Artwork by Annelinde Tempelman
When we look around us, and the state of our planet, it seems like most people have an inflated sense of self. But actually, the reverse is true. It is because we don’t feel worthy, we feel the need to push ourselves forward, to project our voice that carries our opinions, beliefs, wants and needs. Because we don’t feel like we are enough, we have learned to speak too much, to try too hard, to give or even to take too much.
So what does a person with a healthy sense of self-esteem look like? And if that were us, how would we move through the world? In one word: softly. Softly not because we are timid but softly because there is no reason to push, because we meet the world seamlessly, effortlessly and most importantly, graciously.
The paradox of this human condition is that, with a healthy sense of self-esteem, we would meet the world without making it about us. We would confront situations without personalising them; without having ‘me’ as a point of reference. We realise that ‘self-esteem’ actually appears as ‘self-less-ness’, in a full, compassionate, empowered kind of way. It almost says: “I am, I can, and I have, therefore, what is it that this scenario requires of me?” and we would simply follow through with thought, word and deed truthfully and transparently. Because there is no reason not to. Of course, to achieve this degree of integrity in the face of life and the scenarios that it dishes out to us, we need to have a fairly robust sense of self already, before we can surrender it. The danger is that people try to surrender something they have not, and hence, they fall, sometimes hard.
So how do we begin to develop our self-esteem?
1. By practicing mindfulness, we become aware of just how much we are driven by the fear of not being enough and all the ways we seek validation from the outside. Once we sit with this and we are really honest with ourselves, we progressively work through our anxieties and digest them instead of continuing to uphold them.
2. We are free then to use our imagination: we can imagine a self-sense different from the one we have known. And yes this is despite the memories, karmas, and patterns woven into our cells. We can still begin to replace our limiting internal patterns by re-imagining a sense of who we are beyond our ordinary self definition that was based on our fears. We can imagine what it would be like to feel ‘full’ and how generously or spaciously we would live.
3. A regular Yoga practice helps to change our old cellular memory and ingrained patterns to our newly imagined reality; it really challenges our habits of slumped posture or lack of inner strength (to name only a couple) and replaces them with a new way of being and meeting the world.
4. We can accept our faults as well as our qualities in light of the bigger picture of what we are here for. We see that we have been ‘shaped’ to achieve our potential and we can be in full acceptance and peace with all that we are, and have lived through, even our past mistakes and judgements. In drawing as in life, one line leads to another or to a different shape or to an alternative decision. Last resort, you collage over it and this becomes part of the art. Perfectionism does not apply to us humans as we are organic and creative by nature. Our beauty lies in that.
5. We can say ‘no’. In fact, our self-esteem is in direct correlation to how true we can be to ourselves in relation to others. Setting boundaries from a place of Love and fullness rather than from a place of Fear and lack is key here. It takes an enormous amount of wisdom to distinguish self-esteem from self-centredness in our relationships.
6. We watch for our inner critic that will kick in right about now. We all have one and although it may sound like our own voice, we can identify what it looks like (a gremlin? a dementor?) and what it sounds like (a succinct formula such as “you can’t do that” or “you are not enough”). And once we get to know what we are working against, and how it operates, we can eventually disengage from it whereas before, we were immediately blinded by it. We can even choose to divert our attention away from its ugly head when it creeps up on us and onto a more affirming message - be it a memory of an achievement or a positive reinforcement. Yes this takes a massive amount of mindfulness and practice.
7. We can recognise emotions and thoughts as transient waves that come and go in all of us, they are not necessarily real and certainly do not define us. For instance, instead of stating to ourselves “I am clumsy”, the more truthful thing to say would be “I feel clumsy right now”.
8. Living more in the present, we find it easier to be truthful in our self talk. If we project into the future, or we remain stuck in the old stories of the past, we are doomed to lose ourselves in mistruths and assumptions.
9. The ability to nourish ourselves helps to reinforce our self-esteem. This includes giving ourselves permission, time, space and whatever resources we need for what nourishes us, and what brings us joy, without feeling guilt or shame. This would naturally fall within reason in our busy schedules and our many responsibilities.
10. Every evening, we can spend a few minutes in meditation and reflection on our day, breathing through the events helps us digest them and our reactions to them too. This, in turn, cultivates gratitude for each experience. LIfe, after all, is a journey to be enjoyed, not a destination in itself.
11. Lastly, we can celebrate our uniqueness and gift it to the world, rather than comparing ourselves with others and what they seem to be doing. If need be, unplug from social media as it is filled with false impressions.
Last but not least, to put self-esteem in perspective, here is a very witty quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, from her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:
“We spend our 20s and 30s trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our 40s and 50s, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don't give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won't be completely free until you reach your 60s and 70s, when you finally realise this liberating truth - nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow”.
Need help navigating all of the above and re-creating yourself or an area of your life? You can explore your creativity in a playful way, in a stunning setting in the French Alps, with an encouraging circle of people. Join Natalia on her “Picturesque Alpine Creative Journey”, travel sketching as a metaphor for life, with art tutor Catherine Moullé, 7th to15th September 2019.
Details under ‘Travel’ on www.saffronrose.com.
To read this article in the New York Spirit magazine, click here.