Love Thy Self

by | Feb 17, 2023 | 0 comments



I love photos, and rightly so. You wouldn’t be reading and perusing our work if we, me and my team, weren’t obsessed with what we do. That obsession, passion, is pervasive everywhere. So much that it often comes out in the first snap of a new session or random moment with you, me, a camera, and decent light. And from there it only gets better. The look of surprise when that first image lands is Russell Stover sugary gold for us. 

So in the spirit of Valentines and still reeling off a New Year, we thought we’d promote, you guessed it, Love, specifically Loving Thy Self. Part of what we at KARJAKA promote and capture is a balance of inner and outer beauty. As with most things in life, balance is essential. For the writers of our February edition, they dig into both side of that timeless quest for 50/50. So sit back, grab a cup, find something sweet and enjoy.

My Path to Learning What “Love Thy Self” Means with Anna Maria Manalo

As a 1st generation Filipino-American pianist, composer, and violinist now in mid-life, my path to learning to love and accept myself has been an adventure. To get past the imposter syndrome and perfectionism, a series of life challenges and  onwards to getting my creative work-  out I’ve had to learn three main life lessons. 

Learning Acceptance: My Musical Youth

It was unforgettable. I was a 6th-grader at my very first rehearsal, sitting among the 2nd violins of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, and playing the opening of Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn.” Hearing the brass and winds together with the strings and my simple counter-harmony, my ears opened up to my emotions and the impact gave me goosebumps—I was hooked on music.

In that rehearsal, I felt a unity with my fellow music-makers. We were creating something extraordinary together, even though we came from varied backgrounds. In that rehearsal, the trauma I was going through as a kid who didn’t look like everybody else was put on the backburner.  

At school, I hid behind good grades and designer clothes (many were hand-me-downs)  in order to gain acceptance by my classmates. Still, I felt “othered” and shunned. I was never asked to any school social events and I learned what depression was at a young age.

Music was a haven for me and I excelled, winning concerto competitions in both piano and violin, winning various awards and a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. I made my family and the small Fil-Am community in Madison proud. 

My life in music began because I learned I could be accepted in the process of creating something beautiful to serve a larger mission.

The only problem was I believed that achievements would get me what I wanted. And I somehow believed that love meant that I could demand whatever I wanted in a relationship. Ouch, there was more trouble ahead.

Learning to Receive Love: My ‘Un-Divorce’

After a series of failed romances, I became a cynic when it came to relationships, and I scoffed at the idea of love-at-first-sight. 

But then I met the man I married. At the time, Stefan and I were both in other relationships, his more serious than mine, which was tricky to navigate, but we sorted it out. 

Soon we were living together in NYC at the Columbia campus in Washington Heights, where Stefan was completing his PhD. in Molecular Biology. 

Living with a scientist, it turned out, was like living with another musician—they’re always either working or thinking about their work. This intimidated me and brought out my worst insecurities. I was worried about his interactions with female scientists, especially if they didn’t look like me. 

It was even worse when I first visited his hometown, Bremen, Germany, where (in the 90’s) absolutely nobody there looked like me. My unresolved ghosts fears about not being accepted  were back haunting me.

We managed through this and at our wedding our families all met for the first time, even though there wasn’t a shared language among the relatives.

Being ignorant newlyweds, we didn’t realize how much the models of our parents’ marriages informed our expectations. I’d go through the motions of what I thought it meant to be a wife and this pushed Stefan away into his work. I felt ignored and he retreated further. Couples therapy didn’t help. 

My depression returned with a vengeance and it got bad enough that we decided to have a “marriage sabbatical,” a trial separation. I moved in with my parents in Madison, while Stefan finished his Post-Doc. I taught and saved, planning to find my own apartment, and filed for divorce. 

Stefan made the trip for the court appearance. The mood of the clerks, and the atmosphere of the modern new courthouse was thick with resignation—unusual for the typically cheerful Wisconsin demeanor. 

As the Judge recited the legalese to begin the process of divorce, I looked over at Stefan and it hit me like a peak musical moment—I saw tenderness and love in his eyes. I flashed back recalling my moods, my accusations, my hurtful words, and all the reacting instead of responding. 

Stefan must have heard my thoughts because we simultaneously blurted out:

“We can’t do this.” 

“Are you sure?” asked the startled Judge.

“I don’t want this,” I said.

“I never did,” said Stefan.

