Sweet Introspection (?)

Can I see myself softly? A troubling question has surfaced: Is my entire experiment based on a Catch 22? The process of introspection seems to require a gentleness, otherwise it’s just more criticism.

Some who know me and have been reading this blog have suggested I may be too hard on myself…

My message to you is to throw away all this harsh self-criticism as soon as you can! (Maybe winter is a hard time to do that.) ….. Do you think it is possible that at this watershed in your life (end of relationship, midlife, etc.) you are putting on a severe and highly critical pair of glasses through which to look back over your life? —Anonymous

Others (as previous blog posts have suggested) find I do not see my own self-worth.

Others yet have pointed out that my inner Judge is a tad too judgy.

My friend Caitlin, during a transatlantic phone conversation the other day, brought up my thwarted love episode and his comments to me, which had set me spinning in a vortex of confusion.

© kristine weilert via unsplash

She pointed out that one takeaway from the #MeToo movement has been women learning to step away from seeing things/ourselves through the lens of patriarchy-masculinity-men. Clearly it is the most common way of seeing.

How much of our own self-judgement is biased, and infused with the man’s take on things? It feels important to start to learn to shift our perceptions to something that’s more our own, a view that’s infused with the wisdom, generosity, empathy and softness that femininity and matriarchy have to offer.

Can we learn to refocus the lens and perceive the world in a new light, as unadulterated as possible by the angle/take/bias/needs of the dominant male? Caitlin made a great point and it’s helpful, if daunting, to start considering these ideas.

© raul najera via unsplash

When I started this challenge on Valentine’s Day, I was making a commitment to a new level of introspection. Introspection with the goal of growing, and leaving behind toxic patterns. And all of this so that I could finally figure out how to return the love I give, and the love I crave, to my self.

It occurs to me now that to succeed at this challenge, to succeed at constructive introspection, I must be able to see myself clearly, in a natural light, no harshness or criticism. There is a certain requisite gentleness.

But if I already knew how to be loving and gentle with myself and see myself softly, then I’d already be doing it and this blog would have no need to exist.

© guido fua via unsplash

This whole project may actually be based on a sort of Catch 22.

Not giving enough love to myself — So I’d better look inside and see what’s going on — But if I want this thing to be fruitful, I’d better look inside with kindness, not judgement — But wait, I forget how to do that — Where can I learn that? — I must look inside, you say? — Well can you pass me a different flashlight? This light is too harsh … and on and on …

Or perhaps it’s not as bad as I think. Perhaps there is a leap of faith that must occur to get the ball rolling. Perhaps I must make an initial deal with myself:

If I free up a bit of gentleness, and lay off on seeing things/myself in that customary harsh light, I may quickly reap the benefits of a clearer, truer perception and weighing of me.

If that mind tweak is successful, and the images that begin to appear in the developer are indeed truer, clearer, brighter, lighter, then I suppose the next question is, what do I do with this new vision? How will I take it and run with it?

© isabel harris cooney 2008

16 Days In: What Do I Have to Show for It?

At the start of this experiment I was sort of hoping to find the perfect “self-love recipe” to apply to myself and swiftly achieve that blissful state of fully accepting my Self, and maybe even graduate to loving me.

Methinks there is a grave need for a check-in.

I’ll just say right off the bat that I’ve practicing NOT beating myself up for only having published 4 posts in 16 days. And for letting 9 days go by without writing.

Those first few days I was so high on the feeling of writing and publishing—not to mention the thrill of praise. And then life happened.

But part of my new mojo (or at least the one I’m aiming for) is accepting that things do not go as planned. And that doing less than your ideal is still OK.

So even though my stats (not that I care…not that I’m looking…or counting…) have been gradually getting less and less exciting, I’m still not succumbing to self-flagellation. Progress?

firstperson.blog stats, views, visitors,
Oh, those first days were glorious!

But really, what do I care about stats? What is that about? I am not doing this experiment for praise, or recognition, or to please people (ugh). The choice of a blog format was mostly about putting a fire under my arse and keeping the pressure on to write frequently and regularly. But it is clearly easy to get a little too addicted to the “likes,” “follows,” “visits” and “views” not to mention the comments.

