Trust that you are conceived with an ability to become perfect in love and you don’t have to consciously drive the bus, yourself, to get to your destination. A smarter mentor and guide will lead you along, step by step, as you are ready for each growth spurt. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Suzanne Miller. Suzanne Miller is an author and singer, having regained her vigor and singing ability after a long bout of illness. Her latest book, “Walking in Love: Why and How” has just been published and her first singing album, “It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over” has also just been released. She had very successful prior careers as a naval officer, an engineer, scientist, and senior executive in several of the nation’s most prestigious aerospace companies as well as serving at a senior level in the US Defense Department. She also went to seminary and served for five years as the pastoral care assistant in her local parish. To find out more about Suzanne, please visit her website: https://www.suzannermiller.com/.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
After regaining my health and vigor after a long bout of illness plus having made significant contributions to the US National Defense over the span of a lifetime, it was time to explore new dimensions of life that opened up as a result of regaining my health and vigor.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
Yes. I’ve just finished both a new book as well as my first singing album. They both focus on what I’ve learned over a long life, regarding love. What is love? How do we become more loving? If we are successful, what are the results and benefits? I want to share with people, by what I write, and by my singing, how to connect to the joy that comes from the act of love. The ability to feel joy is a grace, built into each one of us from conception. Some people either aren’t aware they have this ability or just forgot how to connect to it.
This is where music comes in. Joy is contagious. I sing with great joy and my album is composed of songs each of which is about the various ways love is made manifest in our lives. I picked songs in many different languages to show that love is universal, it’s a human thing and joy transcends those linguistic boundaries. If a listener enjoys the songs, the point is made. That’s what “enjoy” means–to be swept up in the contagion of my joy as I sing.
The book and the music are complementary. The book tells people, in words, about my experience in walking the journey and growing in my ability to love, using the process described in the book. Words are used to tell true stories from my life that give meaning to the concepts I discuss. This is not me talking down to or lecturing people. The value of the words lies in the extent to which what is written rings true in the experience of the reader. In other words, the authority of the truth and the value of what I say must come from the personal validation of the reader’s own experience.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
An important moment in my own experience happened at the end of the Cold War. I was trained as an engineer and scientist and although very successful, found myself somewhat at loose ends regarding my future, when there was no longer the imminent threat of a nuclear holocaust that motivated me to work so diligently for peace in defense work.
A friend and I were talking about this over lunch. She said, “Why not try your hand at doing something different?” She told me a local hospital had a program in place which trained volunteers in hospice care–helping care for the terminally ill. I said, why not? It would be a pious activity and I might actually learn something useful that I could apply later to the situation of my own mom, when (not if) she came to that point.
The training was excellent. I understood my sole function was to provide a human connection and some comfort to a person who had either become abandoned by their own family or whose family had already passed on. These were people who were in a state of cruel isolation because of their failing health–connected to tubes and wires. They no longer recognized themselves when they looked in a mirror. The ravages of disease and aging had taken away their humanity and their self-esteem. They also usually smelled bad. This was not a problem for me, as I am (for whatever reasons) somewhat indifferent to those kinds of things.
I got assigned to a patient. I would just sit with her and let her talk. I would hold her hand, providing the skin-to-skin contact we humans usually so desperately need to reinforce our humanity and self-respect.
As I did this, a strange thing happened. I discovered there was within me an incredible capability to love that I had never known I had. Do you know how self-affirming an experience it is to discover you have such a capability to love? As my friend’s (no longer my patient) health continued to deteriorate, something beautiful happened. She started loving me back–not in big things but little ones. She would really perk up as when I showed up to visit. There would be a gleam in her eye (and sometimes a tear) and a little smile.
Wow! God (in whatever way you regard such a presence) had answered my yearning for a new path and given me an awareness of the grace that is given to some of us to love under these circumstances. I know this is not something for everybody, but it sure was for me.
I eventually went to seminary and became the pastoral care minister of a local parish for five years. Those were some of the most wonderful, fulfilling years of my life.
