Valuing the riches and rewards of learning how to enjoy being with our very own selves.
Being with Your Self
Take time just to be with your very own self…
Explore ways to find pleasure in your own company…
When you learn how to delight and thrive with just your self,
you can make much better choices in friends, lovers, work and activities…
Practice spending small regular bits of time alone treating your self lovingly!
The summer before my tenth birthday was both one of the most difficult and one of the most life-changing summers I can remember as a child. Each of my first 12 summers, my parents would rent a bungalow in one of the scores of bungalow colonies in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City. Usually at least one other family we knew (friends or relatives) would rent a similar cottage in the same colony. The women and children spent all week there, from the time school let out through the Labor Day weekend. The husbands came for weekends after they'd finished a week of working in The City. Arriving for late suppers on Friday, they'd leave after dinner on Sundays. Each of the men came, as well, for his week of vacation, whenever that might fall.
That summer we were in a tiny cottage (a kitchen and a bedroom) that was half of a duplex. Next door were some old friends of my parents and their two children, each a couple of years older than my sister and I. At almost 12, Cynthia (the neighbor girl) was gorgeous: slender with budding breasts, a waistline, hips and glossy, naturally wavy black hair. At almost 10, I was feeling at my homeliest: chubby, shapeless, my dirty-blonde hair frizzy and dull with a permanent wave that I hated.
Cynthia was very much a girly-girl. I was rather awkward both physically and socially, totally mystified by girly-stuff. Cynthia went off to the colony's day camp with most of the other pre-teen kids. I wasn't sent to join the camp. Though my mother told me that it was because I "wouldn't like it," I suspect it was more a matter of her decision that camp "wasn't necessary" as an additional expenditure.
After the day at camp, Cynthia was part of the gang of colony kids that ran around teasing and laughing uproariously with each other all late afternoon and evening. I was only a watcher-from-the-distance. I felt excluded: a social misfit, friendless. I had no idea of how to become a part of the community of kids.
My mother was particularly irritable and cold with me that summer. My sister at two and a half was adorable, sparkling and, it seemed to me at the time, the center of my mother's otherwise limited attention. I was filled with envy. My mother made it apparent repeatedly – in ways both verbal and not – that she couldn't stand having me hanging around the cottage or around her. I had no idea of what to do with my self during the long beautiful days and evenings in the country. There were not enough books, no place to curl up safely and no library around for me to explore. I remember feeling sad and despairing.
Lonnie, Cynthia's brother, at almost six, was very much a loner. With a half loaf of white bread and a makeshift fishing pole, he disappeared early each morning to be gone all day. I suspect it was his behavior that raised a possibility for me. I noticed the woods that were less than 50 yards from our cottage door. (We were at the furthest boundary of the colony.)
Early one dew-wet morning while my mother and sister still slept, I put a bagel and cream cheese in a paper napkin into my pocket. In rubber boots, layers of warm clothes and my rain slicker, I set off to wander in the trees.
The misty wetness, the pungent smell of pine, the moist springy bed of browning needles under foot, the brilliant green humps of furry moss, the vibrant flashes of darting orange-red salamanders, the mysterious stillness of the little rooms among the trees – I was awe-struck and bewitched. I felt, more than ever before in my young life, a sense of belonging, of rightness, of what I'd now call "home." (As I write this today, tears spill down my face; my body and being remembering that first experience of fitting within the natural world; that relief from my sense of being alien.)
I started waking early every day during the week, wandering off to my fairyland while everyone else was asleep. I stayed hidden and lost in fantasy play in my green and fragrant rooms all day. As the air warmed and dried, I'd slip out of layers of clothing that I'd pile for taking home later. I'd explore barefoot, loving the textures, soft and prickly under my toes. I'd catch and release the beautiful salamanders wondering at their iridescent freckles. I'd stretch out on the bed of needles, lean up against and hug the trees. I felt enfolded, surrounded with loving presences. I felt joy and comfort there, no longer a homely misfit.
Before that summer, my refuge, both from my mother and from the world (see Accepting Who You Are for more about this) had been with my books, with writing poems or stories and drawing pictures curled up in the gold brocade chair in our city living room. Now, when life was feeling too hard or lonely back in the city, I learned to take buses and trains to get to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I found magical nooks and crannies in those green worlds. I could go barefoot in the grasses, lie down and roll on the warm, fragrant earth, lean against and hug tress, put my feet in little ponds and feel comforted, feel that I fit somewhere.
Like so many of the obstacles in life, the deprivations and ordinary miseries of my childhood became doorways. Without the warmth or acceptance of traditional mothering, I had to find other ways to soothe my self. The depth of shaming and humiliation to which I had been subjected for having needs of any sort made it impossible for me to turn (knowingly) to anyone other than my self. The wounds of my relationship with my mother were, in the end, a great gift she gave me. Her emotional absence forced me to develop an independence that was neither expected nor experienced by most of the young women with whom I grew up.
So much the outsider, both in my own home and in the world at large I, very early in my growing years, had learned to tend to and to be content with just my self. I didn't (till much later in my life) understand what powerful and empowering skills these were for a person, especially a woman.
I've continued, through the years, to bring to the time I spend with my self the same curiosity and devotion we're all much more likely to bring to the time we spend with others we care about. This practice has kept expanding my capacity to be fascinated with my own inner process, to delight in my own company and to find rich solace in the world of nature, books, fantasy and solitary creativity.
Though as I've grown up I've become more socially adept, the capacity to enjoy my own company has made me very picky about where, how and with whom I spend my time. Despite how particular I've been, I actually have found a few kindred spirits. Not surprisingly, they're people who have a similar capacity to be fascinated by their own inner life and to delight in being just with their selves. These delicious beings are friends with whom I share fully and intimately.
Nevertheless, I'm rarely willing to do something/go somewhere that doesn't interest me just to have someone's company. I find it easy to give up the possibility of company in order to be doing something/going somewhere that feels right to me. I'm unlikely to settle for any activity, endeavor or company that doesn't, at the very least, promise to feel as nourishing or compelling as does time with my self.
Over the years of spending so much time with my self, I've also been expanding my ability to embrace and nurture all the different parts of my everyday self. This capacity has grown out of consciously experimenting with the practice of treating my self the same way I'd treat anyone else that I truly care about. (And, from considerable work transforming the inner critical voice. See Criticizing Your Self, Loving Acceptance and Doing Better for more about that work.) The more I've developed this unconditional acceptance of my self, the less tolerance I have for being around people or in situations that treat me less than kindly. It's an amazing liberation. I give thanks daily for the help from Spirit that has supported and guided me on this path.
May you consider exploring the practice of spending small bits of time alone, treating your self lovingly. May you consider honoring that practice if you're already doing it. And, may you remember to be tender with your dear and precious self.