the dance of self-intimacy

Last week I invited you to be aware of where in your life you are inviting in accountability and be sure that it is serving you, not the other way around. I also like this turn of phrase that came to me in that post: If we are too focused on meeting metrics we may fail to meet the exquisite human in front of us. This is equally true in our relationship with ourself.

Maybe you agreed with me but then you weren't sure what to do with that. As many of my clients say, "I want to love myself, I want to accept myself  - seems like a good idea - but how?"

I get it - the way these ideals are proclaimed to us we can be forgiven for thinking they are just some act of will that we can exercise, or a behaviour we can emulate. In fact - that is what is often sold to us. But it is not going to happen like that - loving ourselves (or anyone for that matter) is something that develops over time when the conditions are right. So our task is creating the conditions for love to emerge. I hinted at it last week in both the accountability post and in the two poems I shared.  I will be more explicit here.

But before I go any further - let me say I am not a big fan of the way the terms self-love, self-care & self-esteem are used in the self-help world. The implication often is that these are things we are meant to do on our own. They aren't.  It's the DIY movement gone to the soul level. These are hungers that are meant to be filled in connection from the moment of our birth. Love, care and esteem are your birthright and it is wrong and sad if that is not your experience. Unfortunately, that is the case for too many.

Keep in mind that I give these practices to my clients in a context of a caring coaching relationship. I hope you have such a relationship in your life - a friend, a partner, a relation. If not, it's not your fault. It is not because you need to "love yourself before anyone else can love you". It is a sad result of living in a disconnected and isolating culture and something you may need to grieve. These practices will help you with that, too.

This dance of intimacy is a dance of both closing the gap (connecting with ourselves, knowing ourselves intimately) and disclosing the gap (grieving what we don't have, personally and culturally). Cultivating our inner life will transform us and in so doing will influence the culture as a whole. Remember Revolution from Within by Gloria Steinem?  Yeah, that.

Onto the steps in the dance. Each step naturally builds into the next, and they all support each other. Like the steps in any dance. These are the 4Rs of relationship - restful, reflective, receptive and responsive. 

First step - presence (be restful)

One of the first and often the most challenging practice I invite my clients to undertake is what I call "wild idling."  I ask them to take 5-10 minutes a day and do nothing but sit with themselves. No meditation, no drinking tea, no mindfulness. Just doing nothing. Sounds easy, right? Many of my clients think the same - until they try it. Five minutes is a long time when you are not used to spending any time with yourself. Be bored, that's ok. The mind will think thoughts, that's ok, it's what the mind does. Like a nose will smell, a mind will think. But if you practice often enough, your inner wild landscape will begin to reveal itself. Not wild in the sense of "girls gone wild" but wild in the sense of original, un-domesticated, authentic.  You can't love what you have no connection to. This is about making that connection. 

A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines. Kent Rydon

Second step - awareness (be reflective)

This is the land of questions. When you normally would have beaten yourself up, berated yourself or sought out disciplinary measures, instead, get curious. Why did I have that reaction?  Why did I eat that bag of chips?  Why am I seeking out a diet yet again? (I'm looking at you, Oprah!) What am I feeling? What is this really about for me?  Journaling can be a helpful tool in doing this.

Also bring the curiousity to your body. Where am I feeling that emotion? What is the sensation? Does it have a temperature, a colour?

Third step - acceptance (be receptive)

Make room for the feelings and emotions that will arise when we stop distracting ourselves. There will likely be some grief and tears here. This is good. Tears are a softening agent - they will dissolve old judgements and shame that have been blocking our connection to ourself. 

Fourth step - attunement (be responsive) 

One of the video clips I have probably used more than any other over the years in both teaching high school and offering workshops for adults comes from the work of psychologist Edward Tronik. It is called the Still Face Experiment and it shows what happens to a baby when their mother, or any adult they are attached to, stops attuning to them. The baby is showing us what every human feels inside when we lack attunement. If you've ever been given the "silent treatment" you can relate. Feel free to have an aha! moment here when you realize you've been giving yourself the silent treatment.  

Attunement is attention + intuition. You can see that the mother is responding to the babe intuitively and physically. Whereas in step two we have awareness of the body, in this step we reconnect to being aware with our body. Our body is where our intuition lives (gut feelings, for example). This is where we intuitively create, make decisions, move and care for ourselves. This is where we respond to ourselves the way a loving parent would to their child. Or the way a loving friend would respond. 

This is the dance of a lifetime. Let's dance. xox