If you can love another, you can love yourself

If you can love another, you can love yourself.

In fact I could take it one step further – the only one you can truly guarantee loves you is yourself!

But how many who seek love from another do not know how to show it to themselves?

What does self-love look like?

– Accepting your own vulnerabilities and flaws: Two very difficult things. To be vulnerable in a society that can be predatory, to be still in a sea of moving people who demonize ‘idleness’, to dare to look within and risk being called ‘childish’, these are not easy pressures to deal with. We are expected to be superhuman by others and by trying to live up to this, we fail to acknowledge our limited capacities. The unhealthy customs of an unhealthy society should not be the benchmark of sanity. Whatever the self-destructive masses say, however perfect their Instagram and Facebook selves appear, deep down we are all harbouring a vulnerable self and we are all flawed and imperfect.

– Treating yourself and acknowledging yourself: Enjoying life without guilt is key to self-love. You deserve the finer things in life – sometimes! Even with moral considerations, such as an imperative to be vegan, you can forgive yourself for not being 100% perfect. We do not live in the conditions where we can flower into fully compassionate, healthy, ethically perfect eco-friendly vegans – so why strive for the impossible? Why take all the problems of a society onto your two shoulders? Acknowledging that you deserve good things is a wholesome self love. Sometimes you can be a bit greedy, eat a whole packet of biscuits to yourself, have a lazy and listless day. This is your birthright as an imperfect, sentient being.

– Listening to your deepest wounds and allowing healing: There is a wounded part in all of us. I do not know at this stage in my life if these wounds ever heal. I can say with certainty that it is possible to get better at managing and understanding those wounds. There are better and worse responses to a flaring up of inner wounds. Being frustrated at the wounded inner-child for keeping you up all night when you have an important meeting tomorrow may seem a rational response. But in the long-term that wounded self is going to need love or it will damage your psyche, self-neglect does not produce healthy people. I have put myself to sleep with a self-directed ‘I love you, unconditionally’ after a full night of insomnia. Unconditional love is not a good thing for adults in my view, but for children it is quite essential. If you cannot love your own vulnerable inner-child, who can you love? That is where love is needed the most and you are in the ideal position to give it. Unconditionally.

– Non-comparison with imagined selves: A good friend of mine often talks about falling short of his ‘best self’. I don’t know what he is talking about, he already is his best possible self! Sometimes he stands, sometimes he falls. It is as good as we can get. I have always compared myself to ‘famous me’. Whilst this desire for recognition has some basis in reality and possibility, the idea that there will be a point where one breaks through into the world of fame and celebrity, a lofty vantage for philanthropy and fighting the system, is an imagined self of absurd proportions. If you are brave enough to be flawed yourself, that is a damn good effort.

– The nature of beings: The nature of your being is to continue existing. The will to live is something as natural as a plant reaching up to the sun. Ideas of a self-destructive nature are imposed from without, by forces which are interested in using you, exploiting you, or harming you. The very nature of yourself, what philosophers have called the ‘conatus’, is a stronger ‘idea’ than anything from without. Within that will to live is a will to love and that must necessarily be directed ‘inwards’.

And finally, very importantly, don’t worry if you can’t self-love at any given time. The world is too big for your shoulders and there are a lot of bad influences in town. Spending a night binging on Netflix or Rome: Total War is the birthright of those of us born in this era. Distraction, hobbies, being a bit too self-critical sometimes. This is all part of the sentient-human package.

If we idolize and essentialize self-love and make it something to aspire to, then paradoxically we destroy it, for we trample over the part of us that is imperfect.

Remember always to leave room enough for the fucked-up you.

 

The slumbering elves

The forest elves are sleeping now, we must not wake them!

Ssshh – tread lightly.

Say some that every winter they lay deep in their caverns, gradually releasing all moisture from their bodies.

In a dreamless slumber they wait, their breath slowing to one rise-and-fall a month, their skin becoming as tough as bark.

When spring comes, moisture and light begins to permeate through the soil – the elves stir!

