Mr. Chinese Medicine Man, Thank You for the Self Love.
There was a Zen Chinese medicine man that practiced on the second floor of an old brick house in a quaint ski village about an hour away from my house. A friend had told me about him and I scheduled a visit, curious. When self love unexpectedly sparked three days following the appointment, my life changed. So did my relationships.
Who was this intriguing man, I wondered.
He answered his own phone and when I arrived on site, I was grateful for his directions because I could have easily missed it. Adjacent to a ski shop and café was a large two-story colonial residence built in 1839, or so said the sign above the main door. As instructed, I entered through a smaller wooden door on the left and climbed the narrow staircase to an office I presumed was rooming behind one of the gabled dormer windows out front.
He opened the door as I was getting ready to knock and said, with a calm smile, “Welcome.”
The space could have been a kitchen at some point, with a paned window atop sink and counter overlooking an open field behind the house. He offered me water or tea, the latter of which likely was stored in one of the several glass jars of herbs in the tall bookcase on the back wall.
Unsure of what I was getting myself into, I followed the short, stocky man with my glass of water to the adjacent room where I sat comfortably on the shaped seat of a spindle-back chair across from his desk. My shoulders felt warm under the sun coming through the front dormer.
We went through a few questions about my medical history and the reason for my mundane visit which, for the life of me, I’ve yet to remember. He paused.
“Would you like to try a guided meditation?” he asked.
He motioned toward the thick yoga mat rolled out on the floor behind me. I laid down and rested my head on the thin white pillow. Flat on my back in the middle of the room, with a peculiar sense of vulnerability, I waited. And as I listened to the gentle music playing softly in the background, my body began to relax and my mind, to slow down.
“I would like you to picture a beautiful area of your choice in nature,” said the man in a peaceful, quiet voice.
I began to imagine a wide path in the woods framed by birches, maples and lush evergreens, mingling with the sun beaming through their branches as they reached high toward the blue sky. A distant rippling sound of water joined the rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds in the trees. It was a dream.
“Take in the beauty around you,” said the man in the room.
I followed the path and came to a bright opening where the sun sparkled off a rocky river. On the shore, next to a thin bush swaying in the warm breeze, was a flat-topped boulder and I took a seat, looking out onto the unruly water coming through. Tiny flies danced at the surface, teasing fish underneath. Shades of green filled the landscape across the river. My body relaxed into the calmness of the woods and I lifted my head toward the sun, eyes closed, soaking in health and vitality. Around me reigned effortless harmony.
“You are part of it,” he said.
The Chinese medicine man continued: “As you relax into this natural setting, breathing and reaching for light as do other beings around you, realize that you are part of it too,” he offered, gently.
I pictured myself blending into the scenery on the shore, a small piece of the life force pulsing around and extending in every direction.
“Start expressing your appreciation toward the elements of this beautiful setting, which is bringing you so much wellness in this moment,” the soothing voice said. “Go around and tell them how much you love them.”
Taken out of context, this may have felt very awkward. But in that moment, under the guidance of this tranquil Chinese medicine man, it flowed. Looking around my enchanted wooded haven, I proceeded to tell the trees, grounds and water how beautiful they were and how much they meant to me: I love you trees, I whispered inside, filled with joy and gratitude. I love you river and I love you sun, I continued, appreciating every part of them.
The man’s soft voice continued: “As you express your love toward them, remember to include yourself; for you are part of this beautiful nature.”
I looked at myself sitting atop the sun-warmed boulder by the river. I love you, I attempted to say. And, like a scratch on a record halting my dreamy narrative, I muted.
“The words won’t come out,” I said.
“For some reason I can’t say it to myself,” I told the man in the room. “I’m trying and, it’s like, the words are being blocked.”
“It’s ok,” said the Chinese medicine man in a caring voice. “It happens.”
What a strange feeling it gave me, to be unable to utter these three words to myself.
I got up from the floor and settled back onto the Windsor chair, somewhat shocked. Empathetic, the man asked if I’d be open to repeating the exercise daily. He asked if I liked the music that played, his own meditation mix, and kindly gave me the CD as well as some anti-anxiety Chinese medicine tea.
I went home and tried the exercise the next day, and again the following day. I played the music from his CD, laid down and followed the path in my head to the clearing in the woods by the rocky river. I blended in, expressed my appreciation for beings around me, calm and at peace in this imaginary place. When it came to telling myself, I love you, I couldn’t.
On the third day, something happened. I woke up and, for the first time in my life, smiled blissfully to myself and said Good Morning to me. Instinctively, without thinking.
I sat up, swung my legs over to the side of the bed and, instead of mechanically getting up and tending to what and whom I usually did, savored my own company for a moment. I was seeing and enjoying my own presence, as I would that of an old friend’s.
“Good Morning, Jo!” I said to myself. And I was so happy to see me.
It just happened and I knew: something had changed.
Over the following weeks, sporadically, I began to notice and appreciate myself. Like in the wooded haven, where trees and shrubs belonged with their kinks and crannies, I started to let go and believe I didn’t have to fit in any particular way. I could be and appreciate myself, with mistakes and imperfections, learning as I go and grow: a work in progress.
As I began to be more forgiving with myself, empathy grew. And it amplified toward others.
The more indulgent and accepting I became of myself, the more I projected the same outwardly. Tolerance began to lead the way. Love, perhaps, lead the way.
And life became increasingly easier.
Of course, there are moments where I’m stressed or scared or hurt, and I get upset over people’s ways. When I calm down and look back, I usually realize that, once again, I was in my own way. Because I can only control my reactions, my emotions. But, I slip. Because, I’m a work in progress. So I strive to do better next time. To stay at peace with myself, at peace with others. In love, perhaps.
What is self love?
For me, self love means acknowledging my reality and welcoming myself where I am on the journey.
It isn’t a vanity contest where I win or a character competition where I score. Like each apple is unique within its apple family, we are each one of a kind traveling our own path, growing at our own pace.
While self love doesn’t mask hard times or disappointments with myself or others, it extends compassion to me, to us. It helps me be gentle toward our humanness.
Self love invites respect and kind words toward myself and, subsequently, toward others. It brings me hope for improvement and encouragement to persist. It helps me believe that we are good and restores my faith in humanity.
Self love brings me protection. Because, while I respect other paths and choose kind words, I realize I don’t have to accept everyone’s ways. I recognize we don’t all have the same goals and can set boundaries to keep away from harm.
Self love is to get to know and be me, as such supports my needs, aspirations and wellbeing.
Self love is to cultivate a sense of belonging and to be welcoming of others because, like trees and shrubs with kinks and crannies, we all belong.
I don’t envision a checkbox or finish line in the self love process, rather an ongoing practice. Someone may come along and teach me otherwise, furthering my evolution. For now, it’s where I’m at.
Often, I get pulled into the whirlwind of our speedy life and forget. It’s ok. At some point I quiet down, tune back in and, as if with an old friend, give myself a break. Perhaps, out of self love.
Thank you, Mr. Chinese medicine man.
I was walking the boardwalk by the lake with my dog the other day and sat down in the sun, looking out onto the bay. How nice to just enjoy my own company right now, I thought. Not that I wouldn’t want anyone else’s. But right then, with my pup, I was happy to accompany myself, someone I care about.
And I pondered whether there was truth to this concept I’d heard of: To love others, we must first love ourselves.
Well, self like is a good start, I thought.
Thank you, Mr. Chinese medicine man, for helping me reach a new level of peace and authenticity. Life doesn’t have to be hard. We are enough, enough to enjoy our own company while rising out of bed in the morning.