shy away from. I know this doesn’t sound as appealing as the spa day, but stick with me…
Time to check in….
When life is kicking our ass, instead of looking for that instant gratification or that hit of dopamine, it’s worth taking the time to check in with yourself. You may see something that you don’t like but this is where true self-compassion and befriending oneself comes into play. As a coping mechanism treating yourself to material goods or luxuries only works to an extinct. It’s the long game of treating yourself better that I’m interested in.
How? We often hear that we should treat ourselves as we would treat a good friend. But personally, I like Pema Chödrön’s analogy of treating yourself as if you are raising a child. A child needs to be nurtured and loved, but also a child needs to be shown some boundaries. As Dr. Kristin Neff points out in her article ‘What Self-Compassion is Not’, showing yourself some self-compassion doesn’t automatically give you a free pass to be self-indulgent nor narcissistic. I know that my inner mean girl runs full-blown commentary when I self-indulge rather than show myself some real self-compassion.
“I’m stressed out today so to be kind to myself I’ll just watch TV all day and eat a quart of icecream.” This, however, is self-indulgence rather than self-compassion. Remember that being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long term.” – Dr. Kristin Neff
The more I learn and read about self-compassion the more I recognize just how paramount it is. It may seem self-involved but how we react with ourselves has a knock on effect on both the world and those around us. It’s what The Dalai Lama calls wise selfishness in The Book of Joy.
“We have to take care of ourselves without selfishly taking care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot survive. We need to do that. We should have wise selfishness rather than foolish selfishness. Foolish selfishness means you just think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, exploit others. In fact, taking care of others, helping others ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.” – The Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy
As I write this I realize I still have a long way to go. That inner mean girl can be quite vocal at times. I recognize that learning about self-compassion is one thing, but the benefits can only come from the repeated action of treating yourself better. This is not an overnight project but one that requires the time and effort. As always we can only do our best.
Some further reading:
Greater Good Magazine – The Five Myths of Self-Compassion
Be More with Less – Trade Shopping for Self-Care and Everything Will Change
The Odyssey Online – The True Meaning of ‘Treat Yourself’
I would love to hear your views on the whole thing. What do you think about self-compassion? How do you treat yourself better?