When I speak with people I am not surprised to find that many of us don’t like ourselves very much. That was certainly my experience of myself for many years, but I wasn’t accustomed to self-reflection so I didn’t realize in what poor esteem I held myself. When I did begin looking inward at how I spoke to myself in my mind and how I treated myself, I was, frankly, appalled.
Yet, fortunately, the revelation and the solution appeared at nearly the same time. I heard a woman say, “High self-esteem is made up of many small esteemable actions.” For me, it was like hearing the Alleluia Chorus for the first time. I woke up to what I was doing to myself.
I realized it was my mind that was giving me the negative messages. I had been out of touch with the way my mind was talking to me and where those unkind voices came from. With the message of esteemable actions leading to self-esteem, it occurred to me that trying to persuade the mind to change was like asking a dark room to light itself. When I began acting in ways that I esteemed toward myself and others, it was like flipping the light switch. I act, and the mind begins to change.
Then I had another thought. Since I can only live my life one day at a time, I picture myself waking up each morning as an empty cup. If I have been establishing the habit of filling my cup each day by engaging in small loving actions toward myself and everyone I meet, I will begin filling myself up from the moment I’m awake.
How practical this is. If I’ve been short-changing myself on the ongoing actions of self-love and self-care, all I have to do is to realize it and do one small esteemable action. A full cup is made up of many small esteemable actions throughout the day. All I have to do is to pick one small thing and do it, and then another.
Of course, what will be seen as esteemable by each of us will be our own. What is esteemable for me? Taking a bath instead of a shower because I like to play in water . . . Creating something everyday—it can be working in the garden, arranging lovingly prepared food on a plate, putting my brush loaded with color on paper, working on my new novel . . . Being outdoors and reveling in the beauty of whatever my eye falls on, blessing everyone I see on my travels—folks in the cars in front of me and behind, people walking down the street or riding bikes . . . Being present where I am and with whomever I am with, present and listening, honoring the moment . . . These are some of the simple things I find esteemable.
Filling the cup of life is not difficult. I’m a list-maker so I’ve written down what I love and what I find esteemable. I like the idea of myself as an empty cup. I used to look for someone to come and fill me up. I wanted someone to rescue me from myself, someone to take over the job of creating a life I would love to live. Of course, eventually I could see that no one could give me a life I’d love; I have to give it to myself.
When I finally realized that no one could fill me up, but I could do it myself, I began the daily practice of filling my cup. Over time, I began to love myself and that led to a life I love to live. The bonus is that when my cup is full and overflowing, I find there’s plenty of kindness and gentleness to give.
From ideas in my book, Great Love in the 21st Century: A Path to Intimacy.