Start where you Are

Eight years ago, when I was floundering in my faith and just my sense of self and grounding, I felt a distinct message bubble up to the surface: “Start where you Are.”

At that time, that meant start literally where I was – within a few blocks’ radius to my apartment in urban San Francisco.

I went to a yoga studio a block away, moved my body, and heard the teacher retell the story of the prodigal son before class.

I worked up the courage to step into a church two blocks away, where people looked engaged and happy coming out the door after Sunday services.

Start where you are. Every journey begins with a small step.

“Start Where You Are” is the title of a book I read many years ago, and that I’m re-reading now. It’s written by a well-known female Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron.

I’m slowly working my way through the many nuggets of wisdom here, and I am deeply moved. My library copy is underlined in parts, and for me that makes it all the more sweet.

She starts with self-compassion.

Compassion for others begins with compassion for ourselves. – Pema Chodron

Actually she starts with an even greater truth: that “we already have everything we need” and that our basic wealth and brilliance is there no matter to what bad behaviors and thoughts we cling. As a Christian I translate it like this: we are wonderfully made in God’s image – profoundly loved – and secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from God and God’s grace.

I was sitting at the bus stop and started talking to a man in his 30s, after he remarked on how much he liked my hair. After I told him “this is how God made me” (my new standard answer when someone asks me about my Alopecia) and no, it’s not cancer, he took off his hat and showed me his head full of gray. He shyly admitted that his friends had suggested he start dying it but he was hesitant to do so.

He asked if I worried about what other people thought, including my friends and family.

“No”, I answered immediately. It was hard at first, I went on, but it’s just the way I am, and since I have no control over this, I can’t care that much what other people think.

The truth of my struggle only came to me later. I wish I had the insight and vulnerability to share with him then. But now there is this:

I don’t care about the looks of strangers. I walk around proudly with my bald(ing) head, without being ashamed or covering up with a hat. Yet when I come home at the end of the day, and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I am still surprised. And I struggle, not with what other people think of me, but what I think of myself. Am I beautiful, just the way I am?

Start with self-compassion.