“You’ve made this the happiest day in my job,” said the Judge, smiling.

At that moment, I finally got it, that love is NOT about taking and it’s not about keeping score. In a flash, I felt grateful for Stefan and our journey. I felt MARRIED.   

Another hard lesson won, but I had one more to learn.

Being Your Own Best Friend: What my Students Have Taught Me About Self-Love

This was, in a way, the simplest lesson, but it took me the longest.

About my work, I love what I do in music: playing when I can, sometimes composing, and always, always teaching. It took me over 30 years to find my teaching “groove,” to find how much I love helping students unlock their creativity. And to find fascination in the process, learning how much teaching, playing, and composing all inform and benefit each other. 

But while my students have gone on to live out successful life stories, I continued the “no-pain no-gain unhealthy approach to my own music studies. Lots of negative self-talk and feeling less-than. 

Unlike my previous love-thyself lessons, there was no sudden epiphany here, just a long-awaited realization, one that over time I finally learned to embrace . . . 

That I can’t encourage and help my students if I don’t do this for myself. 

I realized I needed to treat myself with the same compassion I do my students if I want to honestly make a contribution to the world.

With my teaching I get to model how we can help ourselves, and with a huge dose of humor, I’ve learned how much I can enjoy my own company. 

Learning how to be my own best friend has made all the difference in my day to day experience. I can’t recall when I was last depressed. 

Learning acceptance, learning how to receive love, and learning how to be your own  best friend—these are lessons I wish for you, too.

We are all students of love. – AMM

Reasons to stand in the rain

Because someday it will be illegal or poisonous or both

Because your hair doesn’t matter, and neither does your shirt

Because you want to make out with the sky

Because if someone really loves you, they’ll love you sopping wet

Because it traveled all the way to heaven, and still chose earth

  • Amanda Deboer Bartlett

Love Your Style, Love Yourself with Tavia Sharp

Have you ever considered your personal style as a form of self care? Besides it being an opportunity to introduce yourself and make a statement, it’s also a way of taking care of yourself. How? Well when you choose clothes that make you feel good, it has a positive effect on your mood and your self-esteem. It can also be a way to show yourself some love by expressing a different side of you and showing the world who you truly are. Here are three ways you can cultivate self love through your style. 

1.Dress with intention. When you get dressed every morning, ask yourself how you want to feel that day. Instead of picking out what’s easy or most comfortable, let your inner guide (or goddess) do the choosing for you. Whether that’s a sexier silhouette, a bolder color than usual or a fun, attention grabbing accessory, give yourself permission to just go for it and watch how it shifts your mood for the day.

2.Embrace the shape and size you are now. Allow yourself to buy that well-fitted suit or that body con dress that compliments your current shape before you hit your weight goal or tone that part of your body. You deserve to look and feel your best now, no matter how imperfect it may seem. And it won’t stop you from getting to where you want to be, in fact it will get you there faster because you’ll start to feel more confident in the skin you’re in.

3.Take a compliment. Learn to receive the love that is being offered to you in the form of a compliment instead of deflecting or shrugging it off. Just say “thank you” whenever someone compliments you on the way you look. Practice this by standing in front of the mirror in your head to toe outfit and give yourself a compliment like, “Damn, you look good!” Get comfortable giving that confidence boost to yourself and you’ll start to feel more comfortable receiving it from others.

Ultimately, style is a form of self-love. It’s a way for you to express your individuality and show the world what you’re all about. So isn’t it about time you started using it as a way to show yourself some love? Give yourself permission to take pride in your appearance and boost your own self confidence. You’re worth it, afterall. – TS

Self Love is a Sauna with Craig Thomas

Self love, as a concept, is a paradox.  It’s both overwritten about and yet not given enough attention.  And that’s because the overwritten part is about the same message:  love yourself at all costs and don’t dare be critical of others for their flaws.  We all should be accepting and sensitive to others as we should be to ourselves.  

I think, however, self love is more than just blanket, general acceptance.  And what, exactly, is “self love”?  What does that even mean?  

There are varying levels of what self love embodies.  It is not a one-size fits all 1982 baseball cap with the plastic adjustable buttons in the back.  Self love has to be tailored to meet what is needed and what is lacking to make us all our own best friend.  I consider the foundation of the self love pyramid to be “how would I tell my best friend to act toward themself?” and apply that to the beginnings of my template.  

