I walked by a mirror and caught the glance of my own eyes. The words that came from my lips without warning surprised me.
“I love you.”
It stopped me. I turned back to meet my gaze in the mirror. It was the first time in my life that this had ever happened spontaneously. Unlike many other times before when I had said them as part of some self-love exercise, this time I knew it was real. I felt it.
What had happened to make this possible? What had changed?
What had changed was a belief that I must change before I was worthy.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to experiencing a sense of purpose and joy is the belief that you must change before it’s possible. The belief that you can’t have peace until you’re better than you are.
Here’s the belief: I am not enough as I am—not good enough, kind enough, smart enough… not attractive, wise, cool, organized, creative, ambitious, disciplined, or whatever else is on the “mythical list of attributes that special people possess but I do not” enough.
Like any unquestioned belief, this one just sits there inside the brain, constantly comparing us to others. It has a voice of its own but it is so familiar that it sounds just like your own.
Maybe you’ve heard it say these things in its first-person mimicry:
- “I should be kinder to people.”
- “I should do more yoga” (or run, lift weights, meditate, floss, etc.).
- “I shouldn’t be so selfish, crabby, and opinionated.”
- “I shouldn’t feel afraid. I should be braver than I am, more fearless and strong.”
- “I should read more books (the right kind of books—the ones that smart people read).”
- “I should get my frightful mess of a life together and do something with myself.”
On and on it chants, peppering its mantras with shoulds and shouldn’ts to make sure that you always feel awkward, afraid, and incapable of measuring up to the Best Life Now standard that <insert your favorite role model on social media or TV> has mastered.
If you recognize that voice, you’re not alone. I spent the first forty plus years of my life running around at its mercy.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
One day several years ago, I read this thought by Anthony de Mello:
I was a neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them, and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped. Then, one day, he said to me, “Don’t change. I love you just as you are.” Those words were music to my ears: “Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change . . . I love you as you are.” I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed! Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.
In a funny sort of paradox, this instruction to stop trying to change changed everything for me. It stopped the part of me that wasn’t completely involved in the chatter of the critical mind and asked a question:
“What if I’m enough just as I am now?”
That question revealed a deep well of fear. I felt terrified of who I would be if I weren’t running to keep up, weren’t proving myself constantly—weren’t obsessively improving. Ugh. How could anyone love or respect that person, that sloppy, weird, obsessive, lazy creature?
The other thing this question did was help me stop trying to get other people to show up and love me in just that perfect way so I could relax. Maybe you know what I mean… the constant search for The Person who would love and understand me so thoroughly that I could convince myself that I was lovable.
“What if I’m enough just as I am now?” This question led me to ask, “And what if I could begin treating myself as if this were true? What if I could give myself the kindness, attention, respect, understanding, and love that I’ve been craving? What would happen then?”
Here’s what happens: transformation.
As I see transformation now, it’s not finding a perfect role model who represents “the best self” and adjusting everything about oneself to match their behaviors. For me, transformation is very simple. It is discovering and accepting who you really are—and then becoming more and more of that.
It’s a virtuous cycle:
- Self-discovery— “Oh, that’s who I really am…”, which leads to
- Self-acceptance— “And it turns out that I like this person I’m getting to know…”, which leads to
- Transformation— “And I want to become more of me rather than try to become someone else.”
When this process is embraced, the connection to one’s inner creative self—the original, innocent self—is restored to health. One slowly accepts that it’s possible to face the world and life with more grace and curiosity. One gains a sense of humor about the strange and gorgeous creature with so many quirks and bumps that showed up here.
And another surprise. The more you discover and embrace yourself as you are, the more those old attributes born of fear and unworthiness fall away. Self-centeredness gives way to kindness and generosity with others; judgment relaxes, leaving room for compassion; harshness softens and is replaced by curiosity and an artist’s eye toward life.
It feels a little odd to write something at this moment that isn’t about the global pandemic we’re all struggling with. I’m doing it anyway because maybe you need a reminder that you are enough right now.
The truth is, you are equal to this distressing time we’re going through together.
I can’t hand you a template for how to get through the next stretch. No one can. But I do know that you don’t need to be wiser, richer, or cleverer. You’re enough. Your inner self knows the way through and all you need to do is listen. Loving yourself becomes the medicine—the antidote—to fear. This makes it possible to love and serve those who need you most, too.
I’ll close with this from John Welwood:
“Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are And listen to the wind singing in your veins. Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones. Open your heart to who you are, right now, Not who you would like to be. Not the saint you’re striving to become. But the being right here before you, inside you, around you. All of you is holy. You’re already more and less Than whatever you can know. Breathe out, touch in, let go.”