What did I learn? A lot! You need to know somebody to love them. The better you know them, warts and all, the more loving you can be. There is a feeling associated with the act of loving–joy. This is not just one-way. As you love the other person, they (if they have not become crippled in spirit) sense the love and return it. The feeling of being the recipient of love brings additional joy. It’s a “twofer,” two for the price of one. Love is given and returned–a double dose of love.
Anyway, regarding self-acceptance. This provided a great big dose. I didn’t make it happen, it just came when I needed it, when the feeling of being a valued engineer and scientist in an important role was fading, as a new source of self-esteem.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
My experience is that we somehow have the impression that we can gain the love that each one of us seeks by trying to make it happen–by controlling our appearance in order to “be more loveable.” In my experience, such an attitude is a disaster. If love grows the more you know the person, this fixation on hiding our perceived flaws and presenting a false appearance keeps us from getting love–just the opposite result of what we seek.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
At this point, let me give my definition of love. I wrote this definition because all the ones I found in magazines, journals, and such didn’t seem to fit my experience. For me, love is feeling pleasure when in the presence of the beloved. (I think this applies to pets as well as humans). It’s as simple as that.
From this perspective, if you don’t love who you are (the person you should know best in the world) how can you possibly love another, whom you know less well? Your ability to love yourself is the controlling limit on your ability to love others and my book lays out in great detail why I think love is at the core of why we humans exist. That’s our big purpose.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
To me, love is not a “ball and chain” kind of thing. We need some fulfillment to keep a relationship. From my experience, sex can be a good starting point to provide the “glue” needed to stay in a relationship while you get to know the other person and another type of love begins to emerge and become strong. If this is not the basis of the relationship, what is? A person needs to understand what that is so they can make sure the need stays strong. If you don’t know the answer to what binds you together, you better find out. If you don’t know the answer, the relationship can become just habitual or to keep up appearances. Out of fear you are unlovable, you cling desperately to what you have. This destroys self-esteem and is the opposite of self-love. It’s almost the pure definition of self-hate, self-loathing. It also keeps you from finding out a core truth–each of us is loveable by a truly loving person, a person who has perfected their ability to love, as produced by the self-development process I present in my book.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I have suffered from a life-long auto-immune disorder. It was only successfully diagnosed a few years ago. With that diagnosis came very successful treatment to repair the damage my well-meaning but misguided immune system had done to my body. I had suffered a severe heart attack about a dozen or so years ago. The doctors were finally able to keep me from dying, but I was left semi-invalid. I had such low stamina that I could no longer go into a regular job. The government was very kind to me. To keep getting the benefits of my work abilities, they asked me to form a consulting company so they could give me contracts to work out of my home and form and lead my teams of experts.
When my auto-immune disorder was finally correctly diagnosed four years ago, the doctors discovered my immune system had “eaten up” my body’s ability to convert thyroid hormone (the body’s energy hormone) into the form I needed to maintain my energy. This was easily fixed. They gave me a pill with the converted form of the thyroid I was missing and, overnight, all my old energy came back.
There was another side benefit. At age 22, I was singing for a career, making good money when I abruptly lost my singing voice. The doctors noted the damage to my vocal cords but couldn’t understand why that happened and, so, they couldn’t fix it. Bye-bye singing career. Shifting now back to the future, after about a month of taking the thyroid pills, I suddenly found I was once again able to sing. This was incredibly fulfilling. I started singing every chance I got.
I had forgotten how important a part this was of who I am.
Unfortunately, in the beginning, my voice was not exceptional in quality. I had to face the reason I was so successful in singing in my youth was my looks. I was a force of nature then but had never really faced how attractive I was and how much I depended on that. Guys would fall all over themselves around me and act weird but I couldn’t understand why? Now, I was forced to understand what a knockout I had been in my youth. I needed to know this to understand I could no longer depend on my looks to make up for a less than superb singing voice.
This all came to a head when the musical director of one of my singing groups kept passing me by to sing solos at public performances. I politely confronted her on the matter. She came out with it: “you don’t have a good enough voice to sing solos. Stay in the choir where you belong”.
