Three Ways to Love Yourself This Valentine’s Day

valentines dayValentine’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For some, it brings about loneliness, sadness, or self-aggression. When this happens, a powerful antidote can be the cultivation of self-love and self-appreciation. Here are a few ways to intimately connect with yourself this Saturday.

  1. Take your inner creative out on a date

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers the concept of the weekly “artist date,” as a crucial part of the creative life. Simply put, we take our inner artist, or our inner child, out on a date by setting some time aside, listening to his/her longings, following them, and having fun! On my first artist’s date, I felt nostalgic for my past home of Valparaiso, Chile. There, on free afternoons, I would often put on headphones and meander through the hilly city, letting my senses guide me to ocean overlooks or hidden pockets of street art. On my date, I decided to bring the ritual to Boulder, and aimlessly wandered the city for hours. I ended up back in front of old houses I had lived in during college—places I hadn’t revisited in many years. I let myself dance with old memories, while connecting with my gratitude for my current stage of life. It was a perfectly intimate and special day I could have only shared with myself. Try, for an afternoon, to touch into that intimacy you have with yourself—with the parts of you that only you can understand. If you are feeling nostalgic, revisit the past through old music, photos, or places. If you are feeling adventurous, try something you never envisioned yourself doing, just for kicks (it could be bungee jumping, but it could also be hanging out in a different part of town, test-driving fancy cars, or trying a spa treatment you’ve never heard of). If your soul is feeling hungry, take in inspiring art, or indulge your senses through a trip through a spice shop or a delicious meal. However you are feeling, have a special experience that only you will understand.

  1. Create a vision board

A vision board is a place for you to gather and clarify what you want to invite into your life. A simple way to start is by hanging up a corkboard (poster board can also work), and perusing magazines, books, or visual websites like Pinterest, paying attention to what images, words, or phrases stand out to you. From there, you cut/print them out and collage them onto your board. It can be difficult for us to know what we want with the next chapter in our lives, and a vision board is a great way to gain understanding of what your soul is longing for—what is to calling you. Vision-boarding is powerful because it puts you in touch with what you really want—a feat that can be difficult when noise from friends, family, and the media seem to want to tell you what you need and crave.

  1. Practice Maitri

Maitri, literally translated as “loving kindness,” is a Buddhist term that often refers to the practice of being unconditionally loving and friendly toward yourself in whatever experience you may be going through. This means that if you are feeling lonely, allow yourself to be lonely, remaining compassionate towards yourself as you have your experience. It means noticing when you want to be angry with yourself for feeling how you are feeling, and choosing to love yourself instead, acknowledging that your feelings are sometimes out of your control. There are times when we receive the message that to achieve happiness, we must transcend negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or fear. Practicing maitri teaches us that these emotions are normal and sane parts of ourselves, and we are whole and loveable, no matter what we feel. Here is a five-minute exercise to help cultivate maitri: Find a comfortable seat, and begin by closing your eyes and noticing your breath. Notice it just as it is, without any need to change it. If you notice your mind drifting away, simply come back to your breath compassionately, without judging yourself. Rest your attention here for a moment. Now scan your body from head to toe, noticing where you may be holding tension or emotion. Take a moment to acknowledge this part of yourself, again, without any need to change it. Let it be just as it is. Imagine that it is a physical mass of energy, and you are able to wrap your arms or a blanket around it to comfort and love it. Ask it if it needs anything else, and imagine yourself giving that thing to it.

Valparaiso, Unbound

Below is a contribution I made to a collaborative writing project with Patrycja Humienik and Callie Sumlin about the gritty, inspiring city of Valparaiso, Chile. It is also an excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Valparaiso, Barefoot. I hope you enjoy this sensual wandering. [Excerpt from Valparaiso, Unbound, Twine Magazine. Find the original at http://www.twinemagazine.com/valparaiso-unbound ]

Valparaíso was unmade. She was that artsy girl in high school who never brushed her hair, who had holes in her clothes but whose affection even the straight girls lusted after because of the way she played guitar; the way she held the edge of her sleeves up to cover her dirty finger nails like she was clutching the skin on your back; the way she sketched the raw secrets of the universe on the edge of her homework assignments if only to be lost in the depths of her backpack. Her wires hung tangled in every which direction on the verge of a dreadlock.

