Today was a long, difficult, frustrating day.
Actually, it’s been a pretty hard month if I’m honest. And we all have them—those moments in life when it seems like the whole world is out to get you.
When these times happen to me, I like to think that I sit back and gracefully ponder the path I’m on, and the messages the Universe is sending me, complete with candle-lit meditation sessions and guru-esque strolls through the afternoon forests.
In reality? I cry, I blame other people, I binge, I ignore important items on my to-do-list, I distract myself, and when all of that stops working I spend a lot of time telling myself I’m worthless or stupid or going nowhere. Insert your preferred masochistic rhetoric here.
In the spiritual community in particular we hear a lot about self-love:
“Be your whole self.”
“Embrace your authentic joy.”
or, as my friend Ellie would say, “Love yourself first!”
I think we say these things so often that they’ve lost their true weight. It’s only when we actually have to do it—and not when we’re at our best, at our most loveable—but when we’re down and out, flawed, cracked and chipped and peeling at the corners, that we begin to get a sense of what a task this actually is.
Before I knew I was a writer, or got my pen license, I thought I could make things in the world around me respond to me by singing to them. I stood in the front yard singing quietly to the huge gum trees lining my front fence, watching them rustle in the wind as I focused on each individual, slipping into a space in the in-between—nothing but me, and the world I both honoured and sweetly commanded.
I was young, and stories of my quirks—like this one—are frequently regaled at family functions for entertainment. However, my affinity for music and its ability to transport me to what feel like powerful internal places has remained.
So when I found myself falling too hard for lovers, while my relationship with myself continued to starve, I wondered why it was so easy for me to lust for others but not for myself. And, although I couldn’t answer that question, I knew where to go to learn how to fix it.
This is a playlist for romance—but instead of putting a partner, an external object of affection, in the love story—I saw myself. I pictured the me inside myself—my true self, my soul—reaching out to me as a lover would. What I began to realise, as I discovered how many of these songs ran true throughout this exercise, was that the relationships we have with ourselves are similar to those we can have with partners. We fight, we forgive, we love, we disappoint, we hurt and we make proud.
And just like our relationships with other people, the relationship we have with ourselves is a choice. It’s not enough to just leave it to fend for itself, on the shelves of our lives, watching it all roll by. Inevitably, we end up disconnected and finding ourselves facing a person we simply don’t recognise whenever we need to look inwards—a stranger looks back at us and we quickly slam the door, shocked and a little scared at what we’ve just discovered: that we really don’t know ourselves anymore.
The more I sang these songs to myself—in my head, on the bus to work, when things went horribly wrong—the more I felt true love beginning to grow within me. This was no longer an act, a mask I put on so that I could feel better just for the moment, a line I force-fed myself until my soul gave in and agreed to play along. I really felt it.
I began to see myself the way I saw the people I cared for in my life. I began to see my internal self clearly, and with time, we didn’t seem so different.
This song speaks to the truth of relationships in general, but particularly to the relationship we have with ourselves. Namely, it’s hard.
Internal work isn’t easy. Healing broken, damaged relationships between people who are bruised to their very core, who are distrustful of the world and each other, can sometimes feel impossible—but with every choice to try, the light in the tunnel shines through.
The dialogue I’d developed with myself was, when I looked at it objectively, truly cruel. Like lovers quarrelling, we sometimes say things that we don’t really mean—and just like when lovers reconcile, a genuine apology is needed.
And as when lovers decide to address their problems, the only thing we really need to forgive ourselves is a stubborn breed of faith.
“Let Me Love You”
The right cover can completely transform a song.
Emma Heesters covers a DJ Snake and Justin Beiber song, taking it to heart-wrenching acoustic heights.
There’s a point in this juncture at which the little voice inside—the one that’s been quietly tapping on your heart strings, crying for your attention, needing only to be noticed—turns defiant. No longer a quiet whimper, this person inside now screams for acknowledgement.
Shutting our true selves out, much like shutting out our partners and friends, often fails—because those who truly love us can never really leave.
This song reminds us that we’re one part of a partnership, and not to give up on ourselves, even when it feels as if we can’t fight another day. We’re never truly alone.
This song powerfully declares that, despite what we may have been told or what we may have drilled in to ourselves, our true selves includes our flaws—that, in fact, flaws are something we’ve made up.
Every aspect of ourselves is like a shade of colour, and to deny any one is to dull ourselves. “Flaws” are contextual, they’re cultural, they’re subjective. What may be considered a negative trait that we feel we should hide away today may be the very thing we or someone else needs tomorrow.
I realised that over the years I’d defined who I was with boundaries. I’d constructed separations and segregations and exclusions and taboos—and everything contained within the space I had outlined was me. I remembered that little girl who sang to trees and I felt nothing short of grief. When had she been told she wasn’t allowed here? When had I built a wall between us?
Emma Louise shows us, with steady strength, that only we have the power to knock down our own walls—to let ourselves in:
“Shake me ’till I wake
I know I’m brave
I know I’m braver than this
Break this bond I’ve made
I’ll illuminate, I’ll illuminate
Watch me, I’ll illuminate.”
