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Semi-Organized Thoughts on Cultivating the Self


selfish: "(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure"
self-centered: "preoccupied with oneself and one's affairs"

I find it so difficult, somehow, to talk about practicing selfishness. In my family, or my social circles, society as a whole, or perhaps all of these, egged on in my own mind, I have come to believe, against my own will, that to acknowledge the self and her wonderful, unique qualities is detestably egotistic and conceited.

For years, I have been trying to accept permission to love myself. Now, having intensely practiced self-acceptance (it is a habit that requires effort; some days are harder than others), I am trying to give myself permission to love myself in a way that the whole world can see and acknowledge, by doing what I want to do; standing up for myself; ignoring or putting aside others' expectations, opinions, or hopes and dreams for me that are not my own; not being concerned by what other people think of me; putting myself first; saying no and not being overwhelmed by guilt; and setting boundaries and sticking to them.

For too long I believed that being a kind, good, likable person meant denying absolutely everything I felt, dreamt of, and needed, and instead putting every other human – and their needs, opinions, expectations, and requests – above me and my own self. I thought that, if I were to push my self aside and ignore her entirely and continually, others would love me. I thought, paradoxically, that if I denied myself I would be happy.

Of course I wasn't. Instead, I was resentful, depressed, and felt unacknowledged for all I did. Even worse, because I never increased my happiness, I thought that I was not being selfless enough.

It's hard to practice self-love. I feel sometimes that I am being greedy and narcissistic and that I am the archetype of a gluttonous, spiteful, vain soul who feels that she deserves absolutely everything and is responsible for nothing. (Think of all those ads and commercials we are continually bombarded with: you deserve this. You need this. Get what you want.*)

*As I write these mantras, I realize the messages themselves, stripped of product, are truthful, but when tied to sick consumerist and capitalistic values that chant "more more more", I feel sick.

What is the line between selfishness and self-confidence, between selflessness and self-denial? How can I continue to practice self-love without denying others' selves, and practice love of others without falling into a habit of self-denial? Do women, in particular, feel that selflessness and voicelessness equal their worth? (I'd love to hear from you; all I know is what I myself have experienced.) Does motherhood – or the biological fact that any of us women could be mothers – further emphasize our potential for biologically-induced self-denial? What about this concept of superwoman, the modern mother who does it all?

The age-old maxim "do unto others as you would have done unto you" is a good one to follow. But I have found that to find balance I need to practice the reverse, too: "do unto yourself as you would do for others:" give yourself love, and patience, and comfort. Lift yourself up. Have faith in your abilities and your goodness and your wholeness and your talents, imperfect as you may be.

Still Here


Click here to see this image full-size.
Yes, I am.

I have been busy trying to learn how to balance work with, well, everything else. My family is selling their home, too, and the amount of work it takes to prepare and show a house is exhausting. In other words, I have been, for the most part, surviving the day-to-day, attempting to keep up on my sleep, and squeezing in other things when I can.

Some Most days I feel like this.

I am grateful, though, that I have the opportunity to bring creativity to the classroom in which I teach. The kiddos and I have done air-dry clay (which was a bit of a fail: I ran out of cornstarch and added too much water, I think, and it ended up way too sticky and cracked once dry), shaving cream leaves, a mossy nature garden, crayon-shaving suncatchers, leaves ironed in wax paper, Q-tip skeletons, a basic art journal (they painted in a craft paper book), and a trace-yourself-and-color-it-in project. We began making puppets last Tuesday, and will continue to make more, as well as a cardboard puppet theater, this coming week.

Also happening soon? A visit from my love, the first reunion in almost a year. He will be here for the holidays – all of them, from Thanksgiving to New Year's! – and, as you can imagine, I am tremendously excited.

For the past week or so thoughts about the Self have been churning in my head: what it means to be selfish, selfless, self-centered, and what social norms and expectations surround these concepts. I've been thinking, too, about the roles of woman, artist, child of an alcoholic, and survivor of emotional abuse fit into my own beliefs about the Self.

Stay tuned.
Now? I'm going to go paint in my sketchbook!

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