Mothering Ourselves: Nurturing Yourself, Your Dreams and the World

(This piece was originally published in a previous issue of Tama’s free monthly email newsletter, “Trusting the Journey Times.”)

I have had to learn how to mother myself in this lifetime. I love my mother, more so these days than ever before, but for many years I felt like I got the short end of the umbilical cord. Like many of us, I didn’t get the movie mother in this lifetime, the tireless cheerleader, the fierce cub-protector, or the one who listened deeply to all my secret places and saw colors in me, I had yet to see. That mother was on back order when I was placing my cosmic selection. Instead, I got someone who hadn’t exactly read the manual, and I know now, deserved and needed a mother herself.

But I have become a great mother to myself.

It’s taken years mind you. At first, I took the sad track to the broken amusement park ride of “It’s Not Fair.” But you can only ride that ride for so long before you realize that nothing has changed and never will. Yes, I’d wince when I met someone who had a mother that was their best friend, or someone they aspired to be like. I’d avert my eyes from that glow like seeing something so beautiful and private, something I could never have, something not meant for me.

But it was meant for me. It was meant for all of us. Even if you have a great mother, it’s important and life-changing to become that nurturing presence for yourself. It’s a practice. You can get better at chess or yoga. And you can get better at being there for yourself in ways that rock your soul.

I have learned to become a fierce advocate for my joy. I am still work on becoming a resourceful presence for my pain. Here’s some of what I practice: I tell myself, “you can tell me anything,” and I mean it. I no longer punish myself for feeling helpless, angry, jealous or stuck, and I’m willing to fill a thousand journals with my feelings. I buy myself tokens and totems to celebrate achievements, large and very, very small. I whisper to myself in the crevices of emptiness between my bones, “I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you. I have so much faith in you.”

I used to think it was sad to have to be nice to myself, since I didn’t have a “real person” to do it. Then I thought it could even be destructive, as though the worst parts of me, liberated from criticism and threats, could grow like spores, live on pizza, and let reality T.V. replace reality. But it turns out that I’m not reckless when loved; I’m soothed and healed. Turns out that when I don’t have to protect myself from my own self judgment I’m really not all that interested in indulgence and escapism. And lately, I see self-kindness as a matter of pragmatism and responsibility. I am called to be a steward of the abilities and gifts that only I have, to represent the sacred love that comes through me, to tend my fire, keep it burning, creating one more source of light and warmth in our world. And as I take care of myself, I am one less broken soul, one more capable being on the front lines ready to tend the wounded.

I’ve learned how to mother myself from many sources, for which I am so grateful. I’ve learned from the forgiving eyes of therapists how to listen to myself with less judgment and attack. I’ve learned from the tender gestures of friends and lovers how to buy myself grapefruit juice, treasure my impish smile, and to say “oh honey,” in the hard times. I’ve also been amazed by the spontaneous mothering I’ve experienced in life from total strangers, people who saw me leaning against a wall like a wild rose bush, and who gently tucked a trellis underneath my leaves and helped me find a stable way to grow. I have been saved, redeemed, and taught by the kindness of brief acquaintances who may have offered something basic to them, but who loosened a dark primeval knot inside my soul. I’ve felt safer in this life knowing that mothers, beings of nurturing and kindness, support and love are everywhere and that I do not have to be related to be deeply connected.

I’ve also learned so much from different wisdom paths such as Buddhism and A Course in Miracles. I’ve learned to become a loving witness for others and in so doing I’ve become that witness for myself. I’ve learned to discover and listen to a sweet beloved inner voice that is mother, father, lover, creator and an original intelligence with the power of ten thousand waterfalls, the softness of a puppy’s breath. I continue to learn that I am never alone and infinitely loved, though love may come from a line in a book or the fragrance of a garden.

Since I have committed to following my dreams in this lifetime, I deliberately set out to become my own advocate and cheerleader. I knew there would be cut glass upon the path, abandoned markers, questions and locked doors. I have consciously created a voice of encouragement within myself, one who sees how brave I am just for daring, one who doesn’t care about results, but cares about the efforts. It’s this voice that keeps me warm with praise, and puts cotton in my ears when dark stories are told. It’s this voice that keeps lists of encouraging signs, scraps of evidence in my favor. It is this voice that will scream from the bleachers when I die, “Way to go dear one, you gave it everything you had. It’s been a great ride!”

The beautiful thing about becoming this presence to myself is how much it’s enabled me to gift other s with this love, to be that generous stranger for another, to be that lightning rod for my friends, family, clients and students. I’ve turned some of my private ache into public service. I have even learned to mother my mother, a rag tag child herself, lost at sea in judgments and opinions and injuries I will never know of. Sometimes I do not feel appreciated or seen by her. But that’s okay now. Because I am always appreciated and seen by me.

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This month, I’d like you to think of nurturing yourself as your responsibility. Do something truly kind for yourself. Can you buy yourself a small gift or token of gratitude and support? Also, are there people in your life that you would like to thank for their tenderness or example of kindness? The world is full of dynamite mothers, and some of them are men and some of them are dogs and cats.