Feb 1, 2024
Her Perspective

Inside Job

Riddle me this: What do Miley Cyrus, Ram Dass and Jesus all have in common? Not a lot, you’re probably thinking. But last month, this unlikely trio ganged up on me to deliver an important message. Dr. Seuss chimed in as well, as did Jason Mraz. My yoga instructor, Gail, was the last to contribute.

Two Tuesdays ago, I was driving across the three-mile bridge after work. It had been a glum day for me. I had had a dream the night before about a friend whom I adore. Unfortunately, both in the dream and in real life, this friend doesn’t adore me anymore. She will not, or perhaps cannot, tell me why. I have spent years beating myself up over this. What about me is so unlovable that we cannot be friends anymore?

I was deep in negative self-talk when Miley Cyrus interrupted my brooding. She sang out cheerily from the car radio, boasting to an estranged lover: “I can love me better than you can.”

I had to smile. Doesn’t it always come down to this for me? Why do I find it so hard to love myself?

Is it the term itself that trips me up? I was born into the generation that is now not-so-fondly referred to as the “Me Generation” (Baby Boomers). My kids’ generation is labeled even more disparagingly. Millennials are dubbed “self-absorbed” in triplicate — the “Me, Me, Me Generation.”

Because of this, a ton of press has been given to the sense of entitlement this focus on ourselves has ostensibly created in society. When I get instructed to “love myself” I balk.

Mid-century American guru Ram Dass reframes the concept. He suggests asking “not, how can we love ourselves more, but how can we accept ourselves more?” This is an important distinction. Love has always been hard for me to define. But I understand acceptance. Perhaps it’s foundational to love. After all, I can’t truly love others if I do not accept them, and since another really smart teacher named Jesus instructed us to love others as we love ourselves, it seems implicit that self-love is a very good thing, not just for ourselves individually, but for all of us collectively in this busted up world of ours.

So how do I begin to do it?

Years ago, at a women’s retreat, I was instructed to write a love letter to myself as though from the pen of an all-loving higher power. I was having a hard time with this. The facilitator noticed my blank page and offered this suggestion: “Write what you know, and you know a lot more about unconditional love than you think. Tell me how you love your boys. Write down five attributes of that way of loving.”

Acceptance immediately came to mind. Followed by protection and encouragement. Gentleness and patience rounded out my top five.

“Now,” she asked, “what would it take for you to begin applying those qualities to yourself? What would it feel like to accept yourself just as you are, to look out for and encourage yourself? Be specific. Be gentle. Be patient. You’ve shown that you can love this way in your outward expressions of love for Myles and Taylor. Direct them inward as well.”

What a lovely revelation. Turns out I already know how to love unconditionally. These are skills I already have. My boys are proof. I’m good at loving! And to quote a favorite songwriter, Jason Mraz, “love,” after all “is still the answer.”

Maybe loving myself isn’t narcissistic or self-indulgent at all. I mean, this motley crew of messengers — Miley and Ram and Jesus and Jason — can’t all be wrong. Could it be that love is, and forevermore shall be, the answer, and that it’s fundamentally an inside job?

Does it all start with self-acceptance — with the belief that I am worthy and capable and lovable just as I am this very minute? And further, that I’m the only one who can be me, and my contribution to the world is singular.

After all, Dr. Seuss tells me, “No one can be youer than you.”

Two Tuesdays ago, still feeling a little sad about my lost friendship, I attended an evening yoga class. At the end, as we were all lying on the floor in Savasana, the final resting pose of the practice, the instructor quietly recited my very favorite prayer.

“Dear God,” she murmured, “please help me to accept the truth about myself…

No matter how beautiful.”