Ah a template, you say?  Yes, there needs to be a formula; a guide or template that can be followed.  A master plan.  

But the plan doesn’t need to be elaborate.  It can be a few specific tasks or accomplishments that need to be completed each day.  It can be a walk, a meditation session, visiting a museum or park or more focused activities like strength training, yoga or Pilates sessions.  It can be a combination of the above as well.  It can be a repeatable activity or it can be a one-off, but either way a plan should be made the day before on what is going to take place the following day. 

At its heart (I couldn’t resist), self love is an assessment of the components that make you happy and fulfilled based on who you are and what you need.  It’s putting your emergency mask on first before anyone else when the plane is in jeopardy.  ie—you are putting you first.   And it’s constantly evolving based on where you are in your life because—as Yoda would say— “Always in motion the future is”.  What was once a priority last year may not be one today.

The two priorities of my physical self care center around strength and conditioning work and doing contrast bathing: sauna and cold baths/showers.  While strength training has been talked about its benefits for quite a while, sauna and heat immersion has been studied more in foreign countries than it is here at home.  And sauna use isn’t just confined to good feelings of accomplishment and sweat:  Finnish research has shown that sauna use 2-3 times per week (at 20 min each session):

—had an 18% reduction in fatal coronary disease.  

—it also improves heart rate variability (reflective of the heart’s ability to respond to high stress moments and come back to baseline) and blood pressure.

—releases heat shock proteins which are useful to reduce body inflammation.  

—has also, as the coup de grâce toward health, shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping 60%.

As great as the benefits of sauna are, I spend my time in the sauna reiterating my mantras and core beliefs to myself.  Occasionally I will listen to some podcasts, but I prefer spending that time on nurturing my body and mind.  The intangible components are what bind the body and mind together.  As I say these more, they become more ingrained.

There are some days in which I will go through my CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations) while having 180-190 degrees raining down on me and really amp up the experience.  Other times I’ll be specific and just stretch a joint that has been feeling tight or not as open.  And there are still other times I will work on my breathing technique which is either box breathing (4 seconds breathing in, 4 seconds hold, 4 seconds exhale, 4 seconds hold and repeat) or 4-6-8 (4 seconds breathing in, 6 seconds hold, 8 seconds exhale).  The controlled breathing can also ratchet up the body thermogenic state. 

The antithesis of the sauna is the cold shower.  But this opposite is as necessary as night is to day.  The heat and cold are like blood brothers.  Some major studies have shown cold plunges/showers to:
—improve energy levels
—increase resilience to sickness/
    boost immune system trength
—improve sleep
—burn body fat
—increase circulation and boost  
   cardiovascular health
—induce cold shock proteins
    that help  with neuroprote
    tive properties (cognitive and
    memory protection)

The benefits of doing both the heat and cold can have perks that are both short and long lasting.  The best formula to follow for the temperature changes are to end with cold.  For example, 20 min heat, 3 min cold, 20 min heat, 3 min cold….then take a quick nap (nap is optional, of course).  

Despite sounding—again—paradoxical, self love is rooted in as much discipline as going to work or doing your taxes.  And, at first you won’t embrace it or value its significance.  But it slowly evolves into a can’t-do-without daily protocol that will serve to be your most reliable and appreciative investment.

It doesn’t have to be my examples above, but it does need to enhance your state of well-being and happiness.  It needs to serve you and it needs to make you feel better both right after and for at least that whole day.  It should feel like an accomplishment and it should feel like something you deserve to have.  And remember that if you were your best friend—what would you tell them to do to make themselves happy?

So, while it may seem like a superfluous task to wake up early and strength train or spend 20 minutes in the sauna 3 times a week, it will return its value in multiplications over the weeks, months and years you continue to do it.  And it isn’t just for you, it’s also for the people around you that will want to be around you.  There is no measuring stick for giving to yourself.  People will call you lucky.  You’ll know it was earned.   -CT

Building Care with Kat Chan

I quickly fell in love with architecture even though it was a Hail Mary for post graduation career aspirations. Architecture engulfed me and would not let me go. I fell into the rabbit hole in an overwhelming, consuming sort of way, much like Alice did as she chased the White Rabbit into Wonderland.