I took what she said seriously but it just didn’t feel right. I sought a second opinion. I connected with a superb singing teacher and asked her professional opinion, “Is my voice really so-so and, if so, what are the chances it can be improved, with training?”
She gave it to me straight. She said, in her opinion, my singing voice was pretty good but suffered from a lack of training and, with such training, she thought I had the potential to be an excellent soloist.
I quit the group I was singing with and started working hard on training my voice. That training paid off in spades. I now sing all over the Los Angeles area as well as tour internationally and even re-joined the group in which the dispute occurred. My new album is proof.
You need to be open to new possibilities without either being arrogant or the opposite, a doormat. Asking the tough questions is challenging (to say the least) but potentially incredibly rewarding. If you only go down paths where you think you know the ending, you miss out on some wonderful dimensions of self-discovery.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
The story I just told about my singing illustrates the benefits of asking tough questions. If you can muster up the courage, it’s a win-win situation. Anytime you gain an improved clarity of who you are will be of enormous benefit. It’s not what you might or might not be, but knowing the answer, for certain. When I stand out on the stage in front of hundreds of people and sing, I am totally comfortable. I am being who I am, and the fulfillment I feel gives me a sense of authenticity. I get massive love and fulfillment, from myself as well as others, from this.
The first step in the process of my book, “Walking in Love,” describes is to develop the ability each one of us has to gain wisdom from tapping into that “smart inner self” for answers to the important question, “Who am I?” An inability to be alone thwarts this whole development process we are designed to walk through to become the unique person we each are truly intended to be. My experience is that our life can be a continuous process of self-discovery. This is the meaning, for me, of the beautiful Buddhist expression “The Jewel in the Lotus.” What is the jewel in the lotus? We are the lotus blossom. The jewel is the true self we discover at the center of our being–the person we are intended to be.
Almost as bad as not being able to be alone with yourself is an inability to stop your mind from randomly babbling away. I think the two things go together. If you don’t shut that up, you never develop the ability to learn. There are simple techniques available (in all cultures, for this, is a human problem) that help you develop the ability to (in the words of my personal Christian perspective) “Be still and know that I am God”, to be able to listen for answers to the important questions you ask regarding your life.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
We need more people who have honed their ability to love. Such “lovers” can be critical in providing other persons the necessary truth serum when they ask, “Who do you say that I am?” The needed response is to see the truth and speak it in a gentle, affirming way. Above all, don’t coddle another person by telling them things you know to be untrue. That is so destructive to relationships. When that happens, it damages the recipient’s ability to trust others.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1. Make sure you are in touch with your ability to feel joy. The stories about my singing are examples.
2. Learn to be alone with yourself. The story of learning to silence the incessant babbling of our mind, so that we can receive guidance and tap into creativity is an example.
3. Experiment with life. Figure out ways to test new possibilities. The hospice care volunteer story is a good example.
4. Be stubborn. Persevere and never give up, unless new knowledge makes a change in direction a sensible thing to do. My story of life-long illness and eventual, glorious recovery is an example.
5. Trust that you are conceived with an ability to become perfect in love and you don’t have to consciously drive the bus, yourself, to get to your destination. A smarter mentor and guide will lead you along, step by step, as you are ready for each growth spurt. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
For a lifetime, I’ve worked at tapping into divine wisdom and creativity by learning how to be open to guidance. This is both from within as well as from those people I have found who love me and whom I love. I have learned how to accept outside help from both sources by whether or not it rings true to me as well as by playing “what if”–conditionally accepting it as true and then testing it out in my life, in small steps.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
Giving people the tools (which exist) to develop themselves and to motivate them in a way to start them on the path.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
There are two. The first is, “Be Still, and know I am God” from Psalm 46. That ability to learn how to be still and receptive to insight from outside myself has led me through a life of great creativity and fulfillment. The second one is my own translation (and paraphrase) from 2 Corinthians 12:9: the power of God is made complete in human weakness. In my defense work, we were able, as a skilled team, to do things that others thought impossible. We never failed. The fun started when the team was out of tricks and opened itself to the power of the creative force that drove the result to completion, in ways we had no understanding of when we started.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!