“What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa
The hills that we climb in our lives often seem like great things. Enormous. Overwhelming. Insurmountable. When we’re facing issues such as anxiety or depression, our problems can sometimes take on a life and a size of their own.
Many of us don’t feel equipped to tackle these beasts that have taken over our lives. Some of us have suffered for years, trying many different approaches to solving these problems. It’s not unusual for feelings of hopelessness and frustration to move in.
These are the times when we most need to remember Mother Teresa’s words. As much as we would like to snap our fingers and have all our problems vanish with a poof, we need to recognize that the only thing we can do is take small, tangible steps to practice loving ourselves.
Whether it’s been stubbornness, stupidity or both, it has taken me far too many years to decide that taking care of myself and loving myself is the single most important thing I can do to help myself recover from my anxiety and depression. As simple as it sounds, it’s actually been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to accept on my journey.
The first thing I remember doing – you could call it the first drop in my ocean – was starting a practice of gratitude to help me love myself. One of the things that I felt showed me I deserved to love myself was the love I felt from Norah, my youngest daughter. When she was six, she started doing something that expressed such joy and love for me that I had to capture it.
As she walked down the steps of the school bus at the end of each day, she would look up to see who was picking her up. When it was me, she would spread her arms wide open, and with a joyous smile she would run to me. When she reached me, she’d jump into my arms and we’d spin around. What a gift! If this little girl could love me like this, why couldn’t I love myself?
One day, I took the camera down to the bus stop, set it to continuous picture taking mode, and snapped off a bunch of pictures as she ran towards me. One of them captured the joy in her smile and the love in her eyes perfectly, and it hangs in my house as a reminder to me of what love can be.
Practicing gratitude is just one way we can cultivate love for ourselves and others. Honoring life is another way. We start with ourselves and honor the fact that we have life, and with that life countless opportunities to love and be loved. We extend our love to those closest to us. Celebrate the joy and love you share with them and then extend this love out to friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Recognize their value as human beings and see your own value reflected in them.
Extend your love to strangers and to pets. Then move on to lives that may seem inconsequential to us – mice, bugs, snakes. By extending your love so far out from yourself, you can develop a practice, a recognition, an awareness of the value and sanctity of all life.
By practicing compassion and kindness, we can also develop our sense of love for ourselves. If we let our guards down to show compassion for someone else, we honor ourselves by recognizing our own struggles and weaknesses. By having the courage to be vulnerable in the face of another’s suffering, we strengthen the bond between ourselves and that person. We know what suffering is and we can ease others’ suffering by showing them compassion and kindness.
Finally, we can love ourselves more by recognizing and celebrating the joy we can find in our lives. While it’s wonderful to have those huge, earth-shattering moments of bliss we see in the movies, the reality of this life is that those moments don’t come around very often.
Make a practice of finding joy in the smaller moments. Whether it’s in the colors of a flower, the affection of a furry friend, or the bright smile of a child, we are surrounded by opportunities to find joy! And when we do find joy and are happy, we naturally give love!
When we’re suffering from something like depression or anxiety, it can be hard for us to find reasons or ways to take care of and love ourselves. And it’s most likely that the lightning bolt isn’t going to strike for us today. It’s going to have to come one small step at a time. So, take the time, make a practice, and start giving out love in small doses. Before long you’ll find it bouncing back to you and multiplying!
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf
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