I’m reading a book by Sharon Salzberg that’s kind of like a roadmap for self-love. How to get there, what to do when you encounter some bumps on the way. Because we will (and have been, forever).
I can’t think of too many people in my life who love themselves in a profound way, or have much awareness around such self-love, or view this as an endeavor worthy of lifelong devotion and commitment. Salzberg is a lovingkindness meditation expert, and believes this practice is the way, the direct and true path, to loving your whole self. Incidentally, self-love must develop in order to experience true and lasting love with others, and life itself.
Lots of stuff gets in the way of our self-love. In fact, much that prevents us from doing so occurs before we are old enough or conscious enough to even have a clue. Lots of conditioning. Tricky little roadblocks here, there, and everywhere. But all it really takes is one, and we’re done. One instant (or a series of instants) that indelibly codes into our bones how we think and feel about ourselves, about our worth, about how we love. This might sound like bullshit to some, but it feels real to me, especially now.
Until we decide not be done. To pay attention. To shift. To change stories.
Is part of our current crisis in this country a lack of self-love? Is this some granola spiritual BS or is it accurate? How do you change a whole entire nation’s story? Tell one that is more radical, more real, more love? How do you change what we think of as necessary?
Of this conditioning, these narratives we create throughout our lives (often untrue), Salzberg writes: “Mindfulness practice helps create space between our actual experience and the reflexive stories we tend to tell about them.”
I can’t explain every bit of what’s happening with me and my consciousness in the past several months, but I am letting go of some old, false narratives that I had pretty much exhausted. I clung to them. I knew them by heart. I don’t even entirely know why, but I am letting them go. I am wiping the slate clean. I have space and time to do so. I have a heap of devotion and I am bound to this new space. To feeling. To letting all the parts of me sing (and stomp my feet and scream and sob and stagger and sting). To “the full catastrophe.”
In my writing though, I am wrestling intensely, still, with this idea of the personal and its validity in the world, to an audience. I can’t believe I’m even worrying myself with it after all these years. But what I realize now is that this conflict, this very struggle is a false narrative I’ve absorbed, and one that persists within me. Why isn’t the personal story I live, and want to write about, enough? What would make it more valid? Some political strain? Would my writing matter, then? Or would I allow it to just be in the world without an agenda, without a consciousness other than the one in my feeling heart? Isn’t good writing just good writing, despite how personal it is? No matter the content? How is this struggle to write the personal any different than the path to self-love?
Salzberg knows that self-love has the unfortunate misconception that it is selfish, narcissistic, even self-indulgent.
Nothing is more radical, more necessary.
I get that. I do. No bullshit.
Yet these sticky narratives hang around, despite my devotion, my space, my consciousness. I hear myself saying things like I’m too old. I missed the boat. I don’t have anything important or different to say. I am running out of time. I’m too angry and fearful to have compassion for everybody. The world is too fucked up for this to matter or to change. And then there’s this, which I said to Tommy yesterday as we hiked up a big ass mountain in the cold and rain:
I forgot how to write poems.
He laughed and said Of course that’s not true.
I think about poems the next night as I’m chopping my vegetables for chili and listening to Gillian Welch. Her sad voice and these familiar food smells make me feel more awake and more real love than I knew even the moment before that sad thought. My dogs watch me with their sad eyes, begging. Everything is sad. Wanting to turn dinner into a poem is sad.
Wanting to matter and make changes is sad. Knowing your essential self is what it is can be sad.
But I haven’t forgotten desire and that is the only way I know to make poems. I mean desire in that I want to connect with you (you!) despite any amount of sadness I carry around. Desire in that I want to change my old, stubborn story(s). Desire in that I want to be here for a little bit longer, loving myself and learning how to give this full and complete attention to what’s near and not near me. Appreciating this world despite. Just despite.
Desire to talk about this. Giving my true attention to every single thing. So that I may be more available to you. To those I don’t understand. To radical desire. Radical love. Radical realness.
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be safe from inner and outer danger.
May I be truly happy and free.
(say it for yourself first, and then others).
(I don’t know. I’m just trying it out. Feels OK).