Today is the second Sunday of LoveYourself month.
Something remarkable for me about taking on a monthly theme like this is that I continue to be surprised. If you thought that I had a plan for where this exploration would lead before we entered it, you would be very mistaken.
Last Sunday evening a wonderful event took place here called Uncivil Partnership. It was a Stacy Makishi creation with support from arts institutions. I had the honour of co-leading with Stacy.
The event drew about 100 people to this building. People were attracted by the notion of a ceremony about loving ourselves and having the opportunity to marry themselves. The people who attended made vows of love and commitment to themselves. They put rings on their own fingers. They threw rice on their heads. They laughed. They cried.
Why was it such a big deal?
When I first attended a Unitarian congregation in my thirties, that congregation - that place - no matter what they said - was a place like any other.
It was a place where I would come and bring part of myself only. I would show the “mask of perfection”, the “mask of success”, the “mask of happiness”, and the “mask of confidence.” These masks represent real parts of myself, but they certainly don’t represent all of me.
And then my wife got involved in working with youth. That was fine with me - but I was certainly not going to have anything to do with teens. Being one was traumatic enough - I didn’t want any opportunity to revisit that part of my life - the part where I especially felt like a loser and a social reject.
That worked fine until a youth advisor suddenly needed to pull out of helping with a youth retreat. They desperately needed a replacement. “No thanks,” I said. “It’s really not me.”
But there was no one else and the whole thing would be cancelled without help. The youth would be let down. The money paid to the retreat centre would be wasted.
I agreed. I was certainly not going to get involved though. I’d just fill the requirement of having enough adults. Fine.
Oh life! You are so tricky.
The youth activities started out unsurprisingly. There were just games. Phew! It was just fun. The games were physical - they were silly. I was pulled in. I played along.
But as it went on, the games increasingly drew us in - they invited us in nonthreatening ways to be a bit more real - a bit less guarded.
As the night went on, the group in which I had been embraced became an extraordinary place - a place where being who we are was safe, was OK. And it was a place where each of us realised that the secret shames we carried were not so secret at all - that each of us carried such feelings.
Each of us has tender spots that, when touched, even accidentally, might cause us to strike out - to bite without warning.
We have dark places - “sinkholes, places of sudden terror, of small circumference and malevolent depths.” If we know of them, we hide them. If we don’t, we just fall in. So we are guarded and we know we are not OK.
And that circle made it OK. It told us without saying so that we were OK.
In that circle, we learned the tragic effects of comparing what we know of ourselves to the image projected by others - comparing our insides to someone else’s outsides.
We learned what is perhaps the most healing, liberating, transformative fact we can learn. We were able to whisper to ourselves four simple words that change everything: “it’s not just me”
The games we played came from a small book called “deep fun” - the name of the workshop here today starting at 1:30. It was fun that made it possible to go deep.
Why don’t you love yourself?
In her amazing book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”, Rachel Naomi Remen tells of her experience as a young physician attending a workshop led by Carl Rogers. Rogers was the pioneering therapist whose work employed “unconditional positive regard.” Rogers asked for a volunteer and a male physician came forward to sit with Carl Rogers in front of the group.
Remen describes what happened next with this volunteer: "In the safe climate of Rogers' total acceptance, he began to shed his masks, hesitantly at first and then more and more easily. As each mask fell, Rogers welcomed the one behind it unconditionally, until finally we glimpsed the beauty of the doctor‘s naked face. I doubt that even he himself had ever seen it before . . . I remember wishing that I had volunteered, envying this doctor the opportunity to be received by someone in such a total way. Except for [a very special] few moments with my grandfather, I had never experienced that kind of welcome."
No, it’s not just you who is imperfect and feels there is something within you that is flawed and unacceptable.
And that knowledge helps us realise that if anyone is beautiful and loveable we all are. Every one of us.
There is something almost magical about Carl Rogers’ approach to therapy.
Therapy is, of course, about change. When we think about loving and accepting ourselves, we might think that this is the opposite of what we need to do.
I might thing “That terrible part of me needs to be rejected, not accepted. It needs to be excised, whipped into submission, beaten and terrorised into change.” Does that sound right? Does that approach work for dogs or children? Does it work for anything at all?
In fact, you probably learned to feel inadequate because someone along the way told you that you were. When they said you were insensitive, did that make you more open?
When they said you were too angry, did that make you calmer?
When they said you were too self-conscious, did that help you feel more confident?
Rogers said “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
If you take away nothing else today, take this: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
“You can’t punish yourself into change. You can’t whip yourself into shape. But you can love yourself into well-being.”
Change begins when you begin to love yourself.
Happiness begins when you begin to love yourself.
The ability to love others begins when you begin to love yourself.