Accepting Yourself—You Are A Gem!

“When you love you fall under the waves,
if you never fall you can never be saved
sometimes it’s grace, sometimes luck
when a hand reaches out and you take it up.”
—Kathleen Dunbar, from my album The Storm in Our Head 

There is a wonderful therapist who was a leader in his field many years ago named Carl Rogers. When he was a boy he grew up on a farm. All winter the potatoes lay in bins in the cold basement, and there was only a small window far up on the wall in that basement. He was fascinated that even though the potatoes were given so little nourishment, that they nevertheless sprouted and sent their long tendrils upwards towards the light. He believed that the thirst for life in people is the same, that there is an inherent wholeness that seeks to grow and express itself.  

“From the oak, the mighty acorn grows.” —Folk Saying 

They might begin small, but seeds are powerful and grow into great things, the things they were always destined to be. When a client first arrives for sessions, I let them know I hear their greatest ache, and understand their greatest longing, and through the somatic work I do I give them an experience of their longing being met so that they can walk out the door with more of a sense of who they truly are. Then we continue to build on that. 

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” —Carl Rogers 

People want to know how they can “fix themselves” and often have a whole gallery of internal critics telling them what is wrong with them. The problem with critics is that they are so toxic that they stop any growth. Our critics and “voices” miss the main point, that just as we are, we are a gem. As we grow to realize and accept our own unique and valuable nature, and that we are precious just as we are, then we become freer to express, learn, grow and thrive. When we recognize the amazing seed of our unique nature, then we can care for ourselves, and help ourselves to grow into our full expression.  

The following are our birthrights. Which ones speak most potently to you? Likely you may find yourself believing the opposite. For example, you may have learned to believe that you have to do everything yourself, and you took on this belief because of experiences growing up where exactly that was the case. But if you sit quietly and go all the way under the belief, you will find a longing for just the opposite—that you don’t have to do it alone, that it’s okay to need. And—you made it this far! It’s your time now, your season right now—and just as you learned the limiting belief, you can learn to return to your birthright belief and experience. It may take a therapist or mentor or new community, and it will take some work on your part to let go of the old voices and the old belief, but you can learn to reach out, and you will be able to learn who are the very people who will reach back and give you a hand up. Healing and growth are possible! 

So tell your critic to take ten steps back for two minutes, and then take a look at the following from your sense of longing. That longing is key. Longing is the seed of you calling out. It is a direct line into your essential nature. Your amazing self is awaiting you. Yeah you! 

  • You matter.  
  • You are loveable. 
  • You are welcome—there is a place for you. 
  • All your feelings are natural. 
  • It is possible to be safe.  
  • It’s okay to be powerful. 
  • It’s okay to have needs, and it’s possible to find others who will meet them. 
  • It’s okay to ask for help.  
  • You’re don’t have to be alone—there are others who will help. 
  • You can learn to ask. 
  • It’s okay to be real. 
  • Being vulnerable and authentic is a strength others will appreciate.
  • You can say no and do it your way, and you’ll still be loved. 
  • There’s nothing you have to do to be loved—you are already loveable just as you are. 
  • There are people who will be willing to see you and hear you.
  • You are a gem!

Move—Pray—Create—Sing—Love

There are essential acts and states of consciousness which we can identify and use to create a foundation to help us ground, grow, connect and thrive in both good times and times of stress (like during COVID-19). 

I’ve boiled down the essential structure of safety and aliveness into the following seven areas. 

Move. Connect with your body. 

  • What: Exercise, do yoga, stretch, walk, hike, garden, dance. 
  • Why: Movement connects you to your body, flushes out stress-hormones, and replenishes you with feel-good hormones.  

Learn. Connect with your mind. 

  • What: Read, listen to inspirational or humorous podcasts, listen to a PBS history documentary, listen to interesting audio books, ask someone to teach you how to do something, exchange recipes with friends and try them out, find out how to make something on YouTube (I learned I could make a foamy latte at home by pumping heated milk up and down inside my French Press!) 
  • Why: Learning engages and balances the brain. You can’t be scared and curious at the same time, they are two different brain functions and two different parts of the brain. Learning helps you feel alive and helps you feel safer. 

Mindfulness. Connect your mind with your heart. 

