I am not a natural candidate for Self-Friendship. Living inside me is a judge, who scorn and denigration of the things I do makes Simon Cowell seem like Humanitarian of the Year. At least Simon praises people he likes. My inner judge has me convinced that there is a Rule Book To Life, and everyone else on the planet except me (this means you, dear reader), came with a copy.
Almost every single time I do anything – feed my kids, open a new business, dry my hair – the judge scrutinizes my actions and writes down a score. Needless to say, I always come up lacking. Then he / she announces its findings to the whole world, who laugh at me and walk away.
Thank God I'm learning to laugh back.
When I can separate myself from my own story-line, I always find it interesting that I assume there is a right way to do anything. A secret right way.
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and one of my candidates for wisest people in the Western World, talks about the importance of "being who we are already." She says that making friends with ourselves is one of the essential goals of meditation and spiritual practice, more important than any other kind of transformation.
This goes against the grain of our American culture, which pushes us to always perfect ourselves, has us convinced that there's a better version of ourselves to transform into. It also goes against the grain of much of the self-help, conscious living movement – too many of its Americanized teachings use the idea that there is something wrong with us to persuade us to change.
Sharon Salzburg tells a story of meeting the Dalai Lama. She asked him, "What do you think of the suffering of self-hatred?" The other, Western, teachers in the room knew exactly what she was talking about. The Dalai Lama himself looked extremely confused, finally asking her, "Self-hatred, what is that?"
For Salzburg, this was one of those moments that point the way to a new understanding of human potential: a place where we do not hate ourselves for our own essential nature.
We are a people whose national myth stresses Transformation and Getting Ahead and everything we do had better become an opportunity for growth. Look at Oprah. She's one of the most powerful people in the world, has inspired millions of us in so many different ways, is a force for wonderful, effective good, and regularly feels qualified to beat herself up on national TV because she's gained weight.
What if we just decided, for one month, to practice self-kindness? Self-acceptance. To meet ourselves where we are and hang out for awhile, admiring the view, however many "flaws" we find. This takes real courage. Not trying to change, escape, numb out or inflate. No rationalizations or excuses. Just be.
This means being with all kinds of things: there are the whammies of sadness, loneliness, despair, obviously. Letting the feelings happen even when we think they will break us and we want to run away. Being okay with getting ourselves into our financial situation, whatever it is. And the more subcont ways we can not befriend ourselves either: Being happy with the things that bring us happiness. Pleasure-really letting you feel the pleasure you are having. Boredom. Accepting the contradictory parts of yourself, rather than making one part of you right, one part of you wrong.
I belong to a neighborhood pool. It's suits my personality in almost every way: it's low key, laid back, kind of shabby, very friendly, my kids love it, the swim team is all about fun, not winning. I love everything about it, except that it's not the Country Club. I sit at this wonderful, relaxed place and a part of me wants to be where they hand out fresh fluffy towels, the tile shimmers, the food is fresh, and everything shines. High maintenance and high gloss. Then I actually go to a place like that and I love everything about it except that it is not laid back, low key, low maintenance. I can not quite relax there either. And then I think I'm a jerk because I can not settle at either place.
This is a little thing, but every summer I beat myself up over it. Every summer I make myself wrong for wanting contradictory things, for not being at home in either place. This every day act of taking my kids swimming so we can have fun together becomes another way to hate myself.
It's only recently occurred to me that I do not need to choose. I decided to give myself a break for being me, wanting contradictory things. It's a small act of self acceptance, of making my nature my friend, but an important one. We think it's the big things that matter, and they do, but I've found it's the everyday ways we accept ourselves or beat ourselves up that makes life a gift or a thing to avoid with every means at our disposal.
So yes, it's good to grow, to expand into more consciousness, to free the limiting parts of ourselves and accept our Divine nature. But instead of making this another job to do, a way to get rid of the parts of yourself you do not really like, first open to those parts. Be with them. Make them your friends, your allies. Accept yourself. Be your own best friend.