A few months ago, I led workshops at a weekend conference. One was titled “Affirm Self, Affirm Other: Reminders for the Journey.” It was designed on the bones of workshops I’ve been in and led that were based on the notion to “Lead Self, Lead Other.” Both workshops are about the need for caring human beings to be self-aware and to act upon that self-awareness in such a way that we are empowered to then act on that self-awareness for the benefit of others. I incorporated both a call to share our stories and a call to self-reflection.
The first thing that struck me in the workshop was how hungry all the participants were to share their stories. These were people like me, generally older adults, who had raised families, enjoyed careers, and done volunteer work. I invited them to engage in storytelling in small groups of two and three and to reach back into their childhoods to recall and share the messages from adults, like parents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, that they had heard.
The quality and content of the participants’ stories have haunted me since that workshop. I can still hear the emotion in the voices that told of strong fathers who never spoke a word of approval and meek wives and mothers who didn’t either, because those husband-fathers wouldn’t have approved. It was like the participants had stepped back into those childhoods, or maybe never really left those childhoods even after the passage of decades of adulthood. There were also stories of loving marriages that were simultaneously troubled, and how the spouse did not flower and bloom into all her fullness until the death of the other spouse.
My workshop design included discussion of affirmations and self-talk, and practicing voicing affirmations to ourselves and to each other. I used images of flowers as metaphors for leading the participants into a practice of affirmations that many had somehow not learned or forgotten how to do for themselves and for others. The flowers were images of beauty that spoke to the hearts of the participants that knew, recognized, and rejoiced in beauty, goodness, and wholeness.
I felt sad when it was time to end the workshop, because there was so much more to share and to tell, to learn from each other and to practice.
I cherish the Buddhist concept that we do violence to ourselves when we engage in negative self-talk and self-criticism. The Buddhists do not say that we are to forego self-reflection nor do they eschew the journey to self-awareness of our failings. They just espouse a gentler path that suggests we empty ourselves of the negative, self-critical emotions and look towards the light that shines forth from the unity of all of creation.
I want to suggest that as we approach a new year, we might try some simple everyday affirmations of self and other that could become habits through daily practice. I want to suggest that our habits could become contagious, if we practice them daily, consistently, with others.
What if you say something nice to yourself each time you look into a mirror or when you think of yourself? “I’m looking nice today.” “I feel strong today.” “I am going to have a good day.” “I love my life.” “I’m going to enjoy doing my chores today.” “I liked trying that new job at work yesterday.”
What if you say something nice to everyone you encounter? “I hope you’re having a good day.” “Thank you for asking me how I am today.” “I appreciate your service.” “Thank you for having such a great smile.” “You’ve helped make my day a good day.” “I’m so glad to spend time with you.” “I love what you’ve said.”
As you practice this habit of affirmations of self and other, you will find yourself moving into an even more specific practice of this habit. You will find yourself noticing and remarking on specific things that people have said or done that are things you can affirm. “You always have something cheerful to say.” “I like how you support the team.” “You always seem to know when to lend a helping hand.” “You share the cutest photos.” “I like how you notice a beautiful sky.”
Won’t you join me in affirming self and affirming others? I guarantee it will make you feel better about yourself and others!