  • What: Listen to meditation apps like Calm, use your sitting practice, listen to calming music, especially music with no language, or a language other than your own and let the music take you somewhere. 
  • Why: Practicing mindfulness creates and grows new neural circuits that help you return to, and live from, your Wise Self. You learn and embody resiliency, wider perspectives, compassion including self-compassion, and curiosity.  

Gratefulness. Connect with your heart.  

  • What: Sit, stretch and yawn, bring to mind something of beauty, kindness, appreciation, “take the elevator down” from your head to your heart, feel the gratefulness as a feeling, even putting your hand on your heart to really help you move from your thoughts to present sensations. 
  • Why: There are neurons in your heart as well as your brain. A lot of them! A felt, embodied sense of gratefulness helps us move from busy left brain, to more embodied, more compassionate right brain, balances all brain functions, flushes out stress hormones, turns on feel good-hormones, and calms and grounds us. 

Play. Connect with your creativity. 

  • What: Play a board game, learn how to sing a song, bake something you’ve never baked before, play a word game with your child, paint, draw, sketch, make a collage from magazine pictures and scraps, journal, do a puzzle, make a playlist and listen to music, make a silly video for Facebook! 
  • Why: You can’t be afraid and playful at the same time. If you allow yourself to play, you bring your brain back into balance. Allowing yourself to be creative actually helps you thrive and grow! 

Connect/Love. Connect yourself with your self, family, pets, friends, and the planet. 

  • What: Talk with friends and loved ones, pet the cat, walk the dog, snuggle, make a phone call, talk with someone far away on Skype, send a heartfelt or humorous email. 
  • Why: Love is the ultimate brain-balancer. A loving act given, received, or witnessed, helps us to let go of stress and bring in goodness, brings us out of busy thoughts into a more holistic way of being, and allows us to have compassion and gratitude for self and others. 

Nature. Connect with the planet. 

  • What: Watch the clouds pass by, listen to the wind in the trees, hear the birds, bring in flowers from your garden.  
  • Why: Connecting with nature is connecting with a force that is larger than oneself, and helps stimulate wonder, awe, appreciation, and fun. It helps us feel both our uniqueness and how our uniqueness is one small and beauteous expression of the larger, mysterious expression that is life itself. Awe balances the brain and inspires hope, peace and life force. 

Play with the bolded words to come up with your own words and activities to make your unique foundation.  

For example, this particular blog arose out of the following exercise. I was feeling overwhelmed with many projects, and I wanted to end each day feeling a sense of completion and refreshment. I decided to make a foundation by boiling down into the shortest words possible those acts and attitudes essential for a day to be fully satisfying for me. I came up with: Move—Pray—Create—Sing—Love and put them up on a little strip of paper on my fridge. Even if I don’t “get it all done” I can rest in the structure. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about feeling the structure. It simplifies things, because I can invite myself into what I know is helpful. 

  • For me that means Moving my body with stretching and yoga, and walks outside in Nature to expand my consciousness. 
  • Engaging my Mindfulness and Gratefulness practices. 
  • Learning and Playing through practicing singing, writing songs, and working on my novel (I’m a singer-songwriter and writer). 
  • Opening my heart to my partner, myself and others in acts of giving and receiving Love.

You Matter

 

 

You matter. You have always mattered. Let the dust settle that contains all the reasons you thought you didn’t matter. Ah!–there is your gem self! Welcome home, my love, welcome home. 

Here’s a self-friendly compassionate perspective to help you shift:

