01.02.2008 Relationships

Hold it Dear

Dr Charmaine Saunders shares some of her favourite ways to warm the heart.

Some years ago, a friend asked me what I cherished in my life and I said, "Nothing." Her look of astonishment was followed by the question, "Why on earth not? "I told her that it wasn't a word I related to. If it were substituted by "appreciate", I'd have a long list to offer her. Funny how our perceptions are shaped by our language and vice versa.

What does it mean to "cherish" and does it differ from "appreciate"? I think cherish has a more tender quality, more emotional, whereas appreciate is more analytical and objective, which is probably why I favour the latter. Not that I'm unemotional, but as a Libran, the only zodiac sign represented by an inanimate object, I have a talent for being able to step out of situations and examine them from a distance.

That's all well and good, but I've decided that in 2008, I will learn the art of cherishing - to hold things dear - for that's basically what the word means. There are so many things that I value (another objective word!)and I'm going to love them more dearly from now on, without fear. A big New Year resolution, indeed! The start of a new year is the perfect time to review the past and plan for the future, learn from mistakes and disappointments, chart a better course for the coming 12 months. So, here are a few of my favourite things to cherish.

I've begun with the most difficult one. It's hard to cherish people because it's like boxing shadows. People are mercurial, disappointing, unpredictable, sometimes unlovable, even when we love them a lot. Then there are all those pesky strangers who get in our way, are rude to us, drive us mad on the road, want things we can't or don't wish to give. How do we cherish people? There's only one way. To accept. That's a big word, one I personally find extremely challenging. What makes acceptance possible is not seeing it as capitulation or surrender, not resignation or settling. It's saying that it's okay to be different, that love is blind to what separates us. It's placing the focus instead on what unites and binds. Cherishing family, friends and even strangers is vital to a balanced life, one rich in connection and wholeness.

Perhaps, after all, this is the most difficult one.To cherish oneself is the same as loving others. It requires acceptance and the kind of friendship and unconditiona llove so essential to strong, healthy relationships. So often, I feel, we are best friends and support systems to everyone but ourselves. If a friend came to us with a curly problem or admission of a mistake, we would be helpful and understanding. Yet in the same sense, we don't offer such comfort to ourselves. We are instead critical and judgmental. Cherishing Self means seeing our own worth, not in an arrogant, puffed up way, but finding ourselves worthy to be counted in this world, to make a contribution and be happy. It's so simple yet so difficult. We can practise cherishing ourselves by starting with practical tokens of appreciation for our daily efforts, such as:

* praising ourselves for a job well done

* giving ourselves treats on a regular basis

* surrounding ourselves with positive people

* looking after our bodies, minds and spirits

* allowing ourselves to just be happy in the moment

* reducing the negatives in our lives

* valuing our own skills and abilities

Valuing time is crucial in order to lead a balanced, peaceful life. Using time in a productive but unstressful way is a daily challenge. These days, complaints abound about the lack of time and the speed of time, but the secret is time management, not getting more of it, which is impossible, anyway. Here are some tips for improving time management:

* don't overload daily schedules

* achieve balance in work, play, time alone, rest, sleep

* make lists,set goals and utilise planners/diaries that are helpful

* maintain a steady, unpressured attitude

* set small, achievable tasks that are manageable at each sitting

* maintain focus and discipline in getting things done

In these ways, time becomes an ally, not the enemy.

Kahlil Gibran said this about work: "All work is empty save when there is love. Work is love made visible."

The problem is that most people think of work as a necessary evil, something that has to be done in order to "make a living", to pay for our needs and wants and to get life's goodies. We see it as an acceptable trade off, but is it really? What are we trading? Eight hours a day every day of our lives for payment? To me, that's not a fair bargain, especially if we're doing work we hate. Not everyone can be, or wishes to be, self employed, but there are literally thousands of ways to have jobs doing what we love. If you love books, share that passion with others as a librarian or writer; if you are a good swimmer, teach that skill; if you're an artist, find a way to make money from your singing ,painting, crafts; if you love to help people, well, the list of possibilities is endless. If you really hate what you're currently doing, find something else.Trust that you can.

Cherish work. The lucky ones have a vocation and would do their jobs with or without payment; the rest use their skills as best they can to earn a living. Regardless of which category you fall into, be glad to be of use and for the gift of serving others and fulfilling yourself.

We know we live in a fragile environment. Nowadays,we're told so on a daily basis. The point, though, shouldn't be fear, but respect. Most of us don't dump rubbish in our own homes or let our plants die or treat our pets cruelly, so why is it okay to stand by and watch whole eco systems disappear, the wonderful giants of the sea, the whales, being hunted out of existence along with many, many other endangered species, to use resources carelessly, and to not care for the disadvantaged, poor and hungry in our world? We're allowed to be lazy, careless and indifferent - but it's not okay. If cherishing means holding dear, what else should we cherish more than the Earth, our Mother, who gives us life and all the beauties and pleasures of the physical world? A simple way to value the Earth is to treat it as we would our dearest asset, our friend, which it actually is.

Ultimately, each of us is given the greatest possible gift at the moment of our conception - life itself. Out of all the billions of potential beings, we are made and then born into these perfect creatures that can think and feel and laugh and cry and enjoy and hurt. Most of us take it totally for granted, either cynically, carelessly or simply mindlessly. I don't believe we are here by accident or that our existence is miniscule, given the vastness of the universe. Each life has purpose, whether we know it or not. Some are born with an acute awareness of their mission. Others bumble along, drifting without direction, hoping for the best.

It doesn't matter how important or unimportant your life path appears to be; you can still embrace it fully.

I used to always say that on my deathbed, I want to be able to say that I've left something valuable behind; now I say I want to know I enjoyed the journey. Pleasure is integral to cherishing. You would hardly cherish something that causes you pain or is harmful or hurtful to you. So, make your ordinary, daily life a work of art. Sculpt it, shape it, make it what you love. Then cherishing life will come easily.

You may think that you're cherishing too many negative things and not enough positive but think about it -is it possible to cherish unhealthy, harmful things? The word cherish connotes the positive, the things that warm our hearts and lift our spirits. Find what those things are for you and cherishing will become second nature.

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.