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Sunday, 24 February 2013

On Loving Oneself via Anita Moorjani

Yesterday I went to London to hear Anita Moorjani talk about her Near Death Experience.  She told us of how she had died temporarily, and had chosen to come back to the world of the living, inspired with magnificent love and knowledge, to tell us things from the other realm that will make us like ourselves much more, and stop being so mean.  It was a wonderful day out; Anita Moorjani was likeable, gentle and kind.  All of us in the audience needed to hear things that took the pain out of our lives, me included.  I wanted Anita to say that artists in their fifties were allowed to have low moments. I wanted her to say that in the other realm, she had specifically been told that someone in the audience in Euston London, you will know who you are, artist from Bognor Regis, will never have to worry about a thing ever again.  A huge cheque awaits you at home and a cleaner is on her way to clean your house daily.  Oh, and your children will behave perfectly from now on and even if you eat fourteen meals a day of deep fried eggy toast and fudge for pudding, you will never get fat or spotty.  Of course that didn't happen, but one of the things that Anita did repeatedly tell us to do was to love ourselves.

I have heard this often.  It is generally agreed that we should love ourselves.  I, too, agree and I am sure everyone in the audience did too.  But I wondered - what does loving yourself look like.  My first thought about loving myself, from my audience seat, yesterday, was to take myself to a pastry shop to eat five cheese turnovers, one after the other.  I love you, I would say to myself, and because I love you, I will give you more cheese turnovers than is polite, because not only will that will show you how much I love you, but I know how much you have longed to do this.  But this is not what Anita means.  Loving yourself is about being kind to yourself. Eating five cheese puffs regularly is unkind and will eventually make me fat and pasty and then I will doubt the love that was shown to me, by me, because it is doing me harm and making me unhappy.  Real love, I expect, is not positively bad for you, like the cheese pie thing.  That could be called indulgence, but not love. 

Loving oneself means not criticising yourself, not giving yourself ridiculously high standards, about not being mean to yourself.  Ah.  The audience, and me, we all got that.  We heard Anita tell us this, we know it is true, but here we all were, suffering in our little worlds, suffering from rejections, disillusionments, sorrows and pains, thinking Oh!  But I must love myself more!  Oh, I know I must but it is hard!  And each of us sat there gazing at Anita Moorjani wondering how can we love ourselves, when we don't even like ourselves?  How can we love ourselves, when to do so means we must look at ourselves and see ourselves as we really are and accept it?  But Anita up there on the stage must practice this self love, and she looks completely normal, so how does she do it?  It would help to have a list to follow, and if we followed her list, perhaps we could be saved.

What does this loving oneself look like?  Who, I asked myself, in my circle of friends and colleagues, loves themselves?  I will see what they look like, how they live, and I will take some lessons from them.  If you love yourself, do you have no problems?  Or does it mean that you meet life's challenges with a kind face, a firm but fair handshake, and an admirably steely core?  If you love yourself, are you perfect?  Can you be horrid to anyone if you love yourself, can you snap at the person in the checkout at Tescos, can people who love themselves have road rage?  Good Lord.  I do not know anyone like this.  So perhaps I am looking in the wrong places.

Who then, amongst all the people I know, just appears to get on with life, has many friends, loves their neighbour and is nice to animals?  Who appears most grounded and able to cope?  And then, having come up with a couple of names, I wondered - perhaps I am only seeing a public image.  Maybe these people don't really love themselves either, maybe they just look like they do.  Perhaps in private they shout at themselves and tell themselves that they are rubbish.  That led me to think that if I don't know how to spot someone who does love themselves, I certainly know how to spot someone who doesn't.  Ah.  So we have some progress.

Someone who doesn't love themselves is unhappy.  They do silly self harmful things.  Not loving yourself looks like sadness, tiredness, making unhealthy choices.  It looks like a lot of people that I know.  It looks like seeking comfort in damaging things, it looks like not listening to your body when it tells you that it is struggling.  Ask someone who doesn't like or love themselves to write a list of their good points on a piece of paper, and they can't.  Ask them to write a list of their bad points and they need to ask for more paper.  Pay a compliment to someone who does not love themselves, and they cannot take it.  No no no, they say, and bat it away with a defensive sweep of their hand.  It looks like all these things and more.  It looks, in fact, like me.

And so what does loving yourself mean.  It means imagining that you are a small child asking for affection, and you, you, giving that small child that is you, affection and love.  Most of us find it easy to take a needy child in our arms.  Well, you are that needy child, and you can put your arms around it, yourself, and take it from there.  Loving yourself does not happen over night.  It takes time, it is an ongoing thing, it is a life long thing.  It is trial and error and involves forming a relationship with yourself involving honesty and strength.  Beginning to love yourself gives you eyes to see, and if those around you do not support you, then they will have to go.  There is no guilt in the love you are forming for yourself, there is no selfishness.  You begin to benefit from giving yourself the time and attention that you need to be healthy, and it becomes easier to notice and love other people.  How can I, if I don't love or even like myself, know how to love you?  It just won't work.  But if I take the time and make the commitment to love and respect myself, I will make a much better job of it with you.

The most difficult thing about beginning to loving myself, is shining a spotlight on myself as I really am. Blimey, I said when I first shone the spotlight on myself, not very assertive, are you?  And what is all this saying yes when you mean no, and vice versa, and pretending that you don't?  But after a little prod and poke with the spotlight, I found kindness, and a sense of the ridiculous, and thought, well.  Perhaps I am not so bad after all.  And a small feeling of excitement about seeing myself for who I really am, kindled in my heart.  Thank you Anita Moorjani, I think you started all this.  (A voice from afar, from a distant place in time and space, says That's alright, my pleasure.  Love you!)