But it takes many weeks to fully awaken and they appear tree-like and terrible in such a state.

This is why so many adventurers mistake them for dryads or more pernicious creatures!

Yet in good time they will again be elves; fair and songful but quick to anger!

It is a fool indeed who contrives to summon them in Winter. They will be weakened for the whole of the year to come without the replenishment of their manas. If they survive at all.

Little Dragon’s Three Seasons

Little Dragon was born at the start of Autumn.
She believed the whole world to be golden browns and deep reds
Falling leaves and falling climes.

Then came Little Dragon’s first Winter.
She believed the whole world to be icicles and beautiful morning frost
Clear skies and chilling air.

Next came Little Dragon’s first Spring.
She believed the whole world to be lush and verdant, vivid green growths
The hatching of life and the return of the sun.

‘Now I know the nature of the world and its three seasons!’ said Little Dragon.

Momma Dragon laughed and watched without judgement as her daughter ran wild
among the world.

Summer was on its way.

The infinite well of Self-Esteem

Me and my therapist spoke in no small terms about ‘innate value’ and ‘inner dignity’. We talked about the value of self-love, how to cultivate it, how it was prerequisite for the love of another. We assumed that it was something already there, an axiom of the soul.

But I was never fully convinced that there was a source of worth inherently in us. If there was, how could my adult life be plagued with collapses of self-value? I do not believe that with enough ‘practice’ we could ‘self-love’ ourselves back into a place of worth. Nor do I believe it to be true that we need to love ourselves before we can be loved by another.

What others might call ‘inherent value’ I see in a much more nihilistic light, namely normative (or society-given) value. Nature has no inherent value but for the survival of species; cooperating or competing for life. We are no different to any other species, we are the children of nature.

If I had a font of hidden energy and self-value, why is it absent after a lifetime of searching? Perhaps my therapist was just trying to be nice!

A cursory observation of society will demonstrate that people seek to be valued by others. This may be through their position in society – how many people do you see taking pride in their work or striving to get ‘to the top’?

It may be through belonging to a community or ritual place of worship – how many towns do you know of without a church?

It may be in the form of finding a loving partner – how many people do you know who take pride in their relationships? I saw at least five couples publicly demonstrate their affections for each other on my walk through town yesterday.

It shows that we are indeed empty on the inside and in constant need of others; that it is not enough to be with ourselves. Indeed, it is precisely this need for others that drives us forward and allows society to happen. Our emptiness is our driving force and a vital part of who we are.

Despite this gaping void of emptiness and valuelessness within, there is a silver lining.

Every cloud… –

I believe it to be true that low self-esteem can create a downward spiral. The less you value yourself, the less others will value you. This prevents you from turning the tide and rising into a better place. Charity and pity does not feed esteem, nor will people lying to make you feel better. As we are dependent on those around us for esteem, we always have to factor others into our ‘equation of esteem’. This means there can be obstacles to gaining esteem –  coercive group-think and conformity, the presence of ‘alpha males’ who feed off others, prejudice against race / class / gender / and so on, the fear of crowds and groups, to name but a few. When you are low on esteem, these challenges feel insurmountable.

Yet there is nothing that can stop you developing a creative talent. On the way to work, during a lunch break, when you wake up in the middle of  the night – there is always time to develop a skill. No one can give you this talent and no one can anyone take it away. Some people might be privileged by having an earlier start but nothing can stop you from beginning your journey whenever you want.

For myself this saving grace was performance. I don’t need people to believe in me anymore to be a good performer. I don’t need people to tell me I am a skilled musician or actor. It does help to be supported, but I can get by in the hardest environment and know that I can stick it out. The development of performing talents has reached critical mass – there is no turning it back now.

This is what the article title means by an infinite well of self-esteem. It might not always feel right to perform, but when the opportunity and the will align, it is up to one person and one person alone to succeed. Myself.

This does not mean that becoming a craft should be idealized. I do believe that we need to be loved, cared for, checked-in with others, to belong, in order to be fully healthy. A course of CBT or psychotherapy solely working on self-esteem will probably be necessary to make any major gains.

