“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”~Buddha.
They say that if you go to sleep with a champagne cork under your pillow, you will dream of your future husband. In my case it was true, but I may have cheated a bit. The night that I placed the cork under my pillow I went to bed thinking about the boy I had been watching from a distance. Sure enough I dreamt of him and woke up in love. It was the foolish love of a teenage girl; full of fear and anxiety. Our conversations were mostly one-sided; I was scared I would say something he would find silly. He was cute, even though not very tall. And popular. He would later tell the story of standing at an intersection in our high school campus and seeing three girls walking towards him from different directions. Three girls who thought he was interested in them. He had to escape up a side path to avoid the clash! But somehow I won out. It didn’t end well. He was reading Eldridge Cleaver and other books written about white oppression. It was the 70’s. Black Power was exerting its presence. I was white, he was black (or as I would later tell people, more orange-ish). The relationship was doomed.
Before we graduated high school we had resumed some kind of friendship. I had moved on, so I no longer felt intimidated by my feelings for him. By the time I left for England it had developed into an undefined ‘thing’. The day I was driven to the airport I saw him riding a bicycle, and as he rode away from me that classic 70’s song reverberated in my head “When will I see you again….Are we in love, or just friends? Is this the beginning, or is it the end?”
Well life is funny. After being separated by many miles and several years, I ended up living with him in Miami, and my champagne cork prediction came true. I married the man of my dreams. Unfortunately the real man in front of me was far different from the man I had fashioned and fallen in love with. So it was a rocky road, with many ups and downs. He was a man of extremes, which is exhausting to live with. Compromise was not a word he embraced. And since I didn’t feel very confident in myself I allowed the marriage to settle into a pattern mostly of us doing things his way.
There is a word for living your life for others, caring more about their wellbeing than your own. It is called codependency, and it is unhealthy. I often forget how far I have come from those days of sacrificing my own sense of individuality, of making sure to put everyone else’s needs ahead of my own. Recently I was trying to persuade a friend of mine to get a massage, a treat she has never allowed herself to experience. She is a mother and a daughter and a working wife. It is obvious to me that she is in need of some self-caring activities.
But even as I scolded her about how if we don’t take care of ourselves first we cannot take care of all of those others in our lives, I had to remember my own history. It took me many years to learn that lesson. And unfortunately the only way I could see to save myself was to give up on my marriage, to recognize that it was not selfishness to put myself first, it was essential to my survival.
The concept of loving yourself comes easily to some people. But children who were born to the baby boomer generation were raised by people who believed in self-sacrifice, by women who were martyrs to their marriage. That generation of women could have run the world, but knew that their position as wife was to play the supporting role. So they raised daughters who thought there was something wrong with being confident and self-assured. We looked for (and dreamt of) a prince-charming who would swoop down and sweep us off our feet. We would help him to achieve his goals and dreams while we kept the home-fires burning. Again, not very healthy for our self-esteem. I spoke recently to a woman who has founded a non-profit organization to help abused women. She spoke of women who did not believe in themselves, who did not feel they deserved something better than a man who insulted and demeaned them.
Some of us have to learn to love ourselves, to convince ourselves that it is ok to put ourselves first. We have to change a habit learned from our mothers, to consciously give ourselves permission to do those things which give us pleasure, to pursue our own dreams and ambitions. Many of the students that I teach, the ones who have the most difficulty, are often battling with themselves. As if they do not believe they deserve to succeed. But just as we can be our own worst enemy, why can we not learn to be our own best friend?
From a religious perspective, if you believe that God made you in His own image, why would you not believe that you are beautiful? From a Buddhist perspective, if we believe that the Divine Light lives in each one of us, then I should begin by honoring the Light that dwells in me. When you find yourself to be lovable and worthy of being loved, you will be able to love others fully. And others will be drawn to you.
This week the husband that I gave up on would have turned 62, and although I was not able to live with him, I honor the man that he was, and the lessons he taught me. And perhaps the most important one was that I had to love myself. For that opened doors to many opportunities and happiness that I would not have found otherwise.
This Friday morning I hope you are taking time to care for yourself. We only have one body, one life (that we know of!) and as we age we realize how short life really is. Take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror, to truly stare into your own eyes and affirm: “I love you!” It may sound foolish, but it may open doors you have kept firmly closed for years.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!