With whom do you spend the most time?
From the moment you’re born, until the moment you die, when you wake each morning, and when your sleep. Can you guess?
That person is yourself. Yet, we don’t always give that person very much attention, say the nicest things, or treat him or her as we should. Instead, we spend a lot time trying to escape ourselves, and often with good reason. Because the self is constantly chattering about nothing, defending against imaginary attacks, planning outings that will never occur, or trying to solve problems that will never arise. Sometimes it is whining, nagging, and criticizing.
At it’s worst, it is convincing us to do something we know is not good for us, telling us why it’s okay to have another drink or call the ex. So, we turn on the TV, go shopping, or make a dinner date with a friend to cut off the noise and avoid a run in with ourselves. But no matter how many episodes of Scandal we watch or work projects we take on, there really is no escape. That person is going to be there with you tomorrow and the next day and the next.
So instead of trying to avoid the unavoidable, what would happen if we invested in that relationship? What if we gave ourselves all the love, caring, and attention that we would want for a good friend?
We all want the very best for our loved ones. We don’t want to see them self-destructing by eating an entire pizza or drinking a case of beer, tolerating an irate boss, or choosing a selfish partner who forgets birthdays. We want them to have happy, fulfilling, and balanced relationships with consumption, their jobs, and their partners. We want to see them find love and prosper. We want the best for them.
Yet often times, we are unable to choose the best for ourselves. But what if we became our own best friend and committed to giving ourselves the best? What would that relationship look like?
Well, there are some key elements of any loving relationship. We all want presence, understanding and acceptance, and trust. If we could just start with these few fundamentals we could create a new view of ourselves as our own best friend.
1. The first and most important fundamental is to be present.
Could you imagine what kind of relationship you would have if you never spent time with your best friend? Presence is the most important element of any relationship and certainly with our self as well. Without getting to know who we are, we cannot understand, accept, or trust ourselves.
For many of us, seeing ourselves clearly can be difficult because we have cultivated a habit of looking away, of turning on the TV or surfing the internet. However, there are numerous practices of self-inquiry that can aid us. Yoga and meditation help us see ourselves for who we are and be present with our self and our body.
Even if we can only be present with ourselves for two minutes, we start there. Then we keep growing the relationship by spending more and more time on the cushion or on the mat. We listen to our thoughts, stay present with our breathing, and simply learn to be without making any effort to be something more. Outside of these practices, we can learn more about ourselves simply by spending time alone. We can go to a new art exhibit or take a vacation by ourselves to reveal who we are in different situations. We soon realize we are enjoyable to be around and it becomes easier to know and love ourselves.
But how do we get there if we don’t like ourselves very much to begin with? What if we think the person in our head is as angry as Chris Brown or as vain as Kim Kardashian and we don’t want to spend time with him or her? Well, we turn to the second fundamental.
2. We must understand and accept ourselves as we are.
Acceptance is difficult, so we must start with understanding. If we are Chris Brown, we ask our self what kind of internal hell leads one to hit his girlfriend. If we are Kim, we explore what kind of insecurity leads to taking fifty selfies in a day. Clearly, there is suffering beneath the behavior, and understanding that suffering is the key to acceptance.
Although these are extreme examples, we all have some degree of hurt or insecurity that leads to unskillful behaviors, which are usually in equal degrees to each other. So in order to forgive and accept ourselves we must be able to see and understand our own suffering. If our best friend came to us, feeling hurt and crying, would we turn away, ignore his pain, or tell him to be quiet? Of course not. So, we must also embrace our own pain in order to help heal it and stop it from hurting others. And we must forgive ourselves when we act unskillfully, whether in anger or vanity, or sadness, or jealousy. Because when we understand the suffering as part of us, we can accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are.
3. Finally, we must trust ourselves.
Once we love and accept ourselves as we are, we can begin to want better for ourselves, but this requires building trust. There are two aspects of trust that work together: honesty and care. We have to be honest with ourselves in order to fully trust ourselves. Often times, there is a dissonance between how we say we want to live and our actions. We care about animals, but we keep eating meat. We want to be healthier, but we drive to the store instead of walking. We tell our children they deserve true love, but then we accept less for ourselves.
So, which is true: the stated values or our actions that embody a different value? Honesty and authenticity require we must decide and stop creating dissonance between the two. We have to be honest enough with ourselves to see the dissonance. And then we must show up for ourselves.
When we were babies, our parents fed us and cleaned us, and put us to sleep when we were tired. As children, they told us to clean our rooms. Of course, they did this out of love. Now, as adults we have to be our own parents. We have to do the things that are right for us because we care. We have to be able to trust ourselves to do what we say we will, whether it’s pay the bills or go to the gym. We must choose what’s best for us even when it hurts, even when it means leaving someone we love. Because above all, to love ourselves, we must practice and embody our values.
How would you feel about a friend who never showed up for you or told you one thing and did another? A consistent breaking of our own trust can be disheartening, and if serious enough, it can damage our relationship with our self.
And now to put these words into practice
These three directives are a simple yet profound way to be our own best friends. There is a saying that we must love ourselves before we can love others. But we are not taught how. While we learn about how to treat others and how to make a relationship work, we often neglect to explore the deepest and most lasting relationship of our life: our relationship with our self. But we must also learn that love flows in many directions. It is infinite, ineffable, and has the power to heal. And we must know how to turn that love toward ourselves.
Start right now. Get out your journal and write down three ways you can be present, accept yourself, and trust yourself.