However the infinite well is a factor that can always get you out of the downward spiral.

I have low self-esteem. I do not want to be around other people, so my self-esteem gets even lower. The lower it gets, the less chance anyone is going to want to be around me, so I become more isolated. The more isolated I become, the more I am depressed and therefore anxious. The anxiety prevents me from trying out new situations or talking to new people. It prevents me from taking even the smallest step forward. The lack of inner-value means that no one wants take me on, women are repulsed by the sight of weakness and neediness. Relationships are destroyed by my imbalance and vulnerability. Therefore there is never anyone there to offer a hand up and help me onto my feet.

The key to turning things around is precisely the isolation. Whilst it is not a good thing, it does allow space to develop oneself. It might be boring, emotionally harmful in the long run, repetitive, tedious – but it won’t be forever. If you can train yourself whilst in that place, even just a little bit every day, you can reach a stage where you have a powerful foundation of self-confidence and self-belief. And whats more it will be grounded in empiricism, not the platitudes of a therapist!

There is so much that can be done alone. Playing and composing music, learning how to code websites, creative writing, gardening, growing, cooking, video-blogging.

Skills that can be brought into a social context, such as playing an instrument or community cooking, are especially of value here. They enable someone with low self-esteem to have an ace up their sleeve in competitive social situations or in the predatory capitalist workplace.

Final Mentorly Wisdom –

No one can take away your creative talent, but then no one can give it to you. It is something that must be earned. It requires immense focus and patience. This is precisely what makes it worthwhile, it is truly yours. In the absence of a saviour-figure who will likely never come to rescue you, in the absence of the one-true-love who only exists in faerie tales, creative mastery is the most guaranteed way to turn the tables on low self-worth.

It is not the whole picture, because a person needs to be loved and to belong. But it is a start.

Low Self-Esteem

How much depression and anxiety comes back to low self-esteem?

A vision of the self as being a totality of worthless components.

Reaching back into personal history it is not hard to pinpoint pivotal moments that fed in to this condition.

But awareness does not seem to alter anything. Do we need other people to confirm the truth of ourselves?

The causes –

Rejection has been a constant theme of this blog – from work, from love & relationships, from social groups, from friendships, from all smanner of spaces. These doors seem closed and barred, they seldom ever register as possibilities.

Rejection does not necessarily cause low self-esteem. But what rejection can do is feed into narratives of broken esteem, confirming core-beliefs of dejection and sadness.

Whether it is one rejection or a thousand, does it make a difference? Rejection (real or perceived) sets a spark which travels down into the depths of the soul and ignites trapped feelings, negative self-views, internalized abuse and so on.

Dealing with these fundamental core inadequacies seems like the primary way forward; it is not the specific instances of failure or rejection that caused fundamental self-esteem problems, but the self-esteem problems that magnify those feelings. Or worse, the low self-esteem that seeks to confirm itself, perceiving failure and being overly harsh on the self to create a downward spiral.

Perspective –

Is a counter-point it should be noted that exile, rejection and failure are always hard. The Pythagorean cults of ancient Greece were destroyed by vengeful people who were once cast out. Exile and isolation is painful for humanity. Under no circumstances is an overly competitive framework where we must fight with each other ever going to have a happy ending for the majority of people.

It should be noted that low self-esteem is not just a problem in an individual. It is endemic to a society which exalts some people and puts other down. Is this simply the dark side of our social species?

 

Sexually In/Active

There seems to be a power that people gain when they are sexually active. What is it?

A unique brand of social approval and protection. A sense of achieved liberty in, what is supposedly, a liberated society.

Seemingly, ‘sexual energy’ meaningfully expressed can increase the lives of those involved. And it is, in platitudes at least, something everyone can find if they look hard enough.

The trouble is, people who are given sexual power and attention seldom recognize their privileges. What cannot be universalized, is universalized. Desirability is as tied in to class, status, economics, race, and so forth, as any other privilege or oppression.

