What’s the Difference?

I know. It’s been a while. Right?  I’ve been busy.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been sliding down a slippery slope of deteriorating self-respect and climbing the mountain of self-destructive behaviors. I’ve been having fun, and, at the same time, feeling like shit in every imaginable way.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been overindulging and, in the process, undermining everything I’ve worked for and everything I value and believe in, leaving me to question, all over again, my self-worth.

An Effort to Evolve

Why do I feel so out of sorts, why do I feel so negative, why am I having feelings of self-loathing? I catch myself, several times a day, at every turn, thinking, or saying out loud, “I really don’t care.” What’s the difference, anyway?

An Effort to Evolve

  Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just heading down the wrong  path.

An Effort to Evolve

I went hiking a week or so ago with a friend I met in Alaska. She recently relocated to Northern California, a couple of hours away from where I live, and we’ve been trying to stay connected. She has similar interests in hiking and outdoor pursuits as I do. Other than my kids, there are only a handful of folks I know who are willing to hike as hard, as long, or as far as I. She is one in that very small handful. She is also twenty years younger than I. As I often say, “there just aren’t any young people my age.”

An Effort to Evolve

We hiked about twelve miles on a very narrow, single track trail, in the hills east of the town of Calistoga, overlooking the Napa Valley. We encountered four snakes in our travels. I was in the lead and, being a Northern California girl, I am well-schooled in keeping an eye on the trail immediately in front of me, watching the ground exactly where my foot is going to land.

An Effort to Evolve

There are no snakes in Alaska, and my hiking partner’s only experience with snakes, while hiking, was in Peru, where the snakes tend to be overhead, dangling from tree limbs. Snakes on the path that resemble sticks across the trail were a whole new experience for her. We were both glad I lead. Three of the four snakes I spotted, politely exited the trail as we approached. The first we encountered, though, stubbornly stretched across the trail, with a steep incline to our right, masked in poison oak, and a steep drop to our left, also festooned with poison oak. I tossed a couple of pebbles at the snake, but it didn’t take the hint. We considered climbing up and around, or scrambling down and around, enduring the wrath of the rash over the possibility of a snakebite.  Earlier in the week, on a solo hike, I encountered a snake that behaved in much the same manner. I ended up backing up a distance, sprinting and doing an Olympic long jump over the snake. Today’s trail really didn’t allow for such athletic feats. Ultimately, I found a stick nearby and gently lifted the snake off the trail, tossing the stick and the snake down into the ravine a few yards so we could safely pass.

An Effort to Evolve

Other than snakes, the only other trouble we encountered was losing the trail back to the car. After six hours and nearly ten miles of rugged trail, and having not eaten since breakfast, as late afternoon began to turn to evening, we found ourselves on a trail that just seemed to be heading in the wrong general direction. We retraced our steps a couple of times, tried to pick up an alternate trail, and reasoned that, perhaps, we were on the right path afterall, unfamiliar though it seemed. We’d encountered very few hikers during the course of our day, and none were about presently. As we retraced our steps a few times over, we remained calm, applied some reason, a bit of logic, and, surveyed the hills that rose around us several different times. There was a scar on a hill that appeared to either be the result of water runoff and erosion, or an unusually steep trail. We’d discounted the scarred patch of earth earlier, as it, too, seemed to head in a direction we weren’t entirely comfortable with, but, we decided to reconsider, as other options didn’t manifest. Upon reaching the scarred patch of earth, we could see it was littered with footprints, far more than the other trails we’d been picking up in our attempt to get back to the car. We followed the steep path up the hill, leaving, now, our own set of footprints, and, after cresting the hill found ourselves on the familiar, wide path leading directly back to the parking lot.

An Effort to Evolve

It was the wisdom we’d acquired through experience, and our ability to remain calm, apply reason, and logic, and our willingness to try several options, admit our error, and try more options, that ultimately led to our success. We tried different things and found the right path.

