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.

Why Writing Down Your Self-Care Plan is Essential to Your Well-Being

 

(Image Credit: http://recoveryaffirmations.tumblr.com/)

(Image Credit: http://recoveryaffirmations.tumblr.com/)

Making room for self care practices is not only helpful, it is an essential part of mental health and wellness. Far too often, when we are in the greatest moments of suffering, we find ourselves more prone to ignoring or harming ourselves rather than loving and nurturing ourselves. Setting the intention to practice self-love and self-care instead of self-neglect or self-harm is a powerful way to build a foundation from which we can heal and thrive.

So why write it down?

Sometimes we need that reassurance that it is OK to put ourselves first, that it is not selfish to take care of ourselves, and that we are worth the time, energy, and money we invest in ourselves. And sometimes that reassurance has to come from within. We have to remind ourselves, over and over, that we are valuable and important. When we put something on paper, we hold ourselves accountable. We make a deal with ourselves that is visible, tangible, and alive in the world outside of our own brains.

Having a tangible plan also makes it way easier to implement, especially in moments of crisis. When we are depressed, panicking, or triggered, the last thing our brains want to do is to try to figure out a way to feel better. If it feels like too daunting a task, that’s because often times, it is. Having a healthy list of options ready to go takes the pressure off of figuring it out in the moment.

Lastly, when we put the intention into writing it down, we can make sure to cover all aspects of self-care so that we achieve a more holistic wellbeing. Does your list include caring practices for your physical, social, emotional, intellectual, creative, sexual, and spiritual selves? If you are not sure what each of these parts of you need to thrive, making a list of possibilities is a way of listening to them.

So get started, and make it fun! Here are some ideas:

  1. Journal (or try an art journal!)
  2. Meditate/pray.
  3. Call _____________________ (list out all the people you can call and talk to, including crisis lines.)
  4. Run/hike/climb/go to the gym/etc.
  5. Drop in to a yoga class, or practice for a few minutes at home.
  6. Take a bath.
  7. Try a guided mindfulness exercise.
  8. Draw, paint, collage, or start another kind of art project.
  9. Go for a walk and take pictures of little inspiring things.
  10. Cuddle with a pet.
  11. Cook a healthy meal.
  12. Listen mindfully to music
  13. Keep a “smile file” online of cute videos and uplifting stories.
  14. Watch a funny movie.
  15. Try engaging your sense of smell with aromatherapy or simply lighting some incense.
  16. Give yourself permission to take a break from thinking about problems, and to let go of what is out of your control.
  17. Clean or organize some part of your home.
  18. Go window shopping.
  19. Curl up with a cup of tea and a good book.
  20. Build a fire.
  21. Pretend it is Thanksgiving and make a list of things you are grateful for.
  22. Ask your inner child what she/he wants to do for fun, and give it a try.
  23. Hang out with friends.
  24. Climb a tree.
  25. Try a small sensory grounding exercise.
  26. Try Aimless Wandering.
  27. Check out some Recovery Affirmations, and consider writing some of your own.
  28. Start a new craft project.
  29. Have compassion for whatever experience you are going through, letting go of judgment of your emotional process.
  30. Remind yourself that everything changes, and whatever is happening will pass.

Listen to the Younger Parts of Yourself.

Listen to yourself. Listen to all parts of yourself. Listen to your past self at every age. Read the notes. Scan the pictures. Don’t just see the wisdom in creative play and inspired bliss, but also in creative coping and inspired survival. Honor the wisdom in all the ways you made it to this point.

Honor your inner toddler and honor your inner teenager. Honor the choices you made—perhaps no one else ever has.  You need someone on your side. You did then, and you djournalso now. See how amazing you were at forging on against all odds. Find your resiliency and your growth: pink hair in the greyness of depression, lyrics strewn across your homework, a flower pressed in the pages of your story. Let your strength inspire you.

Honor your teenage inspirational forces, even if they seem silly now. Feel grateful that you were inspired. Be proud that you danced and sung and screamed along with the radio. It doesn’t matter who made you dance. You danced—perhaps against all odds. Be proud.

Growing up and into who you are, you loved. Everyone has loved someone. How much bravery that takes! Never be mad at yourself for loving; be mad at others for abusing it. But don’t be mad at yourself. Instead, love yourself. You know you can do it (after all, you’ve loved before). Trust yourself enough to love yourself.

Ask your younger self advice. Ask her opinion. She is dying to be heard. If you don’t agree with her, be curious as to why. Is there something she is afraid of? Inquire as to how she wants so desperately to protect you. Thank her. She loves you a lot.