  • My clients are wonderful-hearted people who can be so very tough on themselves because they still believe the “error” messages they got ten, twenty, fifty years ago. As kids, one of the most hurtful things that can happen to us is when the important adults in our lives don’t explain to us what is going on in difficult situations. As a child we get confused and start to believe things like “I don’t matter,” “There’s something wrong with me,” “If they find out who I really am they won’t like me.”  
  • Meanwhile, what’s really going on with the adults are things that are totally out of kids’ control, like parents being mean, rageful, distant, anxious, having affairs, depression, being neglectful, losing a job, reacting to a death in the family, illness, parents having unhealthy relationship patterns, and being abusive emotionally, physically, or sexually to their kids.
  • Our internal critics–the “tapes,” the peanut gallery, the mean voices–these critics all got “hired” by you as a kid when the only way to make sense of a hurtful situation was to start believing these “error” messages. Kids can’t handle not understanding a difficult situation, and in the absence of a grounded adult offering help, support and understanding about life’s difficulties and especially taking responsibility for their actions as caregivers, kids have to make some kind of meaning in order to stay sane. If an adult isn’t there to take responsibility and explain to their child what is going on, then what all kids do is to take the blame onto themselves and begin to believe that there is something wrong with them. That’s just how the psychology of children works. Kids have to make some kind of sense of things in order to stay sane, and even if it’s the wrong message that’s better than no message at all. Because to not have anything make sense on the one hand, or on the other hand to clearly realize that a parent is out of control somehow, that would be utterly terrifying. In the bind of loving the person who is causing the hurt, kids blame themselves, not their caregivers. That’s when as a kid you began to point at yourself and started to believe you were not enough, didn’t matter, were faulted. At the time, you simply couldn’t afford to believe that parents or caregivers were being hurtful, or neglectful, or out of control, because that would be too frightening.
  • Here’s the good news. You can look at it this way–when your only option was to start believing the negative messages about yourself in order to survive, you also did something else really important: You put your Wise Self, your unique Gem, away on a shelf and you did this to keep yourself safe. Now is the time to let the dust settle and come home to who you have always been. It’s time to begin to take yourself off the shelf and be you!
  • Something that might sound odd at first but that really helps is to sit quietly and actually thank the negative voices. You might say something like, “You just don’t want me to get hurt, and that’s the only way you know how to do it. Thanks for trying to protect me.” This often brings some settling and calm. Then notice who is doing the thanking. That is your Wise Self, being generous to your kid and to the security team of negative thoughts that was the only option you had to deal with the pain. And when you are seated more in your Wise Self, and in the self-compassion and generosity to yourself, you start to come home to you and that just feels so much better!
  • Then give yourself a little hug, each hand on the opposite upper arm, squeeze, and breathe, 
  • Even if you feel the release for just two or three seconds, even if you begin to believe in yourself just one-hundreth of a percent, even if the voices come back three seconds later, that is enough! Congratulations, you have started to come home to You, to make a new neural connection which you can continue to build on as you discover yourself as an Amazing being.

Send You Love In The Morning

One of the first songs I ever wrote arrived in my heart and mind when I was on a wilderness quest in Death Valley many years ago. It’s called Send You Love. You can find the words below. I send you love this morning! Please remember you are a unique and amazing being. Let’s keep supporting one another during this challenging time.

  • Watch a short snippet of me singing Send You Love in a recent live performance here: WATCH HERE
  • Listen to the complete song on my first album Finally Home on Bandcamp
  • Explore my music website at kathleendunbar.com

 

Send You Love
By Kathleen Dunbar
Copyrighted by Kathleen Dunbar

Send you love in the morning
Send you love when you open your eyes
Send you love in the morning
Send you love when you open your eyes

Send you peace in the evening, my dear
Send you peace when you’re closing your eyes
Send you peace in the evening
Send you peace when you’re closing your eyes

Send you hope in the darkness
Send you hope when you are alone
Send you hope in the darkness
Send you hope to welcome you home

Send you joy in the spirit of love
Send you joy with arms spread out wide
Send you joy for you just as you are
Send you joy from all that’s alive

Send you love in the morning
Send you love when you open your eyes
Send you love in the morning
Send you love when you open your eyes

 

Coming Home To Your Untarnishable Golden Self

All your choices have brought you to this moment. You did the best you could. Thank the voices that criticize you by telling them “I know you’re only trying to help.” I mean it–really do this–thank them! That’s an audacious and sophisticated act that results in a healing shift in the following way: When you thank your critics, you are actually adding some needed separation between yourself and them and you’re doing something very healing. The self that has the ability to thank your critics is your True Self, so capable and amazing, and untarnishable as gold. Because after all, the critics are the valiant security team you hired as a kid to make sense of a disrupted and hurtful world. They just go into overdrive and that’s the problem. But here’s one way to begin to change the channel. Give it a try, tell them thanks. Feel for the little bit of space and calm that comes. Breathe. Congratulations, you’ve just come back home!

If You Fall

 

If You Fall

Rest all the way down
through the bottom of the pond
and its gravel nibbled by the fishes.
Go past to where
the moist soil rests like leavened bread
upon the crockery of the bedrock earth.
Beneath the plates of ancient seas and poured volcanoes
put yourself away
into the lower cupboards of time and gravity
until you feel the pulled pulse of all your atoms
begin to agree with the atomic signatures of all things.