An Effort to Evolve

So, I recognize now, that I’m headed down the wrong path, metaphorically. The path is easy, like a straight, flat, paved sidewalk, but I know, it will lead to misery. I could stumble along, endlessly, effortlessly, still moving along, but really, just going through the motions. Or, I could stop, remain calm, apply some reason and logic, and change my course to reach greater heights, majestic views, journeying impressive distances and experiencing challenges, triumphs and adventures that few realize. This is the path I’ve always desired, this is the path I’ve travelled before. Before taking a wrong turn. I’m choosing the narrow, steep, serpent strewn trail less traveled, now, over the straight, paved, sidewalk. The adventure begins. The adventure continues. Today. If you want things to be different, then things have to be different.

That’s the difference.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Anyone out there old enough to remember the movie Urban Cowboy? Maybe some of you younger folks are into old, cheesy movies. But I’m guessing if you know the movie, or the song, it is now tragically stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I apologize.

An Effort to Evolve

I remember, once, seeing a cartoon of a cowboy looking under a horse’s tail, captioned, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Where do you find love? Where do you look for it?

I know countless people who, despite heroic efforts, can’t find love. Maybe not countless in literal terms, but as I’ve never kept track, in that respect, countless. However many of these people I know, they are all on every online dating site, some even have consultants to assist and advise them on their dating site profiles. I have friends who are chronically single and others who are chronically miserable in the relationship they’re in. I even follow a blog written by a woman who writes of her efforts to find lasting love, which seems to elude her to an almost comic level. Every time she is “in love” again, her readers watch and wait, kind of like watching Jersey Shore or a car crash, we can’t not watch, as much as we’d like to. We all know in a week, or two, a month, tops, she will be single and on the hunt again. Which is tragic, except that she has an enviable following.

For the many I know who struggle with love, I know a few wise and blessed people who find lasting, fulfilling and joyful love. Sometimes with no effort whatsoever, they round a corner one day and BAM!! Love.

May I share with you my thoughts on this? Not that I am some well-published love guru, nor am I the ill-fated, love sick blogger with an enviable following and the “can’t not watch” antics.

I often kid around with my single and dateless friends, “If you want to meet guys you just need to go to bars, alone, and drink really dark beer, it guarantees getting noticed and almost certainly a conversation.” And that is where it all begins, with a conversation. If you aren’t having conversations, or aren’t available to converse, or are always with your pussy posse and so, unapproachable, how can you expect to have a conversation?

Conversation is required for a relationship to begin, but 99% of conversations are not for that intent. They are just conversations. It surprises me, though, in all my travels and in all my observations, how few people are really willing to converse with “strangers”. And, even among my chronically single friends, they “would never” just enter into a conversation in a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, or any other public setting, with a stranger. Question; how else does a stranger become an acquaintance? Am I missing something here?

Conversation or no conversation, there is much more to the story. Love may follow a friendship that develops from some initial conversation that begins in a coffee shop, a bar, the grocery store, an opera performance, or even an online dating sight. But love can only survive under the ideal circumstances, like a rare, exquisite and temperamental flower. We may be “looking for love” in all the usual places, bars, coffee shops, online dating sites, etc., and we may even have some promising, preliminary success, but, I’m here to tell you that’s not where you’re going to find true, meaningful, fulfilling and lasting love (and by “lasting” I mean of some undetermined, unguaranteed, duration, because, remember, love is impermanent, like life, like baseball season, summer, youth, and  like rare, exquisite and temperamental flowers; a topic for another time).

The biggest problem with love, that I see, is that people expect it to happen to them. In other words, love comes from an external source, “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me …” How often do we hear people make mention of the fact that people in their lives either love them, or don’t? Their kids, their lover, their parents, their relatives, their co-workers, spouses, friends of friends, acquaintances, exes, and so forth and so on? Does this, then, add or decrease their value as a person, to be loved, or not, by other people in the world? We are looking in the wrong place. Love does not happen to us, it isn’t something that is just bestowed upon us, from an external source, because we live and breathe and occupy space on this planet. There seems to be a false sense of entitlement here, and there, and everywhere. Don’t get me started on THAT topic, we’ll save it for later, as well.

