I woke up this morning, checked my email and found one from my 19 year-old daughter, Ayu, with the subject line PLEASE READ. Of course it was the first thing I did.
About a month or so ago, she and I'd been on the phone when she'd started crying telling me about the inner work she'd begun, trying to understand herself better and address her "issues." In the journal entry/email she'd forwarded to me, I could see her honesty right there on the page. She was indeed delving into areas of discomfort like self esteem, body image and negative habits. But what she said that really got my attention was:
People my age are obsessing about their relationships with other people: friends, lovers, family, professors, coworkers, etc. But the relationship I am most interested in right now, is my relationship with myself. Sure, we go through rough patches. Sometimes I’m a little more judgmental than I should be, and sometimes I get mad at myself. But hey, that’s normal. What’s important is that I’m in a committed relationship with myself, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it work, because I’m worth it.
And I realized that she was absolutely right, our relationship with ourselves is the only one that really mattters.
Recently I was working with a woman who just retired. She'd been looking forward to this for quite a while but was being undermined daily by her high level of anxiety. In our talks, she realized that throughout her life, she'd allowed herself to be so "busy" she never had time to deal with herself. Suddenly, her all consuming job had dropped away and she was left face to face with herself.
Why is it that we spend so much time, like Ayu says, focused on our relationships with others or like the retired woman, on our jobs while avoiding our relationship with ourselves? Is it that we are afraid? What do we think we might find? If I look in the mirror of my soul, what will I see?
I first started doing this internal work in my early twenties, when I was trying to release myself from an eating disorder. It was through this inquiry that I began to see my eating was just a symptom of something deeper. As I delved into that, I learned that I ate to give myself love, to be nurtured and to quell my anxiety. But inner work, the real work of our lives- to understand and love ourselves- is on-going. I have heard it described like peeling away the layers of an onion, spiraling back around again and again.
We are all afraid of what we are going to see when we look into the mirror of our souls but the truth is, if we are wounded, what we see is a little girl (or boy) desperate to be loved. As we open our hearts with compassion and love to that "inner child" we allow ourselves to be healed. The old wounds fall away and our true beauty shines through. We release the pain and it sets us free.
It's easy to avoid ourselves and focus instead on a family member, job or numbing out with drugs, alcohol or too much TV. We're all inclined to run away from understanding who we truly are and what we are doing here. But if we can pause long enough to be with ourselves, we might discover that contrary to what we were taught or what was modeled for us, we are all profound, capable of loving and of being loved and can be our own best friends. This is truly the relationship that matters most and deserves our total commitment.