What if you can only be inactive? Attractiveness is not equal, nor is confidence or mental well being; essential to having a sexuality.

The energy still exists, even in frustration. Yet energy must have some expression. Could it be that frustration is a font of energy which can be channeled anywhere, a constant motive to forward motion? This may be the saving grace of a lonely savant.

To be inactive in our ‘liberated’ society is seen as repression or a poorly made choice. But some people do not have a choice.

The need to be constantly active, or perceived as successful, is itself an oppression.

Why can’t consensual sexuality between adults be treated as value-neutral, rather than an ideal propped over and above our lives?

To cast off chains of actual repression is essential, but to replace it with competition and status anxiety is throwing out the bathwater, the baby and the bath.

Give not thyself away

Every time you reach out to someone, you give a part of yourself away. You have to hold a space for a relationship to develop. You have to take a risk which means the possibility of rejection.

Often in human-to-human interaction there is a power dynamic of giver and receiver, of actor and reactor, powerful and powerless. The one who is offering something is in a position of weakness, the other person has a position powerful enough to warrant someone else approaching them.

It is impossible to survive in this world alone, such would be a truncated existence. So we must transcend our shells and learn to interact with others. You never know when you will make a lifelong friend or start a satisfying relationship.

However, knowing when to stop is essential. And what is most important is learning the importance of keeping yourself, or not giving yourself away.

If someone is rejecting, why give them another thought? The connection can be cut away and you can regain that lost part of yourself. By undoing the initial reaching out, you cease to be rejected.

If someone is ignoring, why keep on trying with them? There are plenty of other people out there. It may make someone more mysterious if they are distant, but it is a power dynamic which is destructive to you.

It is far healthier to be discerning, to hold your dignity close to your chest. There is a balance to be struck: to be willing to try with new people but aware that it may not work.

This is the reality of human interaction. We are not all equal, nor all in equal positions. You can never fully trust someone who does not acknowledge this stark reality.

In a society of ‘words not deeds’, we are increasingly expected to trust people at face value. By what they proclaim to believe, or what they proclaim to identity as. I have learnt the hard way to look for ‘deeds before words’, to be more discerning and less trusting of others based on their surface-level bullshite. This rational cynicism has strengthened myself, and made the idealism of younger years look like the naivety it was.

To find true human connection is hard, it takes times and it takes work. But this is precisely why it is magical and worthwhile.

A hundred paths to freedom?

Imagine two scenarios.

In the first scenario Jack stands upon a plain, which reaches off into the far horizon. Leading out beneath his feet are a hundred paths. He can see nothing but the plains and the thin little roads leading off to nowhere.

In the second scenario Jack stands at the top of a commanding hill. He is at a crossroads: the path to the north leads into the forest. The path to the west leads to the mountains. The path to the east leads to the coast. The path to the south leads back to where he came upon the plains.

Who is more free?

In the first scenario Jack has a hundred potential pathways. He has a dizzying array of choice. But he knows nothing of where they lead. The paths simply lead off across the empty plains. There are no point of reference or landmarks, making his return to the crossroads all but impossible.

In the second scenario Jack has only four directions he can go. But he is stood upon a hill and can see where the paths lead. This gives him some idea of what lies ahead. He may not be a woodsman, but he knows what to expect from the forest. Trees, streams, birds, folks living in cabins, maybe a bear or two!

Despite the seeming lack of choices in the second scenario, the freedom Jack has is greater. His choices have more context and have more meaning. He can make an informed decision. And if the forest does not work out he can always back track to the hill and try a different direction.

The first scenario is more like a nightmare. It is flat and featureless. With no context to those hundred choices, Jack will have to choose one at random. This might be exciting and ‘adventurous’ at first, but it will quickly grow tiresome and anxiety-inducing.  As the paths lead nowhere, what is the difference between them? They might as well all be the same.

