How we treat ourselves often informs and creates the contexts in which we relate to others. Although this is not a kind of moral absolute, I have often found that people who are hard on others tend to be hard on themselves. Being demanding is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it can create environments where instead of people being nurturing and tender, they can be critical in ways that work against friendship and the ease of authentic leisure. Authentic leisure is marked by moments of vulnerability in which people feel free to express their inner desires without having to censure themselves for the sake of appearances.
Our relationship with ourselves and with others can be described using the analogy of a small plant. As the fledging tree first sprouts from the midst of the ground, it requires delicate care and attention. Too much of anything can stifle the plant and kill it; too little and it will not grow. What is required for the plant is the optimal conditions in which it receives just the right amount of both rain and sunshine.
Our spiritual lives need correction in order to grow, but we also need support and affirmation. The path of flourishing is recognizing how delicate the dance is between discipline and gentleness. There is a real danger in becoming rigid, and there is also a danger in becoming soft and flimsy. The answer is a balanced asceticism, one which trains the heart, mind, and body, gently bringing them under the gentle rule of reason.
In this way, we learn to deny ourselves at certain times, and at other times to nurture and attend to our needs. We learn to extend ourselves in loving sacrifice, and we also learn to preserve and protect what is necessary for our well-being. This balance is not something that others can discern for us, though listening to others provides important insights that help us discover what God wishes to communicate. In this way, we develop an open disposition in which we listen to ourselves, to others, and ultimately to how God speaks in the midst of these interactions.
The periods of meditation allow our hearts to tune into what is happening. When we learn to take time and ponder our experience and the still voice of Jesus Christ, we begin to practice the art of discernment. According to our station and our obligations, we must make time daily to spend with the ones we love, both our spouses and our Lord.