Never forget how much your younger self loves you. She is your biggest fan. She will do anything to keep you from being hurt like she was hurt. She is your mama bear. And sometimes you may find her suggestions—escape, depression, drugs, obsession—no longer helpful. Don’t hate her for trying. As I said, she has gotten you to this point. Thank her, and tell her you are going to make new choices. You can say no to her ideas without saying no to her.  Keep her in the boat. She didn’t abandon you, so don’t abandon her.

Sometimes, it may be painful to acknowledge her—to let her in. That’s because you love her so much that you can’t stand to see her suffering. Her pain may be unbearable. It’s OK to wait until you are strong enough. But don’t wait forever. She is a part of you—the today you. She is a part of Now. And she has so much to give.

Resolutions

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January is a strange juxtaposition. The sun flickers like a gentle flame for what feels like a sliver of a moment before we are plunged into evening darkness, and yet we yearn to be reborn. We write resolutions from deep within our caves—about movement and connection and progression while our most primitive instincts beg us to hibernate and recuperate. Arriving in a new year, we itch to spread our new wings, knowing full well that we may be wrapped up in our cocoon for some time longer.

What does it mean to give birth to a new year in the deadest month of its life?

It is strange indeed to push newness against the winter’s deadness. We pledge to clean out our car from holiday shopping madness, only to find temperatures dropping below freezing and the task seeming nearly impossible. We decide to start running, only to find ourselves up against darkness, or ice, or a bout of never-ending flu. The New Year gives us so much ambition and so little sun and warmth and energy to carry it out.

So how can we aspire for newness and growth, given what we have? How can we plant seeds in frozen earth, and feed them with only flickers of daylight? Here are some ideas to cultivate both optimism and renewal in one of the most difficult months of the year:

–       Make a list of all the things you appreciate about winter and find a creative way to display them as a reminder. Write them on a reclaimed window. Hang ornaments with their words from a tree branch. Make prayer flags.

–       Shift your activity-oriented resolutions to those activities that are better in winter. Snowboarding is an obvious one. But I personally find hiking and running to be more pleasant (and less crowded) in the winter months, out of the heat.

–       Bring your inspiration inward to your home. Use the extra time you are spending there to redecorate a room or start a homey project.

–       Enjoy being cozy. Maybe this means lots of soothing baths and homemade mud masks. Maybe it means allowing yourself a decadent cappuccino each day. Or maybe it means scarves, or putting on PJs still warm from the dryer, or the moment you step inside from a cold walk home. Indulge those burrowing instincts while it feels good.

–       If you’re craving summer, find little ways to create your own summery moments. Have an evening of raw oysters and crisp white wine. Spend a half hour walking around your favorite plant store and bring home some fresh flowers or a tropical fern. Enjoy being barefoot in your yoga class. Paint your toenails for the occasion.

–       Try to remember the moments in summer when you were craving winter. See if you can bring back the feeling of jumping into a freezing river, just to cool off. Appreciate the mercifulness of sun in January.

–       Look for beauty in nakedness. Nakedness of the trees. The skeletons of gardens. Fresh snow yet to be scratched by footprints.

–       Watch how dogs react to freshly fallen snow. Try to figure out exactly what makes it so magical for them, knowing that it may always be a mystery.

–       See if you can hear the silence of winter. Search for the serenity in auditory spaciousness that is so often under-appreciated.

–       Enjoy your holiday presents, AND the space created once the tree (and guests) are gone.

–       Think of a creative way to display all of your holiday cards, inviting the warm wishes of your community and family to linger through the winter. Use them as a reminder to connect with your loved ones when you feel isolated.

–       Watch as the days get longer, little by little.

–       Even if you find yourself inspired to make a change that’s incompatible with winter (planting that veggie garden), write it down. Take steps now to make it possible later. Consider shifting from new year’s resolutions to “new season resolutions,” inviting newness with each solstice or equinox and remembering that growth and renewal is part of each day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who chose abortion out of love.

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Mother’s day can be tough for women who are coping with a past abortion. While it is important to let oneself feel whatever feelings are arising—whether loss or guilt or sadness or relief—it is my most heartfelt desire to acknowledge the hundreds of mothers (or mothers at heart) with whom I have worked directly (and the millions more whom I have yet to meet) who made their choice out of love.

 I want to wish a happy Mother’s Day to the 61% of women who have an abortion after they have already had children. How many of them made their decision so that they could give the children they already had the best quality of life possible.

 And I want to wish a happy Mother’s Day to the childless women, many of whom may have yearned relentlessly to step into the maternal role, whose inner mothers did not want to bring a child into the world whom they could not care for. I honor the hundreds of women who made their choice because they knew that truly being a mother does not end at giving birth, but is a lifelong journey that they knew they were unable to take. They too made their decision out of love. 

 Happy Mother’s Day to all women—to the gatekeepers of life who call on their inner wisdom to bring new life into this world when they know they will be able to give it everything it needs to thrive.

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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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