‘If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your own presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.’
Simple words from a now deceased poet and priest. Attend to yourself…..attend to yourself. If you repeat them and listen you will no doubt slow down enough to catch a glimpse of your own beauty or, if not, the beginnings of a steady self worth.
Perhaps there is no greater art, no task more worthy of a dedicated and gentle pursuit, than attending to oneself and seeking to come into one’s own presence. Nothing we ever do is more important than this and, for many of us, nothing is more difficult. Many, grown on a hand-me-down diet of deprivation stare blankly when confronted with the injunction ‘love thyself’.
‘What does it mean? What can they mean? I don’t even know what they are talking about.’ These are common responses in a culture where material wealth often comes at the expense of emotional nurturance. How different in more ‘primitive’ societies where people attend to themselves, including their inner lives, as a matter of course.
O’Donohue again: ‘Inner friendship embraces nature, divinity, underworld and human world as one. For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imaginative and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift’.
Inner friendship? How many in modern western culture have even heard of such a thing? To discover the cadences, rhythms and quirks of one’s own nature could no doubt be seen as self indulgent but so often such criticisms are merely a conditioned response and defence against spending time with one’s own scary but ultimately sublime interiority.
It is not that such critics might not buy a self-help book, but that such vessels are often co-opted by an ego intent on self-improvement and enforced change rather than the art of inner friendship. It is so easy to jump on that particular bandwagon and fail to see that you may be going to war on yourself once more in the guise of personal progress. The books themselves often sprout from the same fixed mindset.
What we are talking of here is something subtly but entirely different in both emphasis and attitude. It is the ability to take for oneself, to draw into oneself what one needs in the moment. It is indeed self love, a love that comes naturally to those who have been well nurtured as children but has to be discovered by the majority and can feel as alien as living under water.
A mother who has not been well loved herself will not be able to reach back into her own babyhood and childhood to empathise with her child. She may well spend a lot of time with her child, but most often will not be present, her mind wandering as she tries to avoid being pulled backwards into the dark pain of her own early past.
She will want to avoid the squawking baby inside her and will be pained by the reminder prompted by her own child. What she is confronted with is the screaming baby within that was not attended to adequately in a cycle of deprivation most likely going back generations.
This later morphs into addiction, narcissism and selfishness as well as possible hospitalisation and collapse. By giving too much to her own child because she thinks this is the right thing and does not know what else to do, she will feel resentful and inadequate as the child exhibits all the feelings she has repressed.
‘God, all the things I do for you and you repay me like this.’ How many of us have heard poor, desperate and misguided parents deplete themselves in their well-meaning but misguided attempts to love? How many of us have been or are such parents?
So often we have been conditioned to believe that taking for ourselves is wrong when quite the reverse is true: if we cannot take for ourselves we have nothing to give to others. This is when things fall apart.
A friend reminded me recently to remember to dialogue with myself, to talk to the child within, to soothe and nurture. I believe focusing on how we talk with ourselves is a critical component of self love – an art to be cultivated like growing a seed. If this does not come naturally then we have to work at it.
But this work can be a joy and unfold a map to an interior landscape that may hold pain but also the green shoots of new beginnings and undiscovered gardens of unrivalled beauty. If we have become addicted to the external we will be haunted by what awaits our attention within.
The baby will always continue to squawk, ever more urgently until we admit it into our hearts.
‘Why do you think that what you do, what you have, what you get or don’t get are more important than just being here,’ writes AH Almaas, ‘We are the pleasure, we are the joy, we are the most profound significance and the highest value.’
In other words, we don’t have to go out there and improve ourselves, rather we have to learn to enjoy our own presence, our beingness, then self care can come naturally as loving ourselves flows out from our own centre.
Just as winter is finally turning to spring.