Is there a right way to love ourselves? Thomas Merton gives us some insight on that:
“We do not exist for ourselves (as the center of the universe), and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give others.”
Essentially, Merton contrasts two different ways to love ourselves.
The first way: try to be the center of your world, the center of attention.
And to be honest, this has some appeal. When we’re the center of attention, it feels warm and exciting, like things are happening! But what do you do when the spotlight goes off and the crowd goes away?
Merton then points to another way of loving ourselves. In essence, he suggests that we trade “trying to be the center of attention” for “trying to pay attention to the things that are central in life.”
As Edward T. Hall says:
“This is what intelligence is: paying attention to the right things.”
But what are the right things? The central things?
Most people would agree on a list something like this: compassion, kindness, gratitude, peace, joy, courage, wisdom.
These things are free, yet they have the power to help make our life worthwhile. They often get lip service, but not enough real attention. And that’s unfortunate, because nothing can improve and enhance and enrich our experience of life as much as paying attention to these “invisibles.”
Imagine a person who makes this shift from “getting attention” to “paying attention to the right things.”
She is at ease out of the spotlight. Comfortable with herself. She knows what she wants from life, but she’s more interested in what she can contribute to the life around her. She’s less interested in being right and more interested in seeing clearly. She’s less interested in getting credit and more interested in making a difference. She’s not naïve, she sees the problems and failures—and that’s why she looks for the good in life and in others and seeks to encourage that. Rather than feeling entitled, she feels grateful for each day. Loving herself in this way makes her easy to love and fun to be with.
Bottom line: to love yourself properly is to pursue the things that make your life matter.
As Sir Winston Churchill said:
“One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”
“Easier said than done,” we might say. Sometimes it seems like fear is everywhere.
It’s almost like the world tries to educate us to be afraid, tries to make fear our master, our king.
Emily Dickinson understood this “education for fear.” But she pointed to another education we need even more.
We never know how high we are till we are called to rise,
And then if we are true to plan, our statures touch the skies;
The heroism we recite would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp for fear to be a king.
We can’t eliminate fear. It’s a part of life—even a necessary part. It keeps us from walking into traffic or doing other dumb things.
But we can dethrone fear; learn to get the upper hand on fear. That’s the education Dickinson points to.
It’s an education that teaches us we are bigger than our fears because we are human beings.
It’s an education that reminds us that “we are called to rise.” Not to shrink. Not to cringe.
It’s an education that teaches us there is nothing we can’t face, and therefore…
…it is an education in daily heroism.
Remember Etch-a-Sketch? If you messed up a drawing, you could shake the Etch-a-Sketch, clear the slate, and start new.
George E. Woodberry believes that life comes with a built-in slate-clearing function: it’s called sunrise. He said:
“Always begin anew with the day, just as nature does; it is one of the sensible things that nature does.”
Now granted, this is an obvious cliché—an idea you might see stitched into a pillow.
But let’s pick at the threads of this idea a bit…
“Always begin anew.”
Have you thought about how important “newness” is to your life?
I see it in my granddaughters (13 months and 22 months). For them, every day is new, surprising, exuberant, full of wonder and joy. Newness for them is like some kind of super energy source, and it’s one of the things that makes them so delightful.
I’ve come up with a name for the way they move through a day: I call it “radical newness”—“radical” not in the sense of revolutionary, but in the sense of getting to the root of something important.
I’m trying to let them teach me about “radical newness,” but I’m a slow learner.
I do think part of the reason we sometimes get so tired and stressed is that we’re running low on “newness.” Everything becomes a little too routine, too burdened, too expected, or too jaded. We’re traveling with too much baggage.
Maybe it’s time to shake up the Etch-a-Sketch of our lives and clear the slate and start fresh. Maybe it’s time to watch the sunrise and tell ourselves…
Just for today, I will turn loose of all regrets and disappointments from the past.
Just for today, I will turn loose of worries about the future.
Just for today, I will forgive everyone who has ever hurt me…including myself.
Just for today, no matter what happens, I’ll look for wonder, newness, surprise, joy.
Just for today, I will live…just for today.
“Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you,” goes an old saying. And it’s good advice.
It’s true, some people seem to go looking for trouble.
And the rest of us? Well, not to worry: trouble will eventually find us.
Trouble is a part of life.
But it’s good to know that trouble is also often a disguise.
As Frank Tyger said:
“Opportunity’s favorite disguise is trouble.”
In 1666 London was hit by the bubonic plague, closing Cambridge University. Now that is trouble!
A young student named Isaac Newton was forced to leave his studies and go home to the country. There he had time to think and reflect on what he’d learned…which led him to the discovery of the law of gravity and the beginnings of his life’s work.
But does this principle apply to all the little troubles that trouble us every day? Is there an opportunity hiding behind the troubles at work? Or the troubles in a relationship? Or the troubles with people who are just a little too ornery? Or the troubles from the past?
Almost every kind of trouble you can think of has led to an opportunity for someone who had the courage to look.
What’s troubling you? Have you tried looking behind the disguise?