I love this quote by Thich Nhat Hahn, “Only when we are friends with ourselves, all of ourselves, can we take care of and love another.”
Just think about that statement for a moment. What does it mean to be friends with yourself? Most of us probably think of self-nurturing as going out to dinner, for a drive, getting a massage, having a vacation, going on a shopping spree, having lunch with a friend and believe me those are all necessary to stay connected to people and to bring joy to our lives. I think most of us are aware of those things and probably incorporate them into our lives on a regular basis. There are countless books written about: stopping to smell the roses, taking long warm baths, having a hobby that gives you pleasure. All these things are part of relaxing and enjoying life and are necessary. But I think Thich Nhat Hahn is actually speaking about a deeper level of Self Nurturing.
An example and a lesson from Arianna Huffington: Arianna is a woman who had it all: brains, beauty, celebrity, influence, power and money. She wrote a bestselling book and founded the popular news website The Huffington Post. We look at her and think what a lucky woman. She has a great life, is successful, beautiful, has great clothes, great kids and is someone to be envied. We are almost sure her life is a “dream”, “no money worries,” “she must float on a cloud” so we are just a little bit jealous of her, because she seems to have it all. Right? But that wasn’t true. In her own words here is what happened to her and WOKE HER UP:
“After staying up very late one night to catch up on work, I suddenly found myself lying on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood—my own blood as it turned out. I had passed out from exhaustion and banged my head on the way down. The result was a broken cheekbone and five stitches under my eyebrow. It was a wake-up call, leading me to renew my estranged relationship with sleep. And when it comes to wake-up calls, few if any are as effective as the spilling of your own blood…which in the old days, was used to seal a contract”.
At that moment I am sure she began to think: “Is this the life I should be living? Is there more to life than money, business success and political influence? Here I am passed out from exhaustion from not taking care of myself and literally my body is falling apart. I pass out and lose consciousness because I am almost dead on my feet!”
This incident led her to “rethink and evaluate” her life and her relationship with work! Her workaholism (yes, that was what it was) had led her to a place where her body spoke for her and by doing so said: Enough! The result of her self-analysis was a book she wrote entitled Thrive: The Third Metric to redefining Success and Crating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder. In other words, she discovered that she needed to cherish her health and body to continue on with her life as she “knew it”. If she continued to neglect her basic need of a good night’s sleep, her days would be numbered faster than she might realize! You and I aren’t Arianna Huffington, but maybe we too should look at what real “self-nurturing” looks like in its deepest practice. If we don’t know who to deeply nurture ourselves we will lack a true “authentic self” that is acting out of a deep sense of awareness and purpose in life.
So, the Question becomes: What exactly does the influential Buddhist teacher and author Thich Nhat Hahn mean when he tells us:
“ We first need to learn how to be “friends with ourselves, all of ourselves—to know, realistically understand, and appreciate who and what we are BEFORE we can actually love another”. This is an interesting idea. So, it seems he is saying we need to know ourselves, have a commitment to ourselves to understand who we are, what we stand for and believe is true for our life before we can honestly relate to and understand another.
To accomplish this, we would each need to regularly take time out of the whirlwind of our lives and commit to a lifelong process of growth through self-nurturing. In its highest sense, self-nurturing involves understanding and developing your strengths and addressing your weaknesses in each of the three core components of emotion, intellect and spirit. There are many distractions in life and part of our journey is to sort through what clamors for our attention. Ultimately, we need to identify the things that are truly the most important in life, so we can become what we have been put on earth to be and to do. There is no greater feeling than knowing you are becoming what you were destined to become, doing what you were put on earth to do, loving yourself, your family and friends wisely, and making your corner of the world a better place because you are there.
There are three levels of self-nurturing:
- Intellectual Self-Nurturing: The importance of continually expanding our awareness and understanding of the world. Those who do not continue their education in its broadest sense, not only in college, but throughout their lives, fail to develop their full intellectual maturity. If you let yourself become isolated from a broadly-based knowledge of the sciences, cultures, and arts, or get stuck in a social media echo-chamber, it will restrict the growth of your intellectual maturity.
- Emotional Self-Nurturing: Each of us carries considerable emotional baggage or injury from our childhood, most of which we are not fully aware of. This can and does taint our perception of the people around us and leads us to act in ways which subconsciously sabotage our cherished goals. We each need to realize that we have emotional immaturities that may be driving the bus of our lives! These acting out behaviors need a strong internal spirit and intellect to discipline and control them before they sabotage our lives. If that is the case in your life, you might need therapy to help you “untangle” the things that might create unintentional chaos in your life….like it did in Ariana Huffington’s life.
- Spiritual Self-Nurturing: We cannot borrow or buy a sense of personal destiny and purpose in life. It comes from self-knowledge, self-awareness and a highly developed interior life based on values and a connection to something higher than oneself. It also takes the daily living out of the knowledge and helps point to your true North. This is the ultimate gift that we give ourselves. This is the divine part of self -nurturing. Spiritual self-nurturing allows us to become at home in our own bodies, have a deep sense of who we are and why we are here, and enables us to live with purpose and meaning that emanates from the core of our being.
These three types of self-nurturing are the highest gifts we can give to ourselves. It requires time, patience, introspection and a desire to live with purpose, integrity and the self-discipline to live it out each day we are here. This is something we can only give to ourselves.