Her streets and sidewalks looked like they DSC06078had been sewn together last week with scraps found in a bucket of rags: tiles dropping into cracked cement into a square of marble into a patch of grass. Unwaxed and unshaven, her cracks sprouted with bitter aloe plants and swirling red blossoms in the dirtiest places where no one walked but me (or so it felt). Every spare wall of her body was tattooed with murals of love or birds, broken mirrors or communist stencil art, swirls of spray paint that everyone but she was too old to understand. Sometimes the unwashed skin of her streetlamps and benches would find itself overgrown with bursts of tile mosaics, adorning her like rubies and sapphires by admirers to whom she had barely given more than a wink. Sometimes she would surprise us all by giving one of her tiny hilly streets classy cobblestones or a dozen papaya trees or guardrail for young lovers to sit out of the eyes of all but the ocean’s.

And the sun was obsessed with her, even in winter.

She wrapped her legs around the Pacific Ocean until it was at her beck and call. She giggled as it brought her colorful crates from all over the world like long-stemmed roses, splashing playfully in hopes of tickling her feet. From every part of her body, one could look the ocean in the eyes. At night one could see its neurons bringing Valparaíso’s lights through its body, letting its waves become electric like her. Her curves folded into messy hills; there was not a patch of Valparaíso’s flesh that was not seductively rounded and voluptuous. She was a woman forever unbound by corsets, Chinese shoes, hair ribbons, whitewashed walls, and fire escapes. She was the moon that would be howled at—that would take away all sense of space and time until life was nothing but an infinite fraction of a second. They said she was the Valley of Paradise, though I knew already she had been seduced from paradise long ago. And there I stood in front of her: terrified, hungry, already obsessed.

Keep reading…

How to Wander Aimlessly

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When we are in a new city, or mountain valley, or country, we find it easy to reside in the present moment. Every detail around us is new and exciting. Foreign street corners speak in dreamy song; morning dew along our backcountry trail radiates a celestial presence so new, we mistake ourselves for being under a different sky. We are mesmerized—engulfed in each moment. We find the subtle beauty in those around us. Whether street vendors or pigeons or crashing waves, we eavesdrop as though opening our ears to prayer. When we travel, we do this naturally. Because we have set the intention to discover newness, whatever it may be. We put our expectations aside, and instead approach our wanderings with curiosity. We are outside of ourselves, interested in what every turn has to offer.

The mindfulness practice of aimless wandering is a way to bring these dreamy, traveling inspirations into one’s everyday life. In many forms of meditation, we place our attention on our inward experience, such as our breath or the sensations arising in our body. When we aimlessly wander, we usually move through space (although the practice can also be done sitting), and let our senses be the focus of our thoughts. We take things in, just as they are.

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We connect with our inner child: naturally curious, inspired, unassuming, amused, and connected.

So why is aimless wandering a helpful practice, and how do you do it? Aimless wandering is helpful in that it grounds us in the present moment. It helps us appreciate the world around us, it slows our thoughts down, it gives us a break from anxiety, depression, worry, and stress, and by engaging our curiosity, we find ourselves naturally inspired. We may see a spike in our creativity, playfulness, and gratitude. And at the end of it all, we are guaranteed a different perspective.