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) world is as mad as any tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter. In order to combat the long hours and stressful situations, I was extraordinarily caffeinated, sleep-deprived and definitely drinking a touch too much (caffeine and alcohol, after hours, sometimes at the same time – espresso martinis were all the rage). What captivated me about architecture at first (and has kept me here) is this idea that I could impact the world around me. Depending on who you ask, architecture can extend to the built environment. The built environment is a term used to encompass any space made into a place by human intervention. This can include gardens, train stations, playgrounds, greenhouses, etc. Tiered farming could even be classified as part of the built environment if you really wanted to make a case for it.

People say it takes a village to raise a child. I can say it’s about the same for any building. Many folks in the industry joke that projects are their babies. The idea that so many people have to come together to build a project is extraordinary. It’s empowering and historically with a master builder at the helm driving the progress forward. A master builder in the western tradition envisions the project, designs, secures funds, and actually directs the folks that will build – put the literal stones and bricks on top of each other to create the building. I think of the Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi (of the Duomo in Florence) and Andrea Palladio, the Venetian architect whose writing is still required reading in architecture curricula to this day. 

Besides the obvious of being men, traditional master builders all had two things in common: drive and influential contacts. The concept that one person’s idea is better than another’s can be subjective. Who is to say what order of priorities should be? So, I think back to the playground. And like any industry, it’s the bullies who get ahead (at first) by being louder, more intimidating, and more conniving. And do the ends justify the means? 

Who is to say what will happen when an idea turns out to be a mad one? We are human after all, even if the most arrogant of us will not admit that even in our most intimate of moments. But, it is this ambition for building, legacy, and lack of compassion that causes this trickle down of people treating each other poorly. People talk about workaholics; well, folks in the AEC industry are definitely frequent offenders, especially architects who are trained to constantly rework and iterate through different designs.

They’re the ones who drive the design process, so as a facade engineering consultant, I recall frequently falling victim to late nights, impossible deadlines, and constant design changes that resulted in an unhealthy work-life balance. And all that sacrifice for what? Is that the food my own ego needs for extraordinary contributions? It is a draining industry. There is always work to be done, designs to be improved upon. A more ambitious, less expensive, thinner, shinier – perfect facade is the quantum concept, constantly receding goal post off in the distance. How do you sustain yourself in an industry that is a selfish lover who only takes?

Well, what is love in the first place? I’m partial to the answer put forth by Captain Holt in the comedy series Brooklyn 99, “Love, it sustains you. It’s like oatmeal.” For those unfamiliar, Captain Holt is a person of consistency, strict rule following, kindness, and a streak of silliness that endears him and inspires the utmost respect and admiration of the folks in his precinct. For him to equate love to oatmeal, is to say that love is an everyday thing, that love is necessary, and that love is consistent. For me, those are cornerstones in my practice of self love. 

Self love is based in self-respect and esteem – it requires believing you deserve good things, things that bring you joy, and that you deserve to fight for the things that bring you joy and for the ones that you love. And, for me, it was the basis of requesting (nay, demanding) a more flexible work schedule. If I had to wake up at 6:30am to run meetings for a project across the world for months on end, I best be able to take the call from home. At the time, I even leveraged to get a laptop while people of similar rank to me only had desktops! I also asked for much needed raises frequently and often. I also would purposely book travel for fun and vacate the premises when I said I would. I honored my needs as I would my best friend with the same enthusiasm, kindness, and affection. Honestly, I treated my needs the way I treated design requirements of any facade I would design.

And, it was a paradigm shift that took years to implement after years of neglect. I finally prioritized me, my loved ones, and my career in a way that suited me – I’m still extraordinarily passionate about my industry (hell I’m starting a branch of the Society of Facade Engineering in North America), but I’ve shown myself over the past few years the importance of taking care of myself. It helps me take care of others and be passionate and pragmatic in my career. It is through my practice of self love that I sustain my love of architecture and facade engineering. It is so fulfilling to point to a building and say, “I worked on that one.” And, it feels extra good when I’m walking with someone I care about. -KC

Katherine (Kat) Chan is a facade engineer with more than 10 years experience in the built environment, hyperlocal to NYC, where she calls home, and internationally. Her self-propelled desire for thorough analysis and a propensity for detail has enabled her to advocate for innovative approaches and materials. Her aim is to make facade design and engineering concepts accessible for more people, so they can have an engaged experience in the environment they live in. Kat has a degree in Structural Engineering from Columbia University, where she teaches as part of Adjunct Faculty in the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning.

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