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.

A Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise to Cultivate Gratitude

IMG_3038Consider trying this practice by reading it aloud as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Take a moment to notice your feet on the ground, your back against your chair. You have arrived at this table. It may have been a journey across the country, on a mere few steps into your dining hall. Either way, thank yourself for being here, for the efforts it may have taken to work through a family conflict or logistical hiccups to be able to come together.

Feel the clean air moving through your lungs. Find gratitude for the simple fact that the air has always been there to feed you, and for your lungs in their persistent dedication to sustain you, even when the rest of your body feels exhausted.

Let your awareness scroll down your body, from head to toe, noticing any places that may be holding tension or excitement, frustration or peacefulness. Just notice how you are feeling, without any need to change it. Your body is so full of wisdom, and it will alert you to what feels right or wrong, safe or dangerous. Discomfort can even clue you in as to when you may need to take action or make a change. Thank your body for its honesty and guidance, even in this instant, as it allows you to understand this exact moment a little more intimately.

Gaze around the table or onto your plate at all of the beautifully prepared food in front of you. Let your eyes rest on one favorite item—be it the stuffing or the potatoes or the casserole—and take a moment to ponder the journey it took to get to your plate. Imagine the labor that went into preparing it today. And before that, on the trek it may have made across the state or across the globe to arrive on your plate. Think about all those who contributed to bringing it from the soil to you: the weathered hands of farmers and packers, truckers and grocers. Think about the food and air and love that fueled them in their work.

Acknowledge that whether a turkey or a green bean, it was once alive. Take a moment to appreciate its spirit and thank it for sustaining you, without needing to feel guilty for this gritty part of the cycle of life.

Let your mind wander back to its origins: the sun and rain and nutrients of the earth that all played a part in it being here today. The entire universe exists in this bite of food; even its most basic atoms were once fused in the center of a star. Let yourself be baffled by that, and find gratitude for your world, a world that is still so full of mystery.

Lastly, look around the table at those around you, acknowledging the journeys each of them took to be here with you. Take a moment to touch into the infinite ways in which each one has added to your life: what you have learned from them, moments when they have inspired you, how they have colored your world in little or large ways—ways that no one else could. Reach your hands out to theirs, and give the ones closest to you a little squeeze, reminding yourself of the sacredness of connecting with another living being.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Three ways to use the holidays to heal and grow

IMG_0008As we descend into the darkest month of the year, we may notice ourselves bracing with closed fists and gritted teeth. For some, the cold and darkness keep us tucked away from the present moment. For others, the holidays bring a blizzard of emotional turmoil that is hard to understand. We are supposed to be joyous and celebratory; it can feel confusing and isolating to feel differently. It can feel embarrassing, even shameful, to dislike the holidays, especially when we don’t have a clear understanding of why they cause us distress. We may feel angry with ourselves that we are unable to enjoy them. We wonder what is wrong with us.

Truth be told, the holidays are rough for a lot of people. We as a culture don’t talk enough about this. It’s hard and sometimes shameful to admit.  Family is complicated and personal; it can be painful to have the spotlight shown on family dynamics. Old family dysfunctions that we can generally avoid suddenly take center stage as we reunite with one another. The holidays can also remind us our losses, whether an empty chair at dinner or a missing part of ourselves.

While the inclination may be to ignore difficult feelings, drowning them in eggnog or whatever our seasonal coping mechanism may be (shopping, eating, peppermint schnapps), we can instead use this season to grow, to incubate, and to heal. Here are some of the nurturing ways in which we can approach difficult holidays:

  1. Using the holidays to grieve.

Walking through the mall around the holidays may feel unbearable. That six-year-old girl sitting on Santa’s lap reminds us of the child we might have had if we hadn’t had an abortion six years ago. We wonder what sort of toys we would be buying her, what new rituals we would make as a family, had we chosen a different life path. We think about playing draidel together, or making Christmas tree ornaments out of Mason jar lids and glitter, just as our moms taught us to do so many years ago. These thoughts bombard our consciousness uninvited, and haunt us even when we plea for them to leave us alone.

Or maybe that six-year-old girl, smiling and laughing, her parents rejoicing in the magic she sees all around her, gnaws at a much older wound from our own childhoods. The sexual abuse we endured at that age enters our minds, and we realize that we were robbed of not only magic but also of safety. The thought of sitting on a stranger’s lap terrifies us. And even if it didn’t, there was nothing to ask of Santa because even at age six, nothing mattered. Even then we may have lost hope. And suddenly we resent this child. We wish we had had memories like hers—memories of innocence in a time when innocence is so quintessential. And we wish there was a family to go home to visit now, though we haven’t spoken to our abusive parent in years. Instead we are alone still, stung by the frostbite of these thoughts which never cease to appear each year.

The holidays highlight innumerable losses: divorces, lost pregnancies, lost childhoods due to abuse or neglect. Deaths in the family, estrangement from family, lack of family, family who seem stable on the outside but ignore who we are in those subtle ways that hurt so unbearably. We cannot change the ways in which the holidays bring these wounds up. However, we can use these experiences to allow ourselves to grieve—to allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling without trying to change it: sadness, anger, resentment, fear, loss. We can choose to give these wounds a voice by letting them be, just as they are. This is a complicated journey, and one that can require professional guidance as to prevent overwhelm or retraumitization, but is worth pursuing as part of the healing process.

2.  Allowing ourselves to hibernate.

Sometimes with the lack of light and warmth, it feels only natural to go inward during the winter—inward into our homes and inward into our own consciousness. All beings need to rest and recuperate; winter can offer some of that. Often shut away from spending time outdoors, we can turn to introspection and contemplation, to reflect on the year and set our goals and intentions for the future. We can enjoy our own company and the space we call home.

While some may not want to hide away for long periods of time, or at all if they struggle with depression or other emotional difficulties, for others it can be helpful to enjoy some of the inevitable alone time during the winter. We can get to know new parts of ourselves—spend time listening to different parts of our brains and hearts. Re-examine old thoughts and beliefs. Find refuge in solitude.

3. Keeping our hearts open to joy.

Even if we feel like scrooges during the holidays, we can ourselves to take in the positive moments; they may sustain us through the rest of the winter. While this may seem obvious, if we are in pain during the holidays, enjoying any part of them may feel invalidating to our experience; we may feel like we are ignoring our feelings or “selling out.” It is important to realize that nothing is black and white; if the holidays bring us mixed and complicated feelings, which they so often do, we can invite in the entire spectrum of our experience. We can make a seat at our dinner table for both pain and joy, understanding that not only is there room for both, but also that both need to be invited in, fed, and listened to.

Letting loose with our coworkers at the holiday party can be a much needed reset from the deadening routines we create together and can bring levity back into our working relationships (especially if done in ugly sweaters). The way the city lights up, trees and lampposts and houses glowing and twinkling against the snow, always reminds me of the resiliency and optimism of humans when they loose the light of the sun. Allowing ourselves to put on ice skates, or to eat special once-a-year things, or to decorate our homes with treasures from our grandparents, can help to balance out the difficult feelings. It’s ok to have sadness around the holidays and to also enjoy parts of them. Giving ourselves permission to indulge in these joys can be hugely nourishing.

If we are ready, welcoming in all of the emotions that arise during the holidays—grief, solitude, joy, and others—can help us to make peace with the inevitable tornados of the human experience. It is when we hide from them, when we shut them away, that we find ourselves suffering more.

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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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