There are things we know.
We know them because, at the very bottom of things, we are all the same in at least one fundamental way: we are trying to be better. Better to others and to ourselves and to the world. Better as lovers, friends, care-givers, citizens, activists. Better as humans.
We want the world to be better, healthier and happier, and we have learned that to do this, we have to work on ourselves.
And so we find books and read what wise people before us have learned about the path of (self) realization. We learn, find communities of like-minded people, meditate, pray, and set intentions. We try to tread lightly on the Earth and focus on positive outcomes.
We have also come to understand that we need to be a little bit selfish in order to be more giving.
“I often joke, half sincerely and half seriously, saying that if we wish to be truly selfish, we should be wisely selfish rather than foolishly selfish. Our intelligence can help to adjust our attitude in this respect. If we use it well, we can gain insight as to how we can fulfill our own self-interest by leading a compassionate way of life.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We understand that we need to care for ourselves so that we can care for and serve others, that we can’t relegate ourselves to the far-off, dusty corners of the room and then expect to be a radiating presence when we step out into the world.
We have learned, in other words, that to self-nurture can possibly save the world.
But. But. What is most simple can be the most difficult thing to achieve.
How do we typically understand self-care?
We try to eat right, get enough exercise, breathe deeply, take time for ourselves, walk in bare feet on the grass, hug a tree, do creative things. We purge our spaces and try to simplify our lives. These are great things to do.
Still, we are consumed by the feeling that it is not enough, that nothing is happening, that we are not free of the darkest parts of us, ever-threatening to spill over and cause destruction from the inside out.
Maybe we need to simplify even further. Get down the very bottom, to the deepest, most basic nitty gritty of it all.
We want to learn how to love ourselves more? (Yes—self-care and self-nurturing necessarily lie on a glorious pillar of self-love).
How about starting with saying it?
I love you.
It’s not too difficult to tell ourselves that we should love ourselves, that self-love is our birthright. Right?
Yes, I love myself.
It’s not too hard to say it and even be a little bit convinced.
But now let’s try this: let’s go stand in front of a mirror.
Take a few moments, breathe deeply, and take a really good look. Contemplate what is right there. Notice the lines, the symmetries, the colours and folds of us, the changes. Make discoveries. It might be shocking, disappointing, refreshing, terrifying, exciting.
It probably won’t be boring, because we don’t often take the time to try and examine those aspects of us that manifest physically and ever-so-slowly on a daily basis. We have images of ourselves based on our thoughts and memories, on our best photographs scattered throughout the social media universe, and through what we’ve been told by others. So we come to feel we “are” a certain way that that this “way” is unchanging.
None of this is in the mirror staring back at us. The mirror can’t show us our memories, only what is there, reality as it is, if we’re being truly present to the moment. And we want to love all of it.
The first time I stared into my own eyes with the intention of telling myself “I love you,” I was startled by how reluctant I was, how I felt like I was taking up far too much space. I felt so incredibly naked, and a stream of thoughts and feelings coursed through me.
You’re not worth this exercise.
Go away and work on yourself some more first.
This is ridiculous.
(in a tiny voice) But I don’t love myself, so how can I say it?
I brushed aside my terrible fear of telling myself what I say so freely give to the people in my life who matter to me so much. I used my thinking mind to convince me that it was perfectly alright for me to do this exercise, that it’s meant for everyone. That I truly believe everyone is worthy love, and that this must include me.
Say it out loud, I told myself. It will be much more effective. I knew this because of how difficult the prospect was.
My face in the mirror looked at me expectantly, and very shyly.
“I love you.”
They were the loudest words I’d ever heard. Almost an intrusion. Love bit right into the gentle space of a world I’d concocted for myself that offered many paths of least resistance, where self-love was being shelved for another day.
Tears flooded my eyes instantly. I could feel the little girl inside of me filling up with hope and an openness I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I watched the tears roll down my cheeks, and a smile come to my lips; I noticed my mouth had a tendency to purse in a way that reminded me more and more of my mother’s mouth.
I come from my mother.
I come from a pure vessel of love.
I come from an enormous, aeons-long lineage of love. A human legacy of love.
It’s the simplest thing we can tell ourselves, and also the most shocking, and possibly the most activist-oriented and transformational thing we can do for ourselves, if we want to really begin
“I love you” is a great, powerful, tumultuous gateway to a universe full of infinite love, and what a service we’ll be doing the world if we can find our way there.
*Published in elephant journal, here.
“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Kids all over are going back to school this week.
For moms and dads, this might mean combined feelings of swelling pride, the excitement and anxiety over how it will all go (and maybe some panic over scheduling), and then some wistfulness for those years when your baby was still too young for school and you could witness the moment-to-moment joys of their development.
For those without kids, there can still be a twang that erupts come Labour Day. It’s partly nostalgia for those awkward and anticipation-filled first days back in the land of lockers and cafs:
What should I wear?
Will my crush be as cute in September as he was last June?
There’s also some dread mixed in, because blissful, vastly expansive summer days are giving way to too-early mornings and endless classes on arcane subjects.
Remember the hypotenuse theorem, anyone? (Okay, I do, but there’s lots of stuff lost in the folds of time.)
As someone who spent long, long years both enduring and revelling in those first days back (I went to school continuously from nursery school to Masters, and then went back to start a Phd after a break), the overriding feeling I get in early September is a renewal of desire to learn and a sense of wonder over what forms learning will take this time around.
It goes without saying that learning happens everywhere, all the time, in the most fascinating of guises.
Since every moment is an opportunity to learn—about ourselves, others, the world, and these are all one thing, really—I wanted to share “five and five”—five education-themed quotes and five movies to watch.
Let’s get learning, everyone!
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” – T. S. Eliot ~ T. S. Eliot
“Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?” – Walt Whitman
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination.
We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system.
Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself —educating your own judgement. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.’” – Doris Lessing
“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down.
She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
~ Pema Chodron
There are so many brilliant films from all over the world dealing directly or indirectly with learning and education. Films have actually been a huge part of my formal and informal education, no matter what the subject, so this list is just a tiny drop in the amazing bucket of cinematic delights, as they came to my heart!
1. Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir): A teacher (Robin Williams) teaches students about freedom of belief. Simply a must.
2. Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz): A quiet, uncannily compelling documentary centred around the beloved (and feared) spelling bee.
3. Project Happiness (John Sorensen): A very inspiring documentary traversing the globe with students, and winding up in India in search of the meaning of lasting happiness.
4. Into the Wild (Sean Penn): A chronicle of a young man eager to live life to the fullest and learn about life from the source: nature’s wild.
5. The Class (Lauren Cantet): A brilliant, quasi-documentary in which a teacher plays himself in his racially diverse Parisian classroom.
Bonus: H. H. The Dalai Lama on learning and never forgetting the importance of compassion.