In the introduction to her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach tells the story of a woman who was unconscious on her deathbed. Her daughter sat next to her for many hours saying kind and loving words to her. Early one morning, the woman suddenly opened her eyes, looked intently at her daughter, and whispered, “All my life I thought something was wrong with me.” Then she shook her head slightly as if to say, “What a waste,” closed her eyes, went back into a coma, and died later that day.
This story brought tears to my eyes. It resonated. Because I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize it could have been so much more if only I hadn’t held back so much, believing I needed to improve myself before what I had to offer was worth sharing.
Self-Love is Real Love
This week, our culture celebrates love. Romantic love is but a drop in the bucket. There are so many other forms of love, and self-love is one of them. Let’s not forget to include ourselves in our circle of love! Because we still can, and it makes a great difference in our quality of life and the lives of those closest to us.
Nobody is perfect. We’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to be like anyone else, either, so forget about making any comparisons.
Can you love yourself exactly as you are and have tenderness for ALL parts of yourself, including everything you’ve done or not done? Doing that pulls you out of the trance of unworthiness and the limiting beliefs you have about yourself. Loving yourself like that transforms your life and allows you to love others better.
If you think it sounds silly, naive, or selfish, then you don’t understand what I’m saying. I’ll use the language of dreams to paint a clearer picture.
“We’re Taking Away the Supports”
A few months ago, I dreamed I was at a large retreat to kick off the mindfulness meditation teacher program I’m taking with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. My friend showed me her sleeping accommodations, which felt like the inside of an airplane with no room to move around, and so close to others! I didn’t know what my dorm looked like, but I couldn’t handle being in such close quarters!
Next, I was in a large auditorium not paying attention to the presentation because I craved chocolate. I’d seen a bowl of it earlier, but it had since been taken away.
Then I stood in a doorway at the back of another auditorium. Others stood next to me, and I felt a little “less than”, lacking in some way. Tara Brach came up behind me and whispered in my ear: We are taking away the supports. I didn’t know exactly what she meant but trusted her.
When we came out of that space, we saw that all around the circular auditorium we’d been in, the event organizers had set up cozy spaces for pairs to be together, kind of like tents without roofs. For each pair, there was a small fireplace, two cushions on the floor, and an elegant pitcher of water with two glasses. We were to go directly to our space-for-two. I felt anxious about being up close and personal with someone when I was tired from traveling and hadn’t had an opportunity to touch up my appearance. It was nighttime, and I wanted to retreat to my room and get some sleep.
Over the loudspeaker, a voice asked us to consider the most cherished possessions we hold on to. It wasn’t referring to physical objects, but the excuses we go to in our minds that hinder us from engaging or being more fully ourselves. The things we think we need in order to be okay. This blew my mind, and I started to cry. I wondered: Is this program too much for me? They were going to take us to the depths of our excuses so we could let go of them and be more present. Really present.
They referred to our excuses as possessions that are separate from us. Our deepest, most cherished supports. These would all be exposed, and we’d learn we don’t need them after all. Who would you be without your most cherished beliefs about what you can’t do or who you need to be around others to be accepted? These beliefs are possessions. They are not you. You do not need them to survive.
I woke up from the dream and considered: What do I feel self-conscious about that compels me to keep a certain distance from others? Why does it take so much energy to be around people? (And does it really, or is it more about having boundaries?) What underlies my food cravings? What uncomfortable feelings do they mitigate? What flaws do I feel I need to conceal to be more attractive to others? How do all these things keep me from being my True Self?
This dream showed me clearly what my self-limiting crutches are. It spelled out all the things I feel are wrong with me and unacceptable to others and how I try to hide them and soothe the discomfort. It revealed lots of opportunities for growth.
What Will I Say?
A few nights ago, I dreamed I was in the audience in another auditorium. It was an event for the hospice house in which my mother passed away. When the speaker finished talking, she came up to me and whispered that I was next. That’s when I remembered I’d agreed to be a speaker. But I hadn’t prepared anything to read! I’d forgotten about it entirely! I began to panic.
Then I remembered that I did a trust fall during our last Hidden Treasure weekend, and it reprogrammed me at a cellular level. I’m stronger than I think I am. Maybe I didn’t need notes and could just speak from my heart. Well, I was going to have to do that because I had no notes! I tried to come up with a general idea or a few points I could jot down, but nothing was coming to me.
There were lots of people mulling about. I wanted to use the bathroom and touch up my hair and makeup. All the bathroom stalls were in use, and I didn’t have a chance to look in the mirror because it was so crowded. But deep down I knew it would be better to have a quiet moment alone to get centered. Inspiration was more likely to arise from quietude than in a crowded bathroom or lobby.
When I walked out of the bathroom, the lights were turned down, and the we’re-waiting-for-you music was playing. As I made my way through the backstage area, my mom walked towards me looking for the piano so she could wheel it on stage. My heart lurched because I wasn’t there to play piano! I told her that, and she said the piano was for somebody else. She knew I was there to give a talk and not play piano. Whew!! I felt relieved because I wouldn’t have to play in front of the audience (which would have been much more stressful than giving a talk) and because my mom wasn’t pressuring me to perform to make her happy. She understood that’s not what I’m here for.
Then I stepped on stage, and all of a sudden, I knew what to say. I’d talk about how I found a new relationship with my mom after she died, and sharing my stories would offer hope to people who were bereaved. My talk would be a message of hope that would ease people’s suffering. And I didn’t know that until the moment before I started speaking, and after my mom relieved me of any pressure to play piano. Then I was able to let something arise from deep in my heart that could help others. It was the difference between performing and being real. Impressing vs. connecting.
I didn’t need to look a certain way to be worthy of being seen. I didn’t need to impress anyone. It wasn’t about my hair, makeup, or clothes. I didn’t need to feel guilty for letting my mother (and myself) down for not following through with piano earlier in life. Those beliefs only get in the way of being my True Self and set the stage for end-of-life regrets, like the woman in Tara’s story.
Both dreams revealed the importance of being present to others without worrying about how I look. The purpose of my life is not to impress or please anyone, even though that’s how I was conditioned. It’s about connecting with people heart-to-heart with the intention of easing their pain.
In waking life, it’s time to cut through the limiting beliefs the dreams spelled out so clearly so I can live more fully, shine brighter, and love better. It begins with loving, forgiving, and accepting myself like my life depends on it. Because it does. And nobody else can do it for me. Or for you. It’s inner work we can only do ourselves. In the poet Rumi’s words:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
How about you? What self-limiting beliefs and habits are holding you back? How can you love yourself into the radiant fullness of who you are and shine, shine, shine?
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.