I am recalling a sentence from an email I received from a cousin I admire and look up to, after sharing a story with her… “I also think what is so appealing about your piece is your ability to be honest. Writers who write from aloft might as well be blogging (although some blogs are quite moving)” I remember that when I read it I felt momentarily ashamed at my blogging pursuits (so many short-lived blogs over the years, so little cohesiveness).

blogging, blogger, self-love, self-acceptance, self-respect, self-loathing, valentine
thanks to Léonore Cooney Gogibu
(you wouldn’t know it but she tried to coiffe this uncoiffable head just before taking the photo) ;—)

But I trust I will figure out the right balance between writing for me and writing for others. This has *always* been a question in my mind, ever since my first diaries. I noticed early on that I was writing not just for me but in the case that someone else might read them. Note to self. This may merit its own post!

So… in these 9 quiet days, I’ve continued to ponder the big questions, occasionally feeling sparks of inspiration light up my mind, and sometimes I even remember to write things down so I can build on them later.

OK, so the check-in.

Here’s what I’ve remarked upon in the subtle plate tectonics of isabel cooney since this blog was embarrassingly born on Valentine’s day:

  • I’m less and less embarrassed by the whole self-love idea. I think that just the fact of realizing, and sharing, the embarrassment around it all has begun to unblock something. You gotta love the human mind.
  • Having written about the thwarted love affair this summer seems to have dredged up signs of deep sadness around all of the hopes I’d attached to that person, that chemistry, that relationship, that couple-to-be-that-wasn’t. I don’t know many other ways than writing to purge the salty geyser I sense is there, so I guess I know what must be done. If I were to write one sentence here now, what would it be? ……….

    For 25 years I dreamt about you…For what?
  • This may seem obvious to you, but I think at the start of this experiment I was sort of hoping to find the perfect “self-love recipe” to apply to myself and swiftly achieve that blissful state of fully accepting my Self, and maybe even graduate to loving me. But I’ve already realized that no, each one of us has different needs in this mysterious realm. So the “recipe” is necessarily different for each one of us. Holy crap—that’s 7+ billion different recipes!
  • Don’t know quite why but for 2 days straight I have woken up with a smile already on my face. Before I have time to think, or remember who I am. I’m not doing it on purpose but God! it is addictive and I’m hoping this mysterious trend continues!
  • I did something that felt amazing this past week. I was going to say it was “something crazy” but the opposite is true. What’s crazy is how long it took for me to get there. Since I started working for Allies in Recovery 5 years ago, my status has been that of an independent contractor. Thus, taking vacation means no pay. Thus, I just didn’t take any. I always had strong arguments to lean on when one of my daughters gently complained about this (because I kept traveling of course, I just brought my computer/job everywhere we went). Léonore had yet another 2-week school holiday (don’t get me started) and I had proposed that she, Stella and I get away for 4 or 5 days. Until the day before we left, the plan was, she’d provide 2.5 hours of babysitting each day for me to work. But when Léonore asked me if I had to work, everything in me was shouting, “NO!” … so, I did the unthinkable: I took 3 days off. And now I can say with certainty that there is truly something to be said for vacation.

    As my friend Damien commented to me today: “I am very happy for the 3 of you, yes it’s imperative to be able to clear one’s head, even for just a few days, from time to time. For me, it’s actually vital. It allows me to relax, to let go, to step back, to bond with family … all the essential stuff! And when you come back you’re full of energy, ideas, plans. And even for us independent workers, for whom vacation is more expensive, it’s still clearly worth it.”

    I think I’ve found one of my ingredients!! Actual vacations? Free time that’s for something other than working? Yes, please.
  • Speaking of vacations, the main focus of our 5 delightful days in Rennes was “food tourism.” Lord knows I love to eat, and sniff out the best food places. But listening to —and respecting—my own body’s needs, refusals, desires has become a complicated scene.

    Though I don’t yet really understand yet how to go about this, I am fully aware now that something profound needs to shift in my relationship to eating (how/when/what/why…). Figuring this out, or moving closer to doing so, will also be a giant ingredient in my own recipe for Self Love. To be continued… with love!

I Don’t Want to Hear That (but I Need To)

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible. And then they didn’t.

