The last month has been one of those months, not just for me, but for quite a few people I know. In fact, I think it’d be fair to say it’s been one of those years for lots of people. It always is, in one way or another, isn’t it? And there are things we do to get through, some of which are healthy, others not so much (I’m looking at you, king-size bar of fruit and nut chocolate). And that’s all just life, really. It’s coping. It’s living. But sooner or later, things get on top of us all, no matter what the soft-focus, implausible lives documented on instagram or twitter or facebook tell you. Life tends to be a bit more Lewis Carroll and a bit less Beatrix Potter.
But at some point, we need to start taking care of us. We need to stop over-stretching to achieve some mythical ideal, to stop beating ourselves up for those things we can’t fit into our days or our lives, because eventually the bruises will start to show, and things will start to break. So we need to look after ourselves, as difficult and unimportant as that may seem. As against our conditioning as that may go. We need, in fact, to be gentle with ourselves.
It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it, this notion. Of being gentle with oneself. It sounds very sweet and beautiful, with its connotations of self care and massage oils and water lilies. Probably wind chimes and incense, as well. Maybe there’ll be meditative music, some chanting. There’ll definitely be feelings of peace and happiness involved. Possibly a little bit of smugness, but it’ll be good smugness. Yeah, I’m liking this. It’s a good thing to do. An enlightened thing to do. Quite grown up, really.
But if you’ve ever actually worked on being gentle with yourself, you may have found it wasn’t quite like that. It’s less wind chimes and incense, more brute force and determination. Less meditative trances, more sleepless nights. Being gentle with yourself, one of those things that’s seen as vaguely indulgent, the pastime of rich women with too much time on their hands, or broke hippies in bare feet, is a damn warrior’s path.
Let me explain.
To be gentle with yourself, you have to let go of all society’s insistence that it’s selfish to focus on you, to give time to you, to look after you.
To be gentle with yourself, you have to let go of all the musts, and shoulds, and have-tos.
To be gentle with yourself, you have to find what’s hurting, and figure out how to make it better. Not fix it, not bury it, but actually understand and embrace it.
To be gentle with yourself, you have to not only forgive others for any hurts they’ve caused you, you have to forgive yourself for the hurt you’ve caused others, without seeking their validation or approval.
To be gentle with yourself is to let go of your own judgement, your own anger, your own disapproval of yourself.
To be gentle with yourself is to love yourself.
It’s nothing to do with Dead Sea mud masks, or juice cleanses (because what are they, really, other than depriving yourself of what you want, of declaring yourself dirty, toxic, and in need of fixing?), or omm-ing in darkened rooms. Do those things, if they bring you joy. But only if you’re doing them out of love. Out of respect for yourself as a wonderful, flawed, incredible, complicated human being.
And because you are wonderfully flawed, you make mistakes.
Because you are incredibly complicated, you don’t always do the right thing, or say the right thing.
Because you are human, you want to always get things right.
Because you are human, you won’t.
And if that’s not enough to love yourself for, I don’t know what is.
So go on out there and be gentle to yourself today, you wonderful person. I’ll be trying to do the same thing.