The rabbit comes out of her hole,
no one’s dinner
at the moment;
this evening the sky a deepening blue
held in the rabbit’s eye—
her nose a delight of twitches
for the tender grasses
and the medley of the toothwort
and plantain.
The twin white starflowers of the mayapple
nod beneath their umbrella leaves
and release sweetness
into the rising evening wind.
Rabbit sits upon
the cushions of moss
plumped by an earlier rain;
the air is washed;
no toothed thing is about
that would end a rabbit’s dinner for good—
for her at this moment
there is just a noseful of delight
while her ears are listening.

We are always waiting for death
in some form
and hoping to eat our dinner in peace.
The rabbit cleans her face with her paw,
ladylike and nibbling grasses in between.

Go down below the dreaming, aching brevity of humans,
begin to feel the agreement among all things
that those prayers given at the center core’s throb
are holy.
Everything else knows this—
we are the only ones
who fret whether or not
to give our prayers
or how to give them,
worry if they are enough
or turn them off
like a switch
as if that could be done anyway.
Look how the young rabbit prays
while nibbling;
the elderly rabbit
a bit threadbare and lean
but alert and intelligent
offers a different prayer,
more brief, as the fox arrives.

Does it turn out okay?
The way is full of holes.
Your old shoes never fit well anyway
and it hurts to stumble.
My dear, you’ve done the best you could
given all the odds.

The prayer of that which is all-the-way down
returns upward to you.
If you fall
you will meet it.
You might as well let yourself be loved.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Somebody’s Child

 

Somebody’s Child

When the earth formed
molten iron sank to its center
to make the core
and drew with it
most of the precious metals.
Gold abides with iron.
There are some veins
and pockets of metals,
also lens-shaped thickenings
and domes in the dark
that lay closer to the surface, however.
The animals don’t care about them
in the same way that people do—
the animals walk above them, swim,
fly, even dig a little at the roots—
they are the trebles
to the bass clef below—
the harmony
of the song of the earth.

People dig,
damn them,
for quite other reasons.

1.8 billion years ago
is the kind of time I can’t really comprehend
except as a puny fact.
My heart, on the other hand,
whispers
once upon a time
to begin the story—
long ago
in waters fresh and salt
a special mud was laid down . . .

. . . in that time the water
was over-bitter with much iron
and little oxygen
In it the first simple creatures swam.
For their feast and mead
they took the warmth of the sun
and made bargain with the world
to spit out from their simple meal
a gift of oxygen into the waters.
The sun was hot
and their feast great
and so they paid well for it.
Clinging, swooning youths they were
sinking in embrace,
the elemental lovers:
the molecules of the oxygen and the iron joined
and lay down together in the mud beneath waves
which prayed over them
in whispers
and laid long smooth sheets over the honeymoon bed.
The sheets frothed and laced
and the song was the old one of the pairing of things,
the kind where the two lovers
so different
now joined in their attraction
make some thing at last
under the weight of time and pressure
that is the gift of the pairing,
that is of them
and beyond them.
It was well done
and so, in this case,
iron ore.

People
so recent
and thickly scrambled in their thinking
go digging up the earth
cooking it
and shaping it
to kill other people—
they dig up an old and venerable tale
an alchemical marriage
and use it to stop hearts.

Bullets
shells
bombs
exploding metal
is mined from simple earths
grown in the dark
then shaped for death
so that the interfering explosion of the refined parts
made bloody rags of the young man
my father taught to read.
He was so young he could only grow a bit of beard
and no mustache.
Once upon a time . . .
he spoke to my father with wonder
of the idea of indoor plumbing,
of his trip across the sea,
and especially of his sweetheart with hair so red
that he lay awake at night
electric with the knowledge
that she had chosen him
and him alone.
My father helped him to write love letters,
to put some poetry to his words
upon paper that would last longer than the boy,
for in a moment
that was with you
all of your days
you saw what in earth would be a field ploughed
to accept seed
was instead flesh
interrupted from its firm rhythms,
its flow and pulse,
churned and planted instead
with the metal that made death.
The boy’s mouth spoke blood.
He looked at you
and you saw his life fall away
from his love’s hair of flaming maples
of ropes of honey fire
on the burning end of a log.
As the light in his eyes dimmed
he sank into your own eyes
as into the water’s deeps
heavy with the weight of unbearable mystery
into your molten core,
and the log burned there
his sweetheart’s flaming hair
that he longed to bury his face in once again
and never would.
You kept hearing his words
and you could not stop him speaking
all of your days.

