Tools for Changing Ourselves
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The most important work you can do in the world is to change yourself: your values, your self-image, and your actions. The foundation of a paradigm shift is learning to nurture oneself – no small task, especially in our current culture which values productivity and power/possessions over health and well-being. Nurture is not about what you “should” be or do. It doesn’t mean beating yourself over the head that you should resist temptation, buck up, get a grip, or be stronger – in short, punishing yourself into being better than you have ever been. Nurture means seeing and accepting yourself exactly where you are at, accepting and fully experiencing your emotions, and encouraging yourself in a new direction.
If you struggle with overeating, for example, you will probably not find balance by forcing yourself to starve. You may want to do a short-term fast to cleanse your organs and assist you in breaking your mealtime habits, but it is crucial as you attempt to make a change that you honor the part of you that loves to eat. Most food imbalances are related to how you feel about yourself, your body, and your place in the world, so changing imbalanced eating habits requires processing darker emotions such as loneliness, grief, or anxiety. As you do the work of accepting and experiencing those emotions instead of distracting yourself from them with food, you open yourself up to act differently. Finally, it is important that you give yourself a positive reason to do the difficult emotional work. For example, you might encourage yourself to change your eating habits by visualizing how much lighter, more energized, and sexier you will feel when you eat in balance, and how much space will be free in your life for creative pursuits.
The value shift begins with valuing yourself. Choose to value yourself. Many children are raised learning through words and actions that a valuable person is productive and never late for work and always has a job (working for someone else). This thought is so predominant in some homes that almost everything else, including teeth brushing or taking time to read a book or take a much-needed nap, is given a back seat. Many families eat whatever is fast, even on the weekend, so they can get back to work. It’s not that parents are bad people, they are just doing their best to prepare their children to survive in this culture, which means working very hard all the time to get your basic needs met, and you will be respected if you work long hours with few breaks to rest, laugh, or stretch. Unfortunately the drawbacks to this lifestyle greatly outweigh the benefits. Children get cavities in their teeth early on and are so full of tension and anxiety they develop severe nervous habits such as teeth grinding. Kids in this environment get sick on a clockwork basis from working to the point of exhaustion (work schoolwork and extracurricular activities like sports, which are often only valued for achievement rather than the child’s enjoyment).
It takes years of retraining for people raised this way to learn to value and nurture themselves: to brush their teeth morning and night, to allow time to stretch out their muscles every day or to enjoy restful activities. Even though these activities take time away from being productive, people who do them enjoy their work more, make fewer errors, and get hurt less. Resting when tired slows down production for a moment, but keeps people from getting sick regularly.
The lifestyle many people experience growing up illustrates the power of our cultural drive toward constant production and work for the aim of getting ahead – achieving more, making more money, getting more done, “keeping up with the Jones’.” This outlook is beneficial for short-term business accomplishment, but compromises the quality of life of the people trained and coerced to live that way. As a population, we are plagued with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes from poor diet, absence of rest and cleansing, and lack of touch and love.
The Bridge is about changing cultural values. This work begins with the self. Remember: you have value. You are worth it! You are just as deserving of attention as your job, or getting a project done. Washing the dishes or fixing your car can wait 20 minutes while you stretch and get centered. And the quality of your work and interactions in the world improves when you take the time to nurture yourself.
In the coming pages you will find a set of suggestions, reminders, mantras, and actions you can use to change your beliefs and value yourself: sticks, stones, and strategy for building the bridge. They are, of course, merely suggestions: tools to try out as you attempt to shift away from a value system that no longer serves into something more nurturing.