Love me love me
Say that you love me
Leave me leave me
Just say that you need me

the Cardigans, Lovefool

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible.

And then they didn’t.

Then a few months later I got an email containing these words:

“I would have loved you, but you cling too tightly to your past and don’t see your own true self worth.”

There are three statements in there. In fact the entire email could provide therapy (or introspection) material for years. Ouch.

But today I’m going to try to look closer at his last statement: the suggestion that I don’t see my own true self worth.

Merriam Webster online

A trusted friend, with whom I then shared the email, ended her response to me with these words:

“One thing that he said that I wish were not true is that you don’t see your own true self worth. Of course you deserve to feel loved and honored and special by a partner for a lifetime.  I hope you can embody the energy in your statement and project the fact that you are amazing to the Universe so that the person who is waiting can find his way to you…”

She was sending me nothing but love and support. Yet something in me gets extremely squirmy with this talk. I get uncomfortable when other people underline such things they observe in me, even though in both above cases they are doing so because they want me to be happier, and feel better, more whole.

My first reaction is that something in me (ego) feels deficient, or imperfect, or ashamed.

Ashamed at my own struggle? Ashamed at not having figured it all out by now? Ashamed as if I’m not smart enough or sharp enough or grown-up enough to have achieved perfect balance? (You can hear the defensiveness creeping in already.)

Concurrent with not feeling grown-up enough is feeling small. Smaller than the others?

My second reaction is a realization that I understand the words “don’t see your own true self worth” but that they are not connecting to any meaning that translates to sensations, or feelings, or deep understanding inside me.

This seems to be a spot to start digging, n’est-ce pas…

My third reaction, arising now as I write, is that, in the true spirit of putting others’ needs before my own, I have so often been guilty of putting others’ judgements before my own. He thinks I’m X? She said I’m Y? They must be right…

An external opinion or judgement tends to throw me off kilter in a heartbeat. So I know I must also beware of giving others the power to know me better than I know my own self.

Or are others’ judgements only so powerful when they hit the nail on the head?

Or is it because they are joining forces with my inner judge (the maleficent voice within me that may already be stirring up harsh and hurtful energies or being ungenerous with me)?

To return for a moment to reaction #2 —that non-understanding of what it all even means— where do I begin?

Merriam Webster says it’s one’s sense of one’s own value as a human being. Not the value itself, but the sense we have of that value.

This is something I can see in others. I see and receive the light they emanate from within.

I guess I haven’t had much success thus far with perceiving that light that comes from inside me. Or sometimes I see it and feel it but for some reason it doesn’t translate to that sense of my own worth.

But I think the real stumbling block is the idea of “value”. As soon as things get quantitative, I get triggered.

Karen Froehlich commented on this blog a few days back:

One thing that helped me was learning that you don’t need to *do* anything to be worthy of love. 

Is she saying that I would be just as loveable (or worthy of love, including my own) if I didn’t do any good deeds? If I weren’t a “good person”? If I didn’t try so hard to do the right thing? Or if there were no way to “measure up” to myself or to anybody?

The comparisons my sister and I picked up and internalized over the years have not been beneficial. No one was ever trying to say one of us had more worth than the other, but for whatever reason, we each became fixated on what the other did better, or had more of.

Pedestals were a key building block in my family. I don’t think anyone was doing it on purpose. Placing each other up there was our way of saying, “I think you’re really cool, I admire you. Let me worship you for a sec.” And don’t get me wrong, it feels glorious, for a minute. Except it’s lonely up there. And there’s always a pedestal nearby (with a family member perched on it) that’s taller. Also, pedestals can fall, and that can be painful.

Pedestals are glorious, but it’s lonely up there.

image ©whosdenilo via unsplash

As soon as I start thinking about “value” I thought about praise, and merit, and about pedestal culture. I think I’ve got some more unravelling to do around these ideas.

This post is reading as scattered as I’m feeling. Not much in terms of dénouement so far. But there’s no point in hiding it. I am struggling. That’s the point of this project. I’m trying to figure it out and make progress, and that ain’t likely gonna happen in the time it takes to birth 4 blog posts. Just like recovery is a process (I’ve learned this through my job at the amazing, inspiring Allies in Recovery), so is learning to love oneself. I figure.

