A more gentle approach to a hard life  – Food Pharmacy

Helena Önneby

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A more gentle approach to a hard life 

I used to think that too much self-love would make me weak. That more self-compassion would make me selfish. That prioritizing my own mental health would make me self-centered. That I would no longer get anything done, that I would become less generous or isolated if I losened a little, from that constant pushing. But the more I soften towards myself, the more I have to give, that realization lands deeper and deeper in me.

When I needed to find my own way on my own healing journey, I soon discovered that all those external changes didn’t really have the desired effect if I just focused there. Because the more aware I became, the clearer it became that I had a rather harsh inner climate. The inner dialogue was judgmental and controlling. I could feel self-compassion as long as I was performing and doing well, but when I did something “wrong” or failed, it got worse.

I used to think self-love was about pampering myself. That extra half hour in the bathroom with a bubble bath and nice body oils. Or a massage in the middle of the week. Or a fun dinner with friends. And all that is of course lovely but can also be quite uncomfortable if we have a harsh inner voice that judges what we are doing as unproductive or spoiled or a waste of time.

For me, self-love today is mainly about a continuously softening inner dialogue. To always remind myself that I am love, just like everyone else, and that I deserve unconditional love. And the more I give myself what I need most, gentleness, the more it spills over to others. Because my true self, without walls and self-defense, is generous and full of love.

Nowadays I often sit on the subway and notice how the love bubbles over, I feel so much love for the people around me. People I don’t know at all and probably won’t meet again. Quietly to myself, I say to my fellow passengers: I love you, I love you, I love you. It doesn’t mean that I necessarily like what I see or appreciate a particular behavior around me. It’s because I see who they really are, love, just like me, no matter what exterior is presented at that moment. I’m filled up from within me and so it naturally spills over to those around me.

And at the same time, the mean voice in me is always close. It suddenly wakes up sometimes and vividly starts waving around with harsh words, as if to make up for lost time. Then I need to soften towards that too, and realize that I can.

“I see you love, well, you’re afraid I’m going to lose something now so you harden your tone, that’s okay. You can be here. You can shout all you like. It is okay. I got you.”

I’m not the voice in my head, I’m the one witnessing that voice. I’m the one who can hold everything in my heart. And the more I soften, the stronger I become. Not because I’m invincible, but because my roots run deep. Like a tree I stand firm, even when the wind blows around me. Because the roots are in loving soil, in soft holding of everything that needs to be present in the human experience.

It’s so easy to harden when the world seems scary. But I want us to remember softness. Because when you can soften against all that, the harsh reality and the stiff walls, as well as the vulnerable and smooth, then you realize that you don’t need to defend yourself. The love you thirst for is already within you, and when you turn on that faucet, it flows freely to everything and everyone around you.

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