Modern Love: Learning to Love the Self

“If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I had a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” Or the scenario may be that we find fault with others. We might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect marriage.” “If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get on, my job would be just great.” (From Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings by Pema Chodron)

For much of my life I played life roulette loading my “gun” with “bullets” like the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Over and over I “shot” myself and those around me with similar thinking.  It took a long time to discover trying to find self-worth outside of me was an absolute waste of time.

Growing up poor, I thought money was the answer to a fulfilling life.  I believed it to the point that my drive to have financial success exceeded my desire for most anything else for a long while.  It was not easy, but I achieved the monetary status I sought.  What I found was life was not better and had actually gotten worse in some ways.  Not only did I now have to manage what I had created, I injured myself and those I cared about with my relentless pursuit of money.  It is clear to me now that in some ways I simply forgot to live my life.  I gave it up for a buck instead.

In my relationships with women, I was always searching and questioning.  My mind was rarely still and spun with quizzical ideas.   “Is this the one?”  “Is there someone better for me?”  “Would I be better off single?”  “Am I happiest being married?”  “What about her?”  Always looking for someone to fill the emptiness I felt inside.  My analytical mind crunched and munched “what if’s” looking for that one key person who could bring me happiness.  I was unable to see the barriers to my happiness were inside me.

My external life was good.  I had money.  I was loved.  I was healthy.  I had a loving family.  I had a great job.  I had friends.  But I was unhappy because I had yet to take a good, long and steady look in the mirror.

The Face in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself
And see what THAT face has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or spouse
Whose judgment upon you must pass;
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

Some people might think you are a straight-shootin’ chum
And call you a wonderful guy or gal,
But the face in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look it straight in the eye.
That’s the one you must please, never mind all the rest,
For that’s the one with you clear up to the end.
And you know you have passed your most dangerous test
If the face in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of life
And get pats on your back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the face in the glass.

Once I began to look inward it took a long while to find my balance and footing.  There were many fitful starts and stops with little progress made.  In my ignorance I hurt people I cared about.  Daily meditation offered some solace from what was raging inside me, but only in the sense that “holding one’s breath prevents inhaling something bad”.  That’s only effective for very short periods of time. Reading brought me intellectual understanding of my psychology but not how to be a “physician who could heal thyself”.  I searched.  I pondered.  I sought.  I explored.  I examined.  I investigated.  I hunted.  I pursued.  Yet my quest did little to sate the restlessness and lack of contentment within.

In time I discovered through trial, error and painful mistakes, I had been chasing “other-esteem”.  What I was lacking was sufficient “self-esteem”.  My discovery had to come the hard way.  There was no other method for one who was so adept at outwardly projecting a far different person from the true one on the inside.  The awful years of agonizing with this discovery and finding new direction were difficult to bear, but necessary.  Today I am much improved at letting what is inside match what is apparent on the outside.  No longer do I fear the deep emotions that reside within, nor do I worry much about expressing them.   I hope my openness here shows that.

No, I did not suddenly “get it” and become well-practiced at being who I really am.  Rather, step by step, day by day my skill at being me improves.  So does my level of contentment and happiness.  In order to be grateful for my sense of well-being today, I have to give thanks for the troubles and heartaches that were the catalysts to awaken me.  For so long I did not understand when spiritual practices of all sorts proclaimed troubles and burdens are the greatest teachers.  I “get it” now and today have much gratefulness for every misstep and trial that helped bring me here.

The most terrifying thing is
to accept one’s self completely. 
Carl Gustav Jung

3 thoughts on “Modern Love: Learning to Love the Self

  1. Growing up, not poor, I realized that money doesn’t solve long term issues. It is nice, don’t get me wrong, but having a father that came from a tobacco farm, poor, but wanting more, it was a good balance. He worked hard, had a good job, and we never lacked for anything. But we earned what we were given. We benefited from his poverty if that makes sense. We weren’t handed new cars when we turned 16. I had a hand-me-down toyota from my sister who got it from my Dad. As long as I pulled good grades I didn’t have to work, but in the summer of my Junior year I did get a part time job and have worked since.
    I enjoyed reading your blog today. It made me think.
    I, too, used to have the big house and the really expensive German car and all the fine things. But after I moved back to Tulsa and both of my parent’s died, I came to know myself a little better. I don’t need all of that…what I do have is nice. But I’m not fooling anyone here by having a $65,000 car opposed to a $35,000 SUV. They know me. And that is all I need.

  2. Nice post.

    I will not say I failed 1000 times, I will say that I discovered there are 1000 ways that can cause failure.
    ~Thomas Edison

    Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.
    ~Orison Swett Marden

    Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for truth.
    ~Benjamin Disraeli

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