Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"It"s Always Ourselves We Love the Least"

A great line from Bruce Cockburn's Song "Burden of the Angel Beast

A few years ago an intuitive healer noticed my Vitamin S deficiency--self-love, that is--and recommended a remedy. As I put lotion on my body after bathing, I would repeat, "I love myself, and I support myself."

I grew up in a family, like many in the United States, that prizes humility. No one loves a braggart. Telling myself I love myself was not only counter to my conditioning, it felt embarrassing and, frankly, ooky. Loving other people and making myself loveable was my job, and in exchange, presumbably, others were supposed to love me back. Only sometimes they don't. More often, I find loving others to be difficult. 

I had nothing to lose by taking Kelly's advice. After all, feeling high on others wasn't helping me feel better about myself. The first couple dozen times I did it, I practically had to hold my nose it felt so unnatural. What if I became a narcissist? I continued for a few months, without noticing any perceptible change, before dropping it.

Within the last year during an Ayurvedic consultation with my friend and sister yoga teacher Heidi Nordlund told me I am very good at loving others, and not so good at loving myself. I was still deficient in Vitamin S. Heidi recommended repeating as often as possible, "I love me," like a mantra.

I chant mantra every day to celebrate and summon the qualities of the deities. But really? A mantra devoted to loving myself, ala Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"? Again I was resistant. I let Heidi's advice go without even trying it.

One dark day a few weeks after my husband's prostate cancer diagnosis in February, I let myself imagine what being widowed would feel like. [Update: he is undergoing treatment, and all indications are that it is working. His PSA dropped from 4.5 to 0.56 this month. He will definitely survive this. Weird states of mind like mine are all part of the process of coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis.] My first question was, "Who would love me?" I didn't want to think about that any more than I wanted to repeat "I love me" a couple hundred times a day.

But a few days later as I was meditating, I got a two-word message: "Love yourself." There it was again. I didn't think of the means Kelly and Heidi had offered me until a consultation with Heidi last month. She again suggested repeating "I love me." Same resistance on my part. How could that work, and so forth.

After a couple of weeks of stalling, I tried it on a particularly rough day. I kept beating back my doubts about its efficacy as I hiked with my family. All the way up I felt I no sense of uplift, much less of self-love. Instead I felt annoyed by my lack of progress, and with myself. 

But as I approached the summit, the thought came to me, It's acts of faith and daring that constitute love. I was expecting too much too soon from the practice of repeating "I love me." I need to keep at it, in the same way I persist with my yoga practice, the same way I keep at it with writing, and all the other things I enjoy doing and/or am good at. Not many of us actually make the effort to love ourselves. The belief is that it will take care of itself. In 54 years on the planet, I can tell you it will not. I could free myself from a whole lot of angst and co-dependency, if the person I'm with always loves me always. It's a radical proposition that so far has yielded only this modest realization. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Alert to Growth

I have a history of killing houseplants. It's not that I set out to do so. I sincerely want to be surrounded by leafy, blossoming things, as I was growing up in my parents' house. I am an inconsistent plant parent. I alternate between overwatering and underwatering. I have better luck in the garden. Under the sun and sky, my efforts matter less. 

Last summer we inherited a banana tree plant from one of Don's co-workers. We left it on our patio, which gets the hot morning sun, and promptly forgot to water it or to pay any attention to it at all. Eventually Don rescued it by putting it in a larger pot and setting it on the hearth inside. It began to thrive, growing taller and sprouting a new stalk within the first few weeks. At Christmas time, I decorated it with sock monkey ornaments.

Who doesn't love a sock monkey in a purple tutu or a Santa costume?
Earlier this summer I noticed the central stalk's leaves were getting brown. I figured I was performing my usual involuntary plantslaughter and tried to ignore it. 

Last week I took a good long look at that plant and decided to do something on its behalf. With kitchen shears I cut away a few dead leaves. It still looked like a dead plant, but with a few less dead leaves. It needed stronger medicine, so I took a sharp knife to the central stalk and cut it almost to the top of the potting soil.

Remember the new stalk that sprouted after it was transplanted and brought inside?

There was already a whole new healthy plant growing alongside the dying part.

The plant was now two healthy, thriving, green-as-could-be stalks that were apparently waiting to be recognized as the replacement plant. So captured was I by the plant's withering leaves, and my part in this failure, I was not captivated by the fresh growth.  An unfortunate part of my temperament gets so caught up in grieving what's lost, I forget to be alert to new growth. 

More new growth

On closer inspection yesterday, I noticed a new shoot sprouting out of the stump of the central stalk. This is a good plant. It has survived neglect, transplantation, my clumsy care and an amputation. My yoga training teaches that death and rebirth are happening simultaneously, in life writ large and small. This is not a matter of faith. It is a fact of life, illustrated beautifully on my hearth. It happens in its own time, of its own accord, independent of me and my efforts.