A few days ago I had a realization. That realization snowballed into a few more and before I knew it, I was joyfully shoveling myself out from under a blizzard's worth of realizations. I was flinging snow in all directions, snuggling in snow caves, and basking in the picturesque view, when everything is covered in a soft, renewing, white.
Here's what happened. I was feeling down about myself, like I do, and I decided I would motivate myself to "be better." The tactic I usually take here is to encourage myself by pointing out how disappointing I am. I decided to take an even more compassionate approach and imagine the Future Me looking upon my present self in mild, pitying disappointment. As I prepared for this enlightened act of self-love I thought, almost amused: "My future self, the real one, is nothing if not 100% not disappointed in me." What a thing to think. But I know it's true because I have proof. Present me isn't disappointed in my past even though I have effed some things up royally, I can tell you. I see I was doing my best, or deliberately not doing my best because that was my best protection. Whatever it was, it's over now, here I am, and I've forgiven myself for all the things that seem to require forgiveness. But I'm not disappointed
It was here the snow started to fall.
I was so taken by surprise by the realization I had set myself free from my missteps. I hadn't known. I didn't realize. I asked myself, "What are the implications of this?" I hadn't thought about my future self, what I'm now calling my "Wiser Self," and how she/I will be the same me who has forgiven my own past, with very little regret and no disappointment in my actions along the way. Which means my present self is free from the fear of making the wrong choice, failing to heal fast enough, learning too slowly, not being brave enough, and more. I know that whatever the choice or action, I will look back with compassion, make sense of the wreckage and try again. I know this is true because I've been doing it along, staying out of my own field of vision, looking upon myself with understanding. This Wiser Self was kept hidden by the voices that live in my head pretending to be me, the voices of the past, or other people's torments. They live here and tell me I'm lazy, or not working hard enough. They tell me I could do better, that I could be better, if only I were different. But all these years, my patient and steady Wiser Self has been there, watching, keeping track, noticing and approving. She has waited out those voices with steady grace, and they will not be able to keep up with her now that I see her.
And that is when I realized something incredible. I care more about what I think of myself than what others think of me. The fact that my own forgiveness sets me free is proof of it.
It feels more epic in my head than it looks on the screen.
But it is epic. Maybe it doesn't seem so incredible outside my head because we've always been told that what other people think of us doesn't really matter. It's the lesson we learn, right? We hear it all the time, we're indoctrinated with it from childhood by books and Sesame Street. But the rest of everything in our lives says differently. Right from the start most of us are taught to use our parents approval of our behavior as a barometer for our value, being "nice" with friends so they accept you, and don't get me started on how obviously imperfect we are in the media's eyes. And sure, there's a lot of "getting along" that needs to happen between all of us, and the niceness and social graces and not living in pandemonium is really great, but those are rules, like not feeding bears in Yosemite, not guidelines for how to feel about yourself. It's like we understand what the ideal would be, but we don't trust it. As though it's a fairy tale, and wishes are good and everything, but they won't pay the bills. So instead we believe some other fairy tale, like there's a right and a wrong way to be. Then we live our whole lives fearing we will wake up to the horror that we did everything the wrong way and failed life. It doesn't happen like that for everyone but this is the game I've been running.
I like the idea of a wiser portion of myself, the sacred part of me that somehow is miraculously protected from the destructive patterns of this flawed human, approving of what I've done. Of me approving of myself. I find it funny that the word "approval" is what came from this, and not "love." I do love myself, just like I'm supposed to. I treasure and honor myself and all that too. But love and honor is for something other than what I'm talking about here. Love and honor are for things that are. Approval is for things that do. You approve of systems and machines, well-made furniture and knitting patterns. My love for myself and my honoring of my life is inherent. There's nothing I can do to change my worth as a human. I get that, and I'm glad, and it's really intangible. It doesn't seem to help me when I'm doubting my ability in something or when I'm unsure if I'm making the right decision. That love and honor is a comfort and an anchor, but not the same encouragement for me as approval. When I think of "approving" of myself, I think of putting myself through the paces and finding that all is functional. Of seeing records of past behavior and finding it of sound mind. Of looking on my heart and finding it willing. I see these things. And I fiercely approve.
The last snowflakes fell and I thought, "I can trust myself." I can trust myself to try my best, because I always have. I can trust myself to look on the world with a courageous heart, like I've always tried to do. The implications of all of this are far-reaching. It means access to another kind of freedom. The moment I realized that I truly approve of myself I saw so clearly the armature of other people's opinions, doubts, and fears, break away from me. They're not mine. They sneaked in, took up residence and fused into me. But the ridicule and poor advice they offer are not mine. Because mine radically approves.
I have begun to see myself through my own eyes, from the inside out, in the midst of this power full life, and I see something good. I see how far I've come and I know how hard the struggle's been, because I've been there, every step of the way, holding my own hand, picking myself up, watching myself with reverence for the small life unfolding. I have been here the whole time. I've heard every whisper, I've seen every slight of hand, I've watched every impossible step, and I say it is good. I approve the ever-lovin' holy-hell out of myself. What a freedom.