Tag Archives: self

Relationship with self

How we relate to ourselves is at the centre of our life experience. It informs what we do, how we do it, what we accept and tolerate. The ideas we hold about ourselves are not created in a vacuum, they are shaped by those around us. To a certain extent, who we think we are depends on who everyone else thinks we are. How we act informs this, and it creates a circle of action and reaction. If we aren’t doing this consciously, if we behave in the ways we are expected to, we can end up very much products of our environments and backgrounds with little actual control over ourselves.

We all of us carry stories about who we are. Some of that may derive from what we do. Much of it can be purely fantasy and daydream, carried within us. Equally, we may be under thrall to the perceptions of others. How do we tell? Is any of this any more real or important than any other aspect?

Who do we want to be and how would we like people to relate to us? Put aside all that is, and contemplate for a moment how you would like it to be. Where are the differences? Could you cover that distance with your own actions? Or is it all about the perceptions of others? Are you hankering after fame and fortune, or would you just like to be heard and taken seriously for a change?

Where we have good relationship, it is easier to flourish. In a good relationship, we are supported and cared for, encouraged to do our best and to aspire to greater things, to take joy in what we achieve and feel good about ourselves. Toxic relationships, poisoned by jealousy and resentment may instead encourage us to be small and insignificant so that others do not feel challenged by us. We may run up against people who resent us because we do not conform to their beliefs, and who will try and reduce us so they do not have to take a knock to their own cherished paradigm. We may meet with people who want to control us – they may well have little control over their own lives, and find security in being able to restrict others.

It is very hard indeed to have a good relationship with self if you are not allowed the space in which you can be yourself. Human relationships can be absolutely crippling in this regard, but if we are always used to being treated in certain ways, even seeing there is a problem is tricky. Consider the child who has grown up being told they are ugly and stupid. The absence of self esteem, and the profound self consciousness engendered may make them socially awkward, clumsy, reluctant to try, thus reinforcing all those beliefs about worthlessness.

Sometimes, to find out who you are, it is really important to get away from people. The sky will not judge you. The earth will not comment on your weight, or your earning capacity. With quiet and space, it’s possible to find different ways of being. I’m coming out of a great deal of darkness and difficulty, years of feeling like a total failure as a human being, a belief that I carried an inherent wrongness that marred everything I did and made it reasonable for people to treat me as less important than everyone else. Living with that from day to day, I couldn’t see it, much less challenge it.

When you change – as we all do, some people will fear and resent it, others will continue to love and support you. It’s easy to end up internalising the fear, jealousy and resentment of others, to become ‘wrong’ so that they can remain comfortably where they are. If you are acting carefully, honourably, then the right and freedom to be who you are should be a given. If it isn’t, if you are being restricted and not permitted to live and flourish on your own terms, you may be dealing with the toxicity of another. Step back. Take yourself, your soul, out into the wilds. See who you are when you stand only in relationship to the sky and the soil. Seek things you can undertake alone, and see what that reveals to you about your own nature. Relationship with self need not be defined by the attitudes of others, and no matter who we’ve been told we are, we can change, grow, become ourselves and be able to view ourselves as people worthy of love and respect.

Hands of the Moon

I’ve made bread for years, but in winter especially, my bread has not come out well – it doesn’t rise properly and comes out squidgy when cooked. It wasn’t room temperature, others making bread in the same conditions get good results. For years I assumed I was doing something wrong – I was told there must be things wrong with my technique – but not what!

Then in a random conversation about comics a few weeks ago, Tom mentioned a Japanese comic about baking (anything can be heroic, in comics) and a young man possessed of ‘the Hands of the Sun’ – hands at the perfect temperature for making bread. It got me thinking.

I have cold hands, especially in winter. I inherited poor circulation from my paternal grandmother. But also like her, I’m a good pastry maker. Bread needs warmth to stimulate the yeast. Pastry is best made cold. The temperature of a person’s hands are going to make a lot of odds on this one.

I have the Hands of the Moon. And so I make good pastry but struggle in winter with bread. Two mysteries solved, and with no need for blame, no issue with my technique, just a simple reality of my body that makes me good at one thing, not so good at another.