“Keep Holdin’ On”
Glee Cast (Avril Lavigne cover)
I’m a sucker for a good choir cover. Avril Lavigne was big when I was about 13. It’s since become effectively social suicide to say you’re a fan, but between you and me I still enjoy a lot of her songs. Yes, even the one where she rhymes “boy” with “boy”. Nostalgia’s a powerful thing.
Maybe it’s the arrangement, maybe it’s the big voices—but when I was properly ready to throw in the towel this song convinced me to keep going. It reminds us that no matter how bad things feel, they could be worse, and there’s always someone there for us. We have to be willing to fight for ourselves, to defend ourselves as we would others we care for.
Whenever this song came on, I heard my internal voice calling for me to believe in them, and to feel them fighting for us.
My mother always said our biggest mistake is depending on others to create our happiness. I’m sure she said it in a much more poetically, but I had to learn it the hard way anyway, apparently.
When things come tumbling down around us and the city’s truly falling, we can’t expect that there’ll always be someone else there to carry us out of the rubble. We’re all on our own journeys, and though helping those in need is something I believe we should all strive to do, the reality is that we all have struggles, and having an army beside you when the waves come crashing in isn’t always possible.
That’s where we come in.
This song is a bittersweet anthem to the truth of this world—we journey into it alone, and out of it alone, and sometimes we need to navigate our way through it alone, too. I remember that this song came on to my iPod on a lonely bus ride home, after probably one of the worst days I’d had in years. It seemed like I was losing everything, and the fall from grace was made worse because of how high I’d climbed. I felt like I’d hit rock bottom, and I couldn’t bring myself to get up. And out of the darkness I saw that inner-self come to me and tend to my wounds.
Falling is inevitable if we want to fly, and true love means acknowledging even your furthest descents.
“Dare You to Move”
After the fall, comes the moment you get back up.
Throughout all my relationships with others—tumultuous family, friends who’ve come and gone, and a great love most never get to glimpse—the one thing I’ve had to learn time and time again is that the real loves challenge you.
Love isn’t about placating. It’s not about empty statements and featherlight gestures. It’s about pushing each other and believing in more. We want for the people we love, and we love them enough to know they can achieve it.
This song is a challenge to push through the setbacks of yesterday, the difficulties of living, the doubt we cultivate for ourselves—and run wild. Go supernova. Grab your life with every piece of you there is, and revel in it—not in spite of the mountains you have to climb, but for them.
Have you ever dated someone and gotten in to such a routine that, despite seeing them often and caring about them deeply, you almost forget what they really look like?
You stop “seeing” them, and instead let their presence settle comfortably into a nook in your awareness. Then, one day, for whatever reason, you have a moment to take a breath and really see—and you find yourself falling in love with them all over again.
Our relationships with ourselves can be the same. We stare in the mirror every day, we know which of our feet is slightly bigger than the other, and that we start off sleeping on our backs but end up snoring on our sides. By all accounts, we know ourselves better than anyone else, but I began to understand that I might know my facts—but I didn’t know myself intimately.
After working through our initial disagreements, understanding our gripes and calming our standoffs—it almost felt like I was dating myself. I noticed things about my personality, my wants and needs, my sexuality, the way I showed love, how I processed grief, my relationship with my body, and a host of other attributes I’d seen a thousand times before but had never actually acknowledged.
A few weeks ago I made love to my soul mate.
I say “made love” specifically, though a lot of people seem to dislike that term, not because the room was littered with candles and the bed was made of flower petals and promises of forever. It decidedly wasn’t. The bed was made of springs, foam and raw reality. The room was littered with our wine bottles and the echoes of bare feet padding from the bed to the kitchen.
What we did wasn’t slow; but it was sensual. We didn’t exchange long, meaningful stares and little smirks of amazement; but it did mean something. My body wasn’t softly lit and tastefully draped with crisp sheets; but it was whole.
What does this have to do with a playlist about loving yourself? I’d been sleeping with this man for over a decade. The sex has always been good, but at times like this it was shatteringly so—and it had very little to do with him.
I came to him as a full, whole person, having already made peace and love with myself. I’d been experiencing a lustful, intimate, deep connection with myself for months, and instead of entering this experience as partial, as a ghost of myself, as an untruth—I came as a sort of pilgrim to my own temple.
Suddenly, loving him was the same as loving myself—honouring myself was honouring him. Everything was a part of a whole, and a whole within itself. Sex, f*cking, making love—it was all an offering given to beings I now understood in their full, towering, ancient truth.
Nobody is going to love you as effectively, as completely, as you love yourself. And, your love for yourself fuels your love for others. With this song, honour your own lust—for life, for your partner, for you.
“Still Falling For You”
The truth, as I’m starting to understand, is that this never really ends.
As quickly as the realisations have spilled over me as I’ve developed my relationship with myself, the real experience has been a slow burn. And it’s not without its stumbles. Sometimes it feels like I’m back to square one, and I have no idea who I’m dealing with.
But, even in those moments of confusion I find myself curious, smiling, and I ask myself whether I’d really want to have all the answers.
Now, where would the fun be in that?
Author: Erin Lawson
Images: Flickr/Zoe ; Flickr/Pietro Zuco
Editor: Erin Lawson
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