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Monday, 17 October 2022

The powerful practice of self-love

mental health and wellness self care self love

Some people find it challenging to make eye contact with others. But have you ever looked in the mirror and made eye contact with yourself? Like really held your own gaze while saying nice things to yourself? Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is entirely worth incorporating this powerful tool into your self-love practice.

A while back, I attended a retreat with six girlfriends. Our gorgeous host surprised us by inviting along a wonderfully talented coach, speaker and healer named Gracie to guide us through a self-love practice. The session started out easily enough and we listened intently to this delightful young woman as she shared her story and experience with us. Early on, she asked us to take turns standing in front of each other, with one hand over our heart and the other resting on our partner’s shoulder. We were to look each other deeply in the eyes while taking turns saying, “Hi, I’m [insert name]. I love you.” This was to be followed up with a hug. Because these women were my friends, the exercise was relatively simple, and only slightly awkward (if that). Gracie mentioned that she often led this practice amongst total strangers; I felt immediately uncomfortable thinking about standing that close to a stranger, looking into their eyes and professing my love for them.

As we got further along into the session, the work got harder. Our tears started to flow as we wrote feverishly in our journals and shared our experiences with each other. Toward the end of the session, Gracie brought our attention to a full-length mirror that was propped against the wall. She asked us to take turns standing in front of the mirror while we told ourselves what we were sorry for, what we were thankful for, and what we promised ourselves moving forward. She explained that these three steps would help us release our fears and welcome love. “Easy enough, right?” she asked with a smile. We nodded, relieved at the simplicity. “Is anyone scared?” she asked. We looked around at each other with smiles on our faces, each of us feeling confident in our ability to perform the task. “I’ll demonstrate by going first,” Gracie said.

She started speaking and the smiles quickly melted from our faces. As she looked lovingly into her own eyes in the mirror, she unashamedly told herself everything she was sorry for: all the ways in which she’d harmed her body, deprived herself of food and allowed others to abuse her. Her list was long and heartfelt. She thanked her body for continuing to carry her as she healed, her voice for allowing her to share the important lessons she’d learned and her heart for all the love she was now able to give. She went on to share her promises and ended with, “I love you.” She turned to us with a bright, clear eyes and an explosive smile. I looked around at the others and saw the same terror on their faces as what I was feeling inside. This was going to be much harder than we’d thought.

I watched as my friends took turns stepping up to the mirror. As they did, Gracie stood next to each of them, her arms wrapped warmly around their shoulders as she offered support and guidance. I noticed as some girls struggled to make eye contact with themselves; one covered her face with her hands and shook with trepidation. It was a long while before she lowered her shaking hands from her face and was able to look at her reflection in the mirror. I witnessed as each one released their own fears, detached from their anger and self-loathing, and gifted themselves with love. I cried along with them and felt so much empathy, compassion, and love for each of them as they made their own unique and profound shifts.

When it was my turn, I walked to the front of the room and Gracie asked me to stand as close as possible to the mirror. I looked up into my own eyes, already red from the tears I’d shed for my friends. “Well, that’s confronting!” I gasped. As I held my own gaze, my chin quivered, and the tears welled up yet again. I didn’t speak for a long time, but my eye contact was locked in and I never looked away. Gracie held me close and I was encouraged by her loving support. I started by telling myself all the things I was sorry for. I was surprised as the words fell out of my mouth, like a tap that had been turned on and now flowed freely. Things came out that I’d never before said aloud. The words and memories, once heavy with guilt and shame, were now light, weightless, and freeing. My voice grew stronger and more confident as I thanked my body for not giving up, for carrying me through life, for supporting me through the darkest times and for allowing me to run free. My shoulders squared, I grew taller and my gaze strengthened as I promised myself what was to come. I ended with a firm, confident and somehow wiser, “I love you. I love you.” Something shifted inside me. As I ended with that second, emphatic statement of self-love, it was as if Gracie’s warm embrace had become my own. I held myself by the shoulders and stamped the words and feelings into place, embedding them forever into my soul. I let out a big sigh, welcomed a final hug from Gracie, stepped away from the mirror and into the arms of my supportive friends and self-love soul sisters.

After the session was finished, my close friend and mentor told me that I’d sounded so strong, so confident and so sure of myself up at the mirror. “Looking myself in the eye was the easy part,” I told her. “I’ve done a fair bit of that in the past, but it’s typically been followed by harsh, belittling thoughts and words.” I hadn’t realised it, but for all the emotional, physical, and spiritual work I’d done in the past few years as part of my wellness journey, I still had never said “I love you” to myself. I’d taken steps to incorporate self-care, but not necessarily gone the extra step to make room for self-love.

The work we did that day in front of the mirror has stayed with me. I realise it’s just the beginning and that I will need to continue this practice if I expect it to remain strong and true. It is a simple practice, but it is far from easy. That said, it is entirely worth the effort and has cracked open something inside me that has allowed me to release those heavy feelings of guilt, shame, fear, comparison, and doubt that I have unnecessarily clung to for far too long.

So, the next time you pass a mirror, I encourage you not to fuss with your hair, touch up your make-up, check your teeth for food or scrutinise the way your clothes hug your body in all the wrong places. Instead, look deep into your own eyes and say compassionately and endearingly, “I love you.”

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Marianne Zander

Marianne is a health and wellness coach with a background in personal training. She holds special interests in complementary medicine, gut health and vegan nutrition. Passionate about living a holistic lifestyle, Marianne founded This Wellness Life and takes an all-natural approach based on key pillars of wellness including mindset, movement, managing stress levels and maximising nutrition.

She’s been able to combine her passion for natural health with her professional career in communications in her role at Endeavour College where she contributes to content and course development and helps promote and launch new initiatives, projects and systems for staff and students.

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