Self love is a term often banded about in spiritual enquiry and I touched on what it means to me in my blog post on vitality last week. It is not some selfish indulgence, as our minds might lead us to believe: in fact, it is quite the opposite. In order to love others fully and without judgment, conditions or limitations, we must first love ourselves in this way.
For me, the art of loving the self, completely and utterly and with total surrender, does not spring from a bubble bath, a massage and a perfect manicure, as modern messaging would so often have us believe. Nor it is about feeling super hot and happy in your favourite jeans and shouting it out to the world on Instagram. These are all fleeting, easy pleasures and distractions from our true nature, from the path of self enquiry that leads us to knowing ourselves fully, on the inside, in all the dark corners we never usually dare to look. For me, self-love takes root in everyday reflection and awareness of who I am in my deep heart's core, and the continuing acceptance of all the good, bad and ugly deeds, thoughts and ideas that I find there. If we can embrace our totality with true compassion, we can then embrace others with the same abundant love and equanimity.
I say 'continuing acceptance' because the capacity to love ourselves unconditionally day in day out isn't magically created after one spiritual journey or long weekend at a yoga retreat. This I am learning over and over again. It needs tending to every day, needs to be cleaned of the incessant trappings of the mind like a garden needs regular weeding. And sometimes we get lost in the noises of our clever egos and our never-ending judgment, and compassion and tolerance fly far out the window before we have even noticed. Often we wonder if they will ever come back.
Closing the gap
The journey of fostering an unquestioning acceptance of myself is one I have been on for a while, but recently it has been gaining traction as I work on the theme both on my own and with others. From my nutritional standpoint, it seems to me that almost any compulsion or un-progressive behaviour patterns, from over-judging ourselves and others to smoking, overeating, hardcore dieting, bingeing on sugar or shopping ourselves into debt, stems from a divide between who we really are and who we think would like to be. (No surprises to find that we never become them). And for sure, it is increasingly clear that the artifice of so much social media doesn't help us see this. And yet, when we commit to regular meditation, to making the space to peek with curiosity at what lies inside, to experiencing this life through the heart and the senses and not the mind or thoughts, we start to close this gap and get nearer to a wholeness, a completion, that doesn't need filling up with ideas, food or material thrills. Staying with the self, we learn to love it more: for we cannot truly understand something we hardly even know; the most important friendship we have is the one with ourselves.
Something I encounter again with clients - and myself, over and over - is the constant negativity with which we judge ourselves. The very foundations of the vocabulary we use to speak to ourselves needs to shift if we are to embrace who we are in all our strengths and weaknesses. To say, I am such a fool, I ruined it all, I am weak, I am ugly, I am less than... is to destroy all potential for positive change. Usually we are so much harsher on ourselves than we would be on anyone we know and when we recognise this and shift our language to the positive, we find that forgiveness isn't so far behind. To say, I am human, I am doing my best, I am navigating a crappy day with truth and honesty, I am fighting the fight with integrity, I am perfectly imperfect... is to catch the self again and again with generosity and love. It is liberation from constant judgment. Watch how you speak to yourself and the feelings that you foster; often we are surprised to find that the demons of shame, judgement and guilt that we know so well start at home.
I come back to gratitude again and again because it doesn't seem to me to be something we are familiar enough with in modern life, and this perceived lack is a big block on the road to happiness. Constant advertising, marketing and messaging all around us makes it so easy to believe that we are lacking in one way or another, but when we strip it back and catch our breath we find with joy that this is rarely the case. When I work with people around the theme of gratitude and how to cultivate it, I notice that we often associate it with external factors: I am grateful for my new sweater, for my thick hair, for my holiday. And there is nothing wrong with that; but what happens when we shed light on some things within us is always more positive. I am grateful for my breath, for my body, for the inspiration I feel when I am outdoors, for the love I am able to give and receive, for my feet that transport me wherever I want to go. Sometimes, things seem so tough, it is all we can do to say, I am grateful for the ground that keeps me standing up. And even that is hard. But there is so much juicy potential in simply being humble enough to ackowledge this. Strip things back to basics and see how much you have to be thankful for; whatever storm you're passing through, you'll be planting the seeds for a little more love.
A wise man once said, accept yourself and your heart will open.
You are enough as you are. You don't need to be any better, any different, anything over than who you are becoming right now.