I love the term ‘Hands of the Sun’ – poetic, delightful. There is no doubt a perfect body temperature for bread making, and it’s going to be warm, because yeast thrives on warmth. And the colder your hands, the better your pastry. My circulation-troubled Nan was an awesome pastry maker. I’m not sure if ‘Hands of the Moon’ exists as a concept in Japan, but it seemed the obvious pairing.

The stories we tell about ourselves, the language we use and the we way we make sense of our own lives, abilities, challenges and experiences shape the journey for us. I used to consider myself a lousy breadmaker. Now, I have Hands of the Moon, and a totally different story about who I am and what I do (in the kitchen at least). There are plenty of things we have no control over (like my skin temperature) but I can shape the stories I tell to myself about who I am, and that is something available to all of us. Sometimes it takes some help to point us in the direction of a better story, but once we start looking, it can be possible to let go of the beliefs that make us feel small and unhappy, and find instead stories that celebrate who we are and what we are able to do. Stories that help us live our lives.

Who am I?

Without a sense of self, it’s very hard to work out what to do with your life, or how to do it. Self knowledge is necessary for personal growth and for any kind of meaningful spiritual life. How do I hold a mirror up to my soul? How do I establish what kind of person I am? How do I discover my true nature?

This is an issue I’ve been wrangling with a lot lately. I have absolutely no idea who I am. Things I had considered true, I’m no longer sure I can trust. Reflections offered back by others, I’m now putting aside. I’ve spent this summer watching myself, trying to figure out who I am.

I don’t think what happens inside any person’s head is a measure of who we are. In our heads, many of us are the heroes of our own stories. We are right, justified, reasonable etc. The trouble is, experience demonstrates that many people are not right, much less actually heroic. So how do we get beyond the inclination to think well of ourselves and get some measure of truth and reality? Or for that matter, how do folks who have been conditioned into thinking the worst of themselves break away from that training and find a new self image?

The answer lies not in what we think, but what we do. Intentions and attitudes are of limited use, really. I seek to know myself through how I live, the choices I make. I can get some sense of what I am like from how others respond to me. (Gently, on the whole, with care, kindness and support, aside from a couple of notable exceptions). What kind of people are we surrounded by? If everyone we encounter seems hostile, selfish and uncooperative, is that misfortune, or is some aspect of who we are being reflected back at us? The best sense we can get of how we seem, is by looking at our relationships and seeing what they tell us.

We can tell a lot about ourselves and how we impact on the world by looking at who our friends are. Do we have longstanding friends? And if not, why? There are lots of reasons why a person may find it hard to make and keep friends – shyness, a nomadic lifestyle, eccentricities that make it hard to connect, or just not being a people person can all be issues. But you can also make friends with creatures, and places, and look at those relationships as points of reference. One or two deep friendships will tell you as much about yourself as dozens of casual connections can. Family, neighbours, people we meet through work and daily life all reflect back something of how we come across to them. Do people avoid us, or seek us out? Are you someone to confide in? Am I a good shoulder to cry on?

Creatures and children are very good points of reference. You can’t bullshit a creature. They judge you based on how you treat them. If you are kind and gentle, animals will respond to you in certain friendly ways, or avoid you, if you are not. Being a parent is perhaps the biggest mirror you can hold up to yourself. The person you raise will reflect back all kinds of things about who you are – especially the nature of their primary care giver. Sure, kids can come out well in spite of bad parenting, or come out badly despite best efforts to nurture them, but they’re a very interesting yardstick to measure ourselves by.

In stillness, isolation and inactivity, who we are is entirely theoretical. Action is real, and relationship one of the best ways of seeing how that action manifests. Who we imagine we could be and what we think we might do if only we had the chance, isn’t worth much in the scheme of things. Judge yourself on what you do, not on wishful thinking, or self critical fear.

39 Days of Prayer – Day 31

Day 31 – Aligning the Self with Spirit

Today Goddess/God/Spirit

I will follow your divine example.

I will practice my faith with patience,

I will show myself love and nurturing.

I will be gentle with others,

I will work to heal the land.

From this day, Goddess/God/Spirit

I will be a mirror, a reflection of your light.

Blessed be.