These are idealized scenarios, thought-experiments to get our minds thinking. But they are not merely abstract mind-games. The society of individualistic values and consumer nihilism is more like the first scenario. For instance there are hundreds of TV channels, but they are mostly awful. The promise of quality is false – advertising cuts programmes into three and wastes hours of your life each week; producers have to constantly churn out shows to meet voracious demand, so the quality is low. A hundred paths, but they all lead nowhere.

It is possible to have genuinely meaningful choices in life, but these require context and purpose. This should be our criteria of liberty – ‘meaningful liberty’. We should do away with any notion of ‘maximizing liberty’ as some indicator of moral good. It is hardly better than tyranny to live in a meaningless society.

So where do we find meaning?

Many of the things that are part of our ‘destiny’, things we do not choose, give us a massive sense of meaning. They are a context around which to build our lives. I think of my old friend, a philosopher of great ability, who sticks by Spurs FC through thick and thin.  As goes the tradition, you find the nearest football club to where you were born and then you support them. You do not ‘choose’ a team, it is given to you. Meaning and belonging is found within that context.

Likewise with your family. Your first relationships are with them. This has a massive shaping effect on your later relationships, even if you do not consciously realize how. It is a lifelong journey of discovery to work through these depths and there are no easy answers. But we do not choose our blood-family. Would we be better off if we did? Would the term family be able to maintain its meaning if we did?

And we can pull back further. The society we are born into and dependent upon, the culture that has been created for us, the first languages that we speak; these are part of our ‘destiny’, not of our choice. Yet without them we are nothing. Meaning comes when we realize that our choices effect not only ourselves, but also other people. To find meaning in society we must realize how our choices and desires are patterned by society – our dreams and aspirations do not emerge out of thin air. Knowing the sources of ideas, we can understand the forces that shaped who we are. Knowing humility, we can then create things for others as much as for ourselves; to live for others as much as we live for ourselves. Someone isolated from society, in an individualist bubble, can find no meaning. They are at the hundred empty pathways, every single one leading nowhere. Every adventurer they meet on those paths is going nowhere.

And then we can pull back even further, for society is dependent on Nature for its survival. Without the living world, we could not exist. The ultimate challenge of meaning goes beyond our lives, beyond our civilizations. It is to discover our place in nature, how our culture interacts with it, how we live sustainably within it to ensure a living world for future generations. This is our ‘destiny’.

Our deepest connection to nature is coded into us, evolving with every generation, yet continuous, leading back to some impossibly distant history which should lead us to nothing less than awe. The seasons and cycles of nature, the creatures which populate the environment around us, the plants and trees; all in incredible variety and multitude. We could not, given all the faculties of our minds, create a more enthralling landscape which can satisfy that natural urge to belong to something real and greater than us.

This is what is meant by the four paths upon the hill. The scope of choice is not so large, yet this is why those choices are comprehensible and have meaning. Where they lead is more clear, what they are is visible. Embracing our finitude and the parts of us that are determined is the key to meaningful liberty. And let us also give liberty its due, for what freedom we can have, we ought to have.

Jack shrugged his shoulders, hoisted on his pack and headed for the coast. He always wanted to try going on a fishing ship and with Spring a few weeks away, this was his chance.

Regeneration

Time heals nothing. Regeneration is what heals.

There is a common cliche in our culture. That time heals all. I do not believe this is true. In fact I think that this could be a destructive belief.

Processing and regeneration is what heals. These things take time, but they are not time itself.

Someone may suffer a traumatic incident. They could spend the next ten years moving from one distraction to another. In those ten years they might do no purposeful processing whatsoever.

We need to let our healing functions regenerate us. But to do nothing is frowned upon in productivity-obsessed society. You always have to be active, out-there, doing-something, between-jobs, saving-a-species, on-the-hunt, success-seeking. This busy-ness is not always out of choice – in capitalist society these things are done out of necessity as the anxieties of destitution hang above us. Hours spent lying asleep are viewed as excess, days spent idle are seen as wasted , the content of dreams discarded as trivia. Stillness is seen as wastefulness.

