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.

12 Quick Ways to Ground in the Senses

Grounding exercises can be helpful in many different instances, whether you are experiencing something as horrifying as a panic attack or simply feeling a little disconnected from the world around you. Finding ways to ground in the senses helps to bring you back in to the present moment, and can both calm the nervous system and help to detach from spinning thoughts.

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Here are some of my favorite ways to ground when one is away from home and only has a couple of minutes, or even a couple of seconds, such as in the middle of the workday (or even in the middle of a meeting!).

  1. Step into a bathroom and let your hands run under warm water in the sink. Wash them slowly while bringing awareness to the process.
  2. Take three intentional deep breaths where your mind follows each phase of your breath completely. Feel your body expending and contracting. Notice the temperature of the air passing through you.
  3. Alternating feet, tap your toes on the floor in a slow rhythm, back and forth. Let this balance your nervous system. Keep your mental focus on this rhythm.
  4. See if there is something around you that you can explore with your sense of smell—a piece of fruit, a pine cone, the lotion in your purse. If this proves helpful, you may want to consider carrying a small bottle of your favorite essential oil to smell when you feel ungrounded.
  5. Quickly scan your body to find a place that feels particularly tense. Place your hand on that part of you and feel the heat of your hand bringing warmth to that tension.
  6. Ask yourself if you feel particularly drawn to heat or cold. If heat sounds pleasant, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and bring awareness to each sip and the warmth of the mug on your hands. If coolness sounds soothing, do the same with a cold glass of water or other beverage. Notice your drink as it passes down your throat and into your belly.
  7. Look around the room you are in, noticing the four corners and where they meet the ceiling. Notice yourself in the context of the room as a whole.
  8. Pick a color, and now look around and try to find everything in the room or space around you that is that color. Let your eyes gaze softly in front of you as those colors now come forward in your consciousness.
  9. Let your mind rest in all the sounds you hear around you. Try to pick out any sounds in your field of vision and what direction they are coming from.
  10.  Let yourself stretch in a small way, even if it is stretching out your fingers. Notice each part of the muscles being stretched and how the movement effects them.
  11. Step outside for a short walk. Notice how the earth is pushing against the different parts of your feet at each point in your step.
  12. Pet a dog or cat. Feel the connection you have to the animal through simply making contact with them.

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.

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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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