We hear it a lot these days. “Love yourself” or “You must love yourself before you can truly love others”. What does this mean exactly, and why do so many of us struggle with this on some level?
I remember hearing that when a spiritual teacher from the east came to the west he was incredibly confused and baffled at the idea that a person may not love themselves.
As I continue to work with others, the evidence of not loving oneself seems to appear as the voices in ones’ head repeating such phrases as, “you aren’t this enough, you’re not that enough, you’re too this and too that” or “you’ll be worthy of love when you are/have_________”.
Of course, when we speak about loving ourselves, we are talking about unconditional love. A love that is not dependent on what we look like, how much money we make, what we own, what our Facebook status looks like – simply valuing and appreciating who we are and the life that we have been given. We are all ready worthy and good enough – it is our birth right.
This doesn’t mean we can’t self reflect and make improvements with our life. Getting healthy and fit, striving and working hard to support ourselves and others, and enjoying the material things that money can buy. The difference is, our self worth, our love and appreciation of our self, our life, is not dependent on it. The intention is instead that we are engaging ourselves with this life. That we are living and engaging with it through work, through play, through connection with people, activities and everything we do.
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the really tough stuff that comes along – sickness, grieving a death, the ending of a relationship, the loss of a job or inability to work, not getting what we want or getting what we didn’t want, and the many other pains, sufferings and disappointments that are a part of our human lives. It is at these times in particular that we may feel like something is wrong with us, we are broken, needing to be fixed, or that we should hide out until we can “get it together again”.
Spiritual teacher Pema Chodron comments on this by saying that when people ask her, "How are you?" She always answers, “OK”. Because whether she's angry, sad, overjoyed, scared, anxious, on top of the world or down in the pits, she knows she's still ok. This idea of self-acceptance can seem radical in comparison to how we normally like to pick and choose what we like and dislike about ourselves and what's happening in our lives. Accepting ourselves for everything that we are experiencing seems to be a gateway into truly loving ourselves, and in turn, allows us to naturally make changes and have growth from a place of seeing with loving, non-judgmental, non-shaming, non-blaming eyes. Our transformation comes from the place of clear wisdom.
So let’s keep trying. This is a life time project that needs love, gentleness, perseverance, patience and joy. And as spiritual teacher Chogyam Trungpa used to say, “Good Luck!”