But this means we are denying our fundamental regeneration systems the opportunity they need to heal. The long periods spent doing nothing are essential to the somethings. This is especially true when you have to live with disability.

Of course, it is good to be active and to strive for things. I would not give up my life’s work for anything of this world. To do literally nothing would be the end of me. But the something should be done with the wisdom of the body in mind. The prudence of the body gives us our boundaries. We human beings are unique in that the capacity of our bodies can be overruled by the dreams of our minds. When we overstep our capacities too far, we deny regeneration a chance to recover us, and this is when we fall the hardest.

In the background of our lives, beneath the awareness of consciousness there are regenerative processes functioning. Psychic wounds are being healed, knitted back together by slow and purposeful creatures of the psyche; the healing forces of nature, insectoid and fungal, breaking down, recycling, processing. In stillness, they thrive. They must be given the time and space to do their work.

There is no all-heal. Life leaves its scars upon us. If we could erase our traumas or histories we would be destroying part of ourselves, not healing.

And of course, life ends with death – something we have no cure for. So to say anything can completely ‘cure us’ would be naive – old wounds leave scars, new wounds are always a possibility. But as much as we can heal, grow and understand ourselves, we should. Just because suffering is inevitable, it does not mean that it cannot be minimized or dealt with in a mature way.

I am glad I have been indulgent and given myself as many ‘years off’ as I have. I will  take as many more years off as I need to, working on my own projects in my own time, with prudence and patience.

And certainly without guilt.

You can run a thousand miles and end up going nowhere. Or, you can take one step in the right direction and make more progress in that one moment than some people will make in a lifetime.

Wounds never heal, but…

The body is wounded. It remembers the source of the pain, the severity of the pain, how to deal with the pain.

The knowledge is stored deep inside the very cells of the body. When next a threat erupts, the body is wiser in its defence. The wounds have taught the body how to react.

The memory of pain is essential to our being. It helps us survive, it helps us evaluate risks and to know whether we are strong enough to deal with them.

To forget pain and suffering, would be to suffer it again, and again, and again. In a sense, memory of pain the wounds they leave are less frightening then having to live them anew every time.

Not that we have a choice. There is no forgetting. Not until death.

The natural world we manifest within is harsh, it allows helpless children to be harmed and innocents to suffer. Some sufferings are so great that we cannot withstand them. We must repress them. Suffering is a constant, it is inevitable. Sometimes it is extremely powerful. In infancy and times of vulnerability, suffering can multiply to levels many times worse.

However repression does not solve anything – at best it can delay the inevitable. A person who completely represses their suffering is not free from it, despite their illusion of control. The body will cry out for the suffering to be seen and acknowledged eventually. As we touched upon, this has an essential purpose.

The repressor will maladjust their body to itself, live in a warped and truncated way. But one who feels suffering and truly knows it, is not necessarily any more free. They are at least more honest.

I believe that wounds never heal. Therapy could not heal me. Leaving therapy, I became a touch more nihilistic, because I knew I was stuck with these ‘conditions’ til the grave. But even though wounds never heal, we can learn to endure, learn to counter their destructive effects and learn to live around them. In this regard, therapy was massively useful.

If you are as wounded as I am, it does not mean your life is over. It may become harder, but life is seldom impossible. Ways exist to compensate. Consider the plethora of genii who had less than ideal circumstances to see evidence of this (Friedrich Nietzsche being my favourite).

At best, we can have stages in our cycles when we do not feel expectional levels of hurt. We also move in seasons and cycles. It makes sense that nature would not generate beings which are always one thing, fixed and unchanging. But we always cycle back to old sufferings, because this is how we are.

Finally, I wish to speak to those who harp on about forgiveness and moving on.

People who speak of forgiveness in healing wounds strike me as most bizarre. If a riotous vandal puts a brick through a magical sentient greenhouse, the greenhouse ‘forgiving’ the vandal isn’t going to repair itself. It will still have broken glass. How will it ever ‘move on’ if the broken glass isn’t fixed and the vandal held to account?

But this is what it is, and this is what we are. Or at least, so I believe.