There is practically no wrong way to aimlessly wander. Simply focus your attention on your senses, and explore! Take a walk. Pause to examine the things that catch your eye, your ears, or your sense of smell. Maybe you are pulled toward the swirly pattern of bark on the neighbor’s tree. Feels its texture! Let it remind you of something. Then let your thoughts go again, and keep wandering. Sit and watch the world when a bench or patch of grass calls your name. Step into a store you’ve never thought of exploring. Smell the smells. Pretend you just landed in this neighborhood from another planet, and you are seeing earth for the first time. What baffles you? What makes sense to you? What draws you in, and what repulses you? Be curious, and then let the thought go, and continue moving, without needing to draw any definitive conclusions.

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Wander for ten minutes on your lunch break. Wander after work, knowing you’ll end up home eventually. Wander with the dog, an equally inquisitive companion. Wander alongside your partner and family, detaching and reattaching like seaweed in the rocking tide of your curiosities. At the end, share with each other. Or journal and paint what you felt. Or just continue your practice, perhaps sitting on your porch, watching the leaves quiver in the wind.

If you are interested in some of my wanderings check out Valparaiso, Unbound, collaborative prose published in Twine Magazine.  This piece is a collection of writings by three women, including myself, and explores the wanderer’s paradise of Valparaiso, Chile.

Thanksgiving Gratitude Roll: The Minor Leagues.

It’s before 8 am. I am sitting in a freezing white room, accompanied by swiveling fish and a skinny, Patagonia-clad mom talking to the cashier. She’s wearing short socks like me; all four of our ankles are exposed to the cold air. She is overwhelmed by the new world of high school hockey she has entered. The cashier, hockey nut, bounces up and down, offering her help in any way he can: talking to her son about the adjustment, and practice, and learning the ropes of this very unique early-morning corner of the high school experience. “Hockey moms are unlike any other moms,” he says, scrolling through the roll of before-dawn excursions (due to the number of teams and leagues sharing one rink, all kids have to go through before-sunrise practices at some point), stinky and hard-to-wash jumbo-gear, and spontaneous dental emergencies his own mother had braved for so many years. His eyelids dance as he reminisces about his hockey youth. And I get a sense that she’s spent some time here. This is my first time, and yet I feel welcome.

Upon waking before the sun, I had noticed myself holding a grudge by this car shop’s oil change system. They told me to get here at 8 am sharp, and depending on where I fell in line, I could wait 45 minutes or a helluva lot longer; it all sort of depended on luck. I arrived, and was offered a carabineer in the color of my choice by the bright-eyed attendant. The light grey tiles, the black-smudged walls, the chill against my ankles from the cold morning seeping into this tiny waiting room all feel reminiscent of hockey, and I begin to enjoy the enthusiastic conversation about shoulder pads and vulgar locker room banter and chipped teeth and team camaraderie. And so I linger here, despite the inviting coffee shop next door.

I reminisced about my own short-lived hockey days. Of getting up so early in the morning it surpassed that zone of grogginess and went straight into confused state of night awakening. My mom drove me through the dark, abandoned streets to the rink, watched me slash around on the ice haphazardly with other skinny, braces-faced 14-year-old girls, and then schlepped me to school, all before the hour that feels so early to me in this moment. Sure, I only played about two months before losing interest. Mom probably anticipated as much, but was spirited about supporting me anyway. I probably haven’t thought much about it in over a decade. I never got to build that sportswoman companionship with my teammates or score any goals. And though I was never good, or didn’t stick with it long enough to get good, I was happy, and I am happy now thinking back on it.

And I am grateful. I am grateful for the coupon a friend gave me that landed me here, in a new and unexplored corner of my town. I am grateful for hockey—for the chance to pad myself thickly enough to physically express aggression as an angry teen. And for learning how to skate. And to skate backwards. And to stop on both sides: skills I have held to this day. I am grateful for that ability to glide along a frozen earth, unafraid of my own speed. And I am grateful for my hockey mom, and all other hockey moms, like this chilly-ankled Boulderite sitting by my side.

This year, I want to dig deeper into gratitude—into the details that can get forgotten. I want to extend my gratitude ponderings beyond the quick round at the table and into the week. Here’s the beginning.

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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