On reconnaissance
you stepped silent as the grave
behind an enemy guard,
pulled your knife
across his soft throat.
The blood was wet and sticky.
You looked out
over the acres of moonlit trees
whose beauty filled your eyes
even as the enemy soldier
slumped against you
with his full weight
as a lover does.

You cleaned your knife later.
You were all somebody’s children once.

Back in camp
you corrected the map
showing the dangerous places,
the weaknesses
and possibilities
in the pattern of the land,
who filled the buildings
where lay the encampments,
the men
eating, smoking,
sleeping and on watch
the sergeants and boys,
the enemy,
the guns.

Unthinking
incessant
reflexive
you hugged your rifle,
always one hand touching
or else the strap pressing against your chest,
holding the gun’s reassuring weight.
What is this world
where such sensations are small comfort against
the absolute nakedness of flesh
where bullets can pull their fingers through?

You smoked Pall Malls from home
shook a second cigarette from the pack
offered it
and forced a smile
for another boy who needed both.
One of the last smiles he would be given
was a gift from you.
A shell found him the next day.
There was not much left,
and for a long time when you smiled
at some brightness or humor
you felt your mouth
so quickly
and saw him calm with what you had given
and the futility and the human despair of it.
The dead boy was there again
and your mouth was full of ash.

Long before I was born
and long after
in the middle of the night you saw the boys
you soldiered with and cared for,
most I didn’t know about.
You continued to see them
until the end of your days
even unto the morning of your own death,
those boys who lived behind your eyes
in your old heart
repaired and failing,
failed.

Your face before and after the war
was different entire,
brave in both photos—
the first like the surface of water, still,
expectant of the coming storm,
but untroubled, smooth.
In the one after
you stood on a Belgian street—
beneath your helmet
your face
was a pool bottomless,
alive in spite of itself,
this time the stillness carrying dark water
full of the dead.

Oh, the pain that families carry—
that I carry
in telling this story
about my father
and every other father
the dead ones
whose children were unborn
the live ones
whose children
know only the part of their fathers
that the shells did not rupture
the cathedrals of their hearts
with fallen walls
and blackened timbers
the faces of the angels dark with soot
this one’s wing missing
Jesus with his hand raised
in blessing
but the stone of his body
made dust from his belly down
the blue and ruby windows
atomized.

Afterwards when people speak
it is often that they name it The War
no matter which insanity
the civilized world
has collapsed into.

Whenever we went camping
the car carried
my complicated family
composed of treasures and trash
ore and tailings
wonders and junk.
The car carried us
on long summer vacations
filled with adventure
and screaming fights.
We’d leave at dawn
because my father was a morning person
who barked orders and could not understand
how he could “boss 300 men at the factory
and not you two women.”
We two women
did not follow orders.
My mother rolled her eyes and said,
“Oh, Wilson!”
(His Swiss mother named him
after the president
who waged the war to end all wars).
And when we did get out of the house
in the burnt umber station wagon
the sun not too far up
somehow, something was always left behind.
My parents always remembered what they’d forgot
about five miles down the road
at the first stoplight—
I had the spot marked—
“Oh! the coffee pot
Goddamn it!”
(Always the really vital equipment).
Sometimes mom, sometimes dad
made the confession,
there would be an almost erupting fight
halted by a bond
I didn’t understand until years later.
Dad would say
“It’s bad luck to go back,
we’ll go to the hardware store and get one,”
and mom would say
“Yeah, sweetheart, let’s do that,
honey.”
Because one day
a long time ago
somebody my father loved
went back
and that is where the shell found him.

All those boys gone
my father carrying them
my father gone now
and I carrying them all
even the ones he never spoke of.

I know people
children’s children’s children
with the stone and wood
of their grandfather’s churches
temples and mosques
groves and standing stones
erupted and silent
in rubble on their heart’s floor
all those boys
gone.

Love.
Let us learn to dig up love.
Pierce our hearts
with that prime old element
made from iron,
gold, and
blood.

© Kathleen Dunbar