What's love got to do with it? April 11 2015, 4 Comments

Love. That four letter word. What does it mean? Is it really all the world needs now?

For years and years (in fact well over 30) I spent my time believing and living as if love was something external to me. I thought that others were responsible for providing me with love and as a byproduct of that it would bring me greater happiness. I assumed that giving love in huge amounts to others would mean it would return to me ten-fold and that would fulfill me. But still I felt a part of me was missing. I read self-help book after self-help book trying to find the answer, to fill a void that I believed could only be found outside of myself. I thought love (and happiness) would come in the shape of more friends, my family, having children, a man, going on another holiday, a new wardrobe or a fun night out. Don't get me wrong all of those things can bring much happiness but I now know that having all of that can still leave you unfulfilled and longing for something more. I know this not just because of my own experience but friends, acquaintances and clients that appear to "have it all" tell me so. 

I remember entering my 30s and feeling so burnt out from caring and giving to other people but still didn't feel fulfilled. I was lost. Baffled. And very tired. 

I started asking myself, is this all there is to life?

I guess I stumbled upon a different kind of love serendipitously. Over time I started making small changes, wanting to spend time getting to know who I was, the good, the bad and the ugly. I moved out on my own and decided EVEN if it meant lonely nights without the comfort of a flat mate at arm's reach that I would get to know ME. I would have to. It dawned on me that I had never really got to know myself that well and what made me tick. I'd lost myself in a long list of friends and a run of boyfriends. Perhaps I can blame it on middle child syndrome, coming from a large family. There was never much time for being on my own. Moving out on my own meant focussing on me. I started by decorating my apartment in me, things that resembled and were an expression of me. I filled my cupboard and fridge with things I wanted to eat and drink. I took hot baths when I wanted, slept in until I wanted, stayed up as late as I wanted. I started to shift the attention inwards. If I felt tired or stressed I got a massage, I went to yoga, I joined an art class, I went on a yoga retreat, I started meditating. I said no a whole lot more and stopped feeling I needed an excuse to do so. I stopped chasing and pushing so much.

My life started to change.

The penny started to drop.

I felt happier.

More whole. 

More aware of who I really was and what made me unique. I embraced my idiosyncrasies. I started practising greater self-forgiveness, self-compassion and self-acceptance and bit by bit I felt a light inside of me that I hadn't felt before. Don't get me wrong I still have inner work to do! The spiritual path is a lifelong journey.

I started to pay attention when I was invited to things, questioning whether I truly wanted to go or whether I was going because I felt I "should" go. I realised I was saying "should" and "sorry" far too much! I decided to start taking it out of my vocabulary. I started questioning my whole life, including my career. Working in the hospital system suddenly seemed so misaligned with my beliefs and my true self. I couldn't be authentically me. I felt trapped. I wanted deeper human connections with people. If I was being true to myself, why would I stay in a job that didn't make me excited to jump out of bed every single day? That whisper that I could do something else, that anything was possible got louder and louder. It prompted me to open my eyes and mind to other possibilities. To not settle in a job that wasn't enough for me any more. The interesting thing was, my external world hadn't changed that much. It was me who was changing. I began to take total responsibility for my happiness. One by one, I was identifying areas of my life that needed my attention, my own love. I continued to direct my focus inwards and monitored how much I was directing it outwards.

Little did I know I was practising self-love.

If you're new to the concept of self-love, it's closely linked to self-care, another word you may have heard being thrown around in the personal development and holistic health world. In my undergraduate occupational therapy training, self-care equated to whether you could take a shower, brush your teeth and go to the toilet on your own. The aim was to be able to do this as independently as possible after an accident or illness. The definition (well at least in practice) didn't cover how well you loved yourself or how you truly nurtured your body, mind and spirit. It really just skimmed the surface. If it did, I must have been sleeping during those lectures (which my fellow OT colleagues would attest I loved my sleep in college!)

I had never considered during my study and practising as an occupational therapist that self-care included so much more than this. Instead I was taught (and also made the assumption) that if someone was independent in self-care (i.e. showering and dressing themselves) that somehow this was meaningful and led to greater health and happiness? But there was a bigger picture at play here I'd been missing. Looking back now I feel I let my patients down. Why was I not teaching them about self-love as well, potentially the best kind of self-care there is? Luckily, today in both my day job working with stroke survivors and my coaching practice, self-love is a major theme that comes up. I address it with passion, knowing that I can really make a difference by sharing this life changing practice.

Know this though:

This practice of self-love (or self-care if you prefer) is a work in progress.

It takes a commitment to yourself and your happiness.

You will slip up. I do. ALL the time.

In particular, I find my worst enemy is my self-talk. My inner critic or mean girl, constantly on replay telling me how I haven't been productive enough or caring enough or kind enough or good enough (or my never ending dialogue, never on time enough!)

But...

I know deep down I AM enough. WE ARE ALL ENOUGH. We're doing our best every single day. It's a challenging world out there. We need to give ourselves a break. 

For me self-love is a concept, a practice, a commitment, a way of life. Self-love is closely linked to self-care, self-compassion, self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, self-worth and self-respect. In my eyes, it also includes a practice of non-judgement (of self).

And YES! I do believe the world can be healed through love. And it starts with loving and accepting ourselves. Through that process of really knowing ourselves, being kinder and more compassionate to ourselves we can start to spread that love and light to all of those around us to create a ripple effect of peace, forgiveness, acceptance, happiness, gratitude and kindness.

If you're reading this, no matter whether you have children, no matter what your age, gender or marital status. Make a commitment to love yourself a little more today. It's not about bragging about how amazing you are or being selfish. It's about putting that oxygen mask on yourself first. Try it out for a day, a week or a month and watch your life change. Trust me, you will be happier than you've ever been and the penny will drop. You are a powerful human being. You are responsible for your own happiness and no one external holds that power. You do.

Want to learn more about this life changing, happiness producing practice of self-love? Next on the blog I will be covering my top tips on how to fill up your self-love cup!

I'm also running a three hour workshop Love to Live: Getting to the heart of happiness this Saturday the 18th April from 1-4pm at The Habitat Space in Malvern East. Together we will uncover what self-love involves, how your mind set might be tripping you up and we will workshop a number of strategies you can utilise immediately so you can shine your light. There will a heart opening yoga series by Ashley Goodspeed, yoga teacher and health coach. There will be raw treats and herbal tea. There will be "ah has" and pennies dropping. Come along and step into your power. Find out the secret to happiness that already lies within you. 

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