Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
Seeing Yourself as a Friend: The Road to Success
The only way to have a friend is to be one.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In autoimmune disorders, the immune system gets confused and attacks things within the body’s own system. The white blood cells produce antibodies against the body’s tissues – basically, attacking their home. What should be treated as a friend is misidentified as an enemy. Communication between the cells gets mucked up; it’s a big misunderstanding, not unlike a bodyguard becoming disoriented and turning on the person he’s supposed to be protecting. Though identification of enemies is often the focus for our protection, accurately identifying friends and being a friend is more important for us to thrive.
Albert Einstein is quoted as having said that the most important question one can ask is whether we see the universe as a friendly place, and therefore, whether we use our resources to try to fend off the unfriendliness or strive for greater understanding. In a sense, each of us is our own universe. Along with our unique psychological, emotional, and spiritual profiles, our individual bodies employ trillions of cells in a vast intelligent system not unlike the vastness of the cosmos. The body has the means to keep things running without our conscious awareness, just as the universe handles the big stuff like the safe orbiting of earth and other planets in proximity to each other. So in striving to befriend our largest sense of What Is, it makes sense to begin with the smaller versions – us.
When my youngest son was little, he found a small hand mirror and took great pleasure looking at himself in it. He said to his reflection, “Now, let’s go over here!” Swiftly bouncing to his new location, he carried the mirror from the armchair to the couch. Peering into the frame again, he laughed, “Come on – now let’s go over !” He continued in this manner until he’d traveled all over the room. He was delighted to meet himself each time, happy with his friend. I remember wishing I also felt such enthusiastic friendship for myself.
Often the way we’re unfriendly to ourselves revolves around our definitions of success. Between the ages of seven and nine, my oldest son was resistant to doing homework; my focus became centered on seeking success through relentlessly devising creative, “fun” ways to lure him to vocabulary study or math problems. Though I came up with clever (and not so clever) ideas, nothing addressed his intense frustration, nor mine. As time went on, without realizing it, I grew to see myself as a failure. Nothing I did worked, after all. Thrown pencils, crumpled papers, screaming fits, unyielding arguments, major resistance – and then of course there were his reactions (ba-dum-bum!). I grew to feel as if I hated my beloved son – and me. In time, though, I realized my agony wasn’t due to a boy and his homework, it was due to my condemnation of myself.
Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.
~ Lucille Ball
When I was working with my son I didn’t like who I was. But he wasn’t making me feel that way. I wanted to be loving but my focus kept me far from love. I had erroneously defined success as the external condition of accomplished homework. What I really wanted was to love him and for us to go forward together happily; this was my true success. When I finally remembered that, I no longer saw an enemy, neither in him or in me, and my war ended.
Success is a big idea and we each must personally define what exactly it is. What are we fighting for? Because in fighting for, sometimes we also think we’ve got to fight against. If we’re a “failure”, we’ve misidentified ourselves as the enemy of our own success. Unwittingly, we attack ourselves for the absence of what we want, using the natural system, intended to support our well-being, against ourselves. Regardless of the rationale or good intention, self-attack only creates pain and stress. The road to success is not paved with self-condemnation.
The success I seek is always love. Whether the outward form looks like a book getting published, money, an impressive title, or a child peacefully doing his homework, there isn’t gratification without love’s involvement – love of story, love of sharing, love of creating, love of flourishing, love of another. A true success story is always a love story. And that success starts with the generosity of seeing oneself as a friend.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.