How many of you remember that old commercial in the late 70's/early 80's:
"How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop?"
If I had a dollar for every time my mind had that kind of thought around my growth process, I'd be sitting on some huge cash reserves! I don't know about you, but for me, and most of the clients I've worked with, future growth can't be calculated or measured like that. Usually when my mind is asking for something like that, it's really looking for some kind of certainty, some sense of solid ground on which to feel safe.
Recently I've been looking and feeling deeper than ever into some of the core layers of ego inside of me; layers that can actively distort my thoughts and emotions about nearly anything if I'm not vigilant. These are the layers of what some spiritual teachers call "inner division" - they create a feeling of being separate from the sense of well-being most people would say that strive to get to. They create a feeling of being separated from love essentially. Getting more specific, I'd call it self-love.
This afternoon while I was speaking with my friend and mentor, David Elliott, about his new book Healing, I was talking about my experience of working with the first exercise in the book - "Write down all the ways you love yourself."
I told David that generally my list starts with activities, things I've done to or for myself that would seem loving. Yet my real sense of self-love is that it's not based in actions, but is most definitely reflected in actions. If I do not love myself while taking a shower, it's just a mechanical act. If I consciously actively love myself while showering, it's a whole other experience that leaves me feeling expansive, refreshed, and full of joy.
It's a feeling that I'm learning to cultivate and sense regardless of what I'm doing, or what's happening around me. If my love for me is dependent on any particular set of circumstances, my love will be absent without those situations. If my willingness to move into flow and expansion is tied to what can be given to me, it can just as easily be taken away.
So far this might be sounding a little hard to wrap your head around and turn into practices that'll abundantly reveal self-love.
For me some form of meditative practice is essential for revealing and experiencing the feeling of this love. At the moment, it's a daily practice of sitting two times a day, once in the morning and once later in the day for a minimum of about 23 minutes. 23 minutes hasn't got any special significance that I know of, it just happens to be the length of the CD track I'm using for meditation. Several times a week, I also practice the breathwork that I teach. Both of these constitute meditation practices that quiet my mind and open me to experiencing profound expansion, relaxation, and moments of no thoughts of any kind. There's a palpable "Presence" that moves through my body like a buzz or humming feeling, the sense of feeling spaciousness in my cells, and an ease in my breath.
It's also crucial for me to get some form of exercise daily. I need a combination of working with weights (which help me feel strong, grounded, and solid in my body) and cardio (which also gets my breath moving deeply and into a rhythm - excellent on the days I haven't practiced the breathwork).
Then throughout the day, when any thought arises that carries or stimulates some form of tension or negative emotion, I've learned to question the truth of the thought. The best-selling author Byron Katie teaches that any thought that creates suffering indicates an argument with reality and a belief in something that isn't true. The way to release the stuck emotion is to show myself the truth by asking myself good questions.
One of my favorite questions is "Can I know this is the absolute Truth for certain?"
And finally, keeping all the spaces I occupy clean. That goes all the way from physically cleaning and organizing my home, office, and car to maintaining the ecology of my relationships. I have a practice of regularly scrolling through the contacts in my iPhone and noticing my thoughts and body sensations. If my stomach clenches when I look at a name, I know I've got some work to do. And doing this work always gives me more space to breathe. It may mean questioning my beliefs or thoughts about the person, or it may mean picking up the phone and finding out if there's an amends I need to make.
All these practices are scalable, meaning they're to be experimented with, tried out over time, and adapted to the situations. By no means is this the end of the road on practices either. Essentially I look for practices to cover the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual... all of me.
I also check in to make sure I'm having some fun. This is a muscle I know I need to keep focused on building. If I'm not careful I can start to get a little too serious, and it's only a few steps from seriousness to heaviness.
While excavating the Truth within, or even just navigating what's real in a relationship, things can appear distorted and the process can feel incredibly destabilizing. It continues to be priceless for me to get more comfortable being uncomfortable, to find the solid ground I've been looking for within myself, where no person or circumstance can take it away. It's a knowing.
All the things I listed above are activities that help me feel clear and awake so I can actively perceive the solid ground within. Find your own, experiment, and do something long enough to see results. Then use the results to refine your experimentation. And have some fun along the way.