Dusk. Portland, Oregon. 24 June 2021. (Jennifer Willis)

tiny prayers in the dark

“Help me to love myself more.”

Last night, I surprised myself by whispering these words into the darkness. It’s not unusual for me to murmur words of encouragement, request, appreciation, or hope like this. Call them little prayers if you want to, or personal affirmations if that makes more sense to you. It’s one small way I have of trying to connect and work with a larger world and universe, even as my understanding of it keeps shifting.

In the past, it’s been so easy to send up appeals for better health, for freedom from pain, and for the ability to be able to focus on a reliable and consistent basis so I can just get my freaking work done. Those are the main requests I’d make for myself. When it comes to others, though, there’s no holding back: I pray for my loved ones’ personal safety, for good health when they’re sick or injured, and for ease and comfort when they’re dying. I ask for whole communities (human and otherwise) to be safe from the raging wildfires. I ask for the best possible outcome for all involved in sporting events and other competitions. I ask for clear heads and open hearts in stopping the pandemic, systemic racism, trafficking, aspiring dictators, and climate change.

But for myself, it’s always been about fixing my body so that I can be a more constructive member of society.

Somewhere, maybe just moments before I whispered those words into the dark, something inside me turned. Maybe it was the rattling but deeply cathartic breaking open that happened among my autism support group earlier that morning. Maybe it was the case worker a few weeks ago encouraging me to focus on developing grace so that I can accept myself as I am, instead of what I’ve always thought the world required me to be. Maybe it was the example of Simone Biles’s necessary courage in prioritizing her own well-being over more medals and performance-specific accolades. Maybe it was the wisdom of aging and of earned experience starting to settle in.

Whatever was the catalyst, my entreaty last night had more to do with my own contentment and well-being, and less to do with all the ways I’ve wanted to change myself so that I can satisfy expectations. Even when I’ve wished for release from chronic illness and pain, a big part of that has been centered in, “because then I can work harder and do more and not be such a burden or a problem”—in other words, while it would be great to no longer have these limitations, my focus has still been on being productive and not letting anyone else down.

“Help me to love myself more” wasn’t anything I’d planned. Those words were spontaneous and true, and kind of revolutionary. When was the last time I’d tried to develop self-love? Self-confidence, sure, but again that is something measured directly through interaction with others. Self-love has an internal rather than an external focus. It doesn’t require me to do anything or be anything, though it does challenge me to meet myself where I am, in whatever circumstances or physical or mental shape, and to accept and even embrace that.

And living a life centered in that? It’s honestly hard to imagine, though I’ve seen others do it. I want that calmness and bliss.

I don’t know if this is something new and necessary taking root, or if it was a momentary miracle. But I’m encouraged and kind of in awe either way.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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