Several wise friends have pointed out over the years, including very recently, that I am Love. So each time I find myself chasing after Love, I should remember that I already am Love.

I really like how this sounds. But for the time being, it’s yet another idea that remains perfectly abstract to me. These are ideas that I’ve encountered late(r) in life and they clearly haven’t been assimilated. I will keep on the quest to get to the heart of it. And I know a few people who will help me.

photo by fellow heart-hunter lisa gwozdz Emoji

featured image: whosdenilo via unsplash

A Hard Look in the Mirror

Mirrors live in most of our homes with us. I’ve got several, myself. And despite having given it a fair amount of thought over the years, I haven’t yet managed to make friends with the face that looks back at me every single day.

This morning as I lay in bed thinking about my challenge, I fell upon the expression: “Take a long, hard look in the mirror.”

When we say it to someone, I suppose we’re usually telling them to stop lying, denying or making excuses. We’re asking them to take responsibility for who/how/what they are. In other words, we’re saying, Get real, man!

self-portrait in mirror © isacooney 2020

But as I turned the words around in my head, I realized that the expression evokes something different for me.

Mirrors live in most of our homes with us. I’ve got several, myself. And despite having given the question a fair amount of thought over the years, I haven’t yet managed to make friends with the face that looks back at me every single day.

In fact, the word “hard” is truly appropriate to describe what often happens when I behold my reflection. There is hostility. It’s not pretty.

I guess this hearkens back to what I was writing yesterday: we tend to get really good at convincing ourselves that how we appear is simply not OK. From our features to our weight to the state of our skin to the color of our teeth, and don’t even get me started on the subject of hair…we inspect and critique our mortal bodies. We are too often horrified by what we see.

And even on days when we’re not horrified, we still hold back. We don’t grant our reflection a tender, loving smile as we would to another loved one we locked eyes with. Never mind tender and loving, we don’t usually even smile at all (excepting weird lip movements that might resemble a smile, when applying lipstick).

Well, I keep saying we but I haven’t done enough asking around to really know if what I’ve experienced is universal or not. I hope it’s not. But I fear it is.

I suppose there’s a related—but not much healthier—phenomenon that exists out that’s a sort of narcissistic fascination with one’s own image or reflection. Less critical, less hard, but still painfully separated from the soul that’s inhabiting the body. Am I making sense?

Something my sister Emily pointed out to me one day is that what we’re seeing in the mirror is not “us”. It’s simply one reflection, in one moment of time, from one angle, and just one facet of our multi-faceted being.

This was helpful, and as I raise my third child, I try to avoid saying stuff like “Who’s that in the mirror? It’s you! It’s Stella!” Instead, I point out that we’re looking at her reflection, or better yet, a reflection of her.

And on that note (babies) it might behoove us all to make note that babies (before they learn all the nonsense) are freakin SO HAPPY to see their own reflection. When they’re too young to “know” that it’s “them”, and even once they clearly have put 1 and 1 together, they’re so INTO making faces at, and admiring their reflection. Stella was really into kissing herself for a while. We are clearly smarter before we learn stuff.

She is my hero

Another thing I learned from Emily is that we can practice circumventing the usual mirror scowl/hardness by settling in for several minutes and simply locking eyes with our reflection. I recall her referring to the possibility that this practice could lead one down the proverbial “rabbit hole”, in a good way.

I have tried this a few times, once when I was stoned (back when I still smoked weed) and the other time when I was alone in a hotel bedroom during a yoga retreat I was working at. Both times I was able to (temporarily anyway) make friends with that moving image of myself.

There comes a softening, and a laughing quality, when you lock eyes with that familiar friend/enemy and you don’t let them scare you away. I guess I need to put aside a bit more time for mirror time.

If I can just practice locking eyes, and gently reminding myself: “Friend. Friend. You’re looking at a friend,” I bet I could make some progress. I’ll report back.

Seen at the Rêve de l’Aborigène Festival, summer of 2018

Hey, something that just occurred to me about the mirror scowl: is it our reflection scowling back at us, or are we scowling at our reflection?

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