Where, then, should we be looking for love, if not from those around us we wish would love us?

Love begins, exists and is always, for eternity, from within.

How often have you heard someone say, or how many times have you, yourself said, “I wish I could find someone who loved me for who I am. I wish I could find someone who loved me exactly the way i am.” Question; do you love you for who you are? Exactly the way you are? To be loved we must first be lovable. To be lovable, we must first love ourselves. We pretty much set the standard, our expectation of how others will regard us, like us, love us, by how we feel about ourselves. You remember those hapless people that round a corner, bump into a stranger, and find blissful love? Chances are, they are very lovable and that it all begins with how they feel about themselves.

Sound narcissistic? There is a different between narcissism and loving oneself. To love oneself means to have self-respect, to treat oneself with love in the way we think, speak and act towards ourselves. If we are self-loathing and self-destructive that is perceived, if only on a subconscious level, by others, as being unworthy of love, our own, first, and theirs, then, too.

When was the last time you picked a daisy and plucked the petals from it, one at a time, saying, “I love me, I love me not, I love me, I love me not, I love me!”?

An Effort to Evolve

Do you recall Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways“? Perhaps we should recite it as “How do I love me? Let me count the ways.” We are, sadly, in the practice of counting the ways we don’t love ourselves;  “I’m not pretty enough.” “I’m not thin enough.” “I’m not young enough.” “I’m not interesting enough.” “I’m not adventurous enough.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m boring.” “I’m stupid.” We constantly tell ourselves “I am not enough”, and so those in our midst, the world, the universe, if you will, hears “I am not enough.”

No matter our I.Q., our body type, our shape, size, hair color, job, hobbies, political view, religion, national origin, family history, or anything, we can be lovable. But we must begin with ourselves, it all begins inside our head, inside our own heart. When you feel deserving of your own affections and adoration, you become deserving of others’ affections and adoration. It shines like a beacon through the fog, ethereal and intangible, but real and palpable.

You know those people, friends, relatives, or complete strangers you may casually observe, they’ve just got “that quality”? People seem to notice them despite their relative physical attractiveness, or unattractiveness. That’s the quality; self-love, self-respect, self-worth. The beacon in the fog.

So if that’s the secret, how does one fall in love with one’s self?

It is a process. It is a practice. It is a daily, moment to moment, and lifelong chore. Loving oneself is not something we accomplish and then just check off our list. Loving oneself is something we work at daily, every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s a lot like getting fit and healthy; you can’t just go on a diet for three weeks and then stop. You can’t go to the gym for the month of January and then stop. Health and fitness are lasting only when our efforts are lasting. There is a sign in the yoga room at my gym that says “fitness is not a destination, it is a lifestyle”. Loving oneself is the same, it is a lifestyle and it takes the same level of commitment, sweat, exertion, and sometimes even pain, to maintain. Make no doubt.

Don’t be mistaken, though, I’m not saying it’s hard to love one’s self, I’m saying it’s hard to change the patterns we’ve developed and are enmeshed in. People, without making a conscious effort, are generally very self-loathing. Truthfully, even the most conceited, narcissistic, people you’ll ever meet are actually, usually, the ones that hate themselves the most. It is our tendency, as humans, and this tendency must be reversed. Volumes have been written on it and as I am not going to add to those volumes here, today, that is where I’m going to recommend you begin. Some of the books I’ve seen lately that I’ve found enjoyable to read and informative and enlightening are listed below.

Looking for love? Start in the right place, within. Learn how to love yourself and the world will follow. To get the dreadful Urban Cowboy song out of your mind, I’m going to give you another song from even further back in history! Remember the Coca Cola ad with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? That’s a lot like what this self-love thing is all about. It begins with one little voice, (yours) a good message and a catchy tune. By the first chorus, others are singing along with you and by the end of the song, all of humanity has joined in. Cheers!

 

Unlimited – by Jillian Michaels
You Can Be Happy No Matter What – by Richard Carlson
The Soulmate Experience – by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple
The Art of Happiness – by Dalai Lama