One of the most challenging types of love to develop is self-love. It can seem like an esoteric belief or a legend, like past lives or Valhalla. How can a person be okay with the way things are when they’re filled with unease, shame, or worry? Even when you’re relatively satisfied with your life, there can be a subtle and constant undertow. Do better. Be better.
And if there’s been a drip-campaign of cumulative stress, it can be that much harder to feel anything even remotely positive towards oneself.
Self-love can feel like a foreign language.
But a guiding principle of self-love–similar to the higher aspirations in a committed, safe, and loving marriage–is that we don’t just love a person when they’re strong, charming, generous, radiating bliss and fulfillment, successful and riding high. What’s the point of that? Where’s the courage, the depth, the richness, the breadth of our humanity in doing something so easy?
Similarly, what’s the point of only feeling self-love if we ourselves have succeeded? We did the thing we set out to do. We’re feeling what we want to feel. Others are praising us. We’ve achieved our goals and we’re healthy, young, glowing and unstoppable. Where’s the challenge in loving oneself in those ideal circumstances. If that’s what’s required to feel love towards ourselves, it’s not love we feel. It’s something else: pride, fear, resistance, clinging, control. We’re locked into a psychological rewards program.
“I love you,” we tell ourselves, “when you’re accomplishing things.” Good parents try to avoid loving their children this way. You don’t just love your kid when they fit some version of “good kid” and follow your rules and requirements. You love them always, when they’re obstinate, failing miserably, sick, unhappy, or pressing Play-doh into the TV remote. You stop them, discuss why you need your remote Play-doh free, and love them still.
In fact, it’s when things look bleak that we need to nestle into the softest layers of our own self-love. We don’t have to wait till things are “better” to connect with self-approval, pleasure and gratitude. Self-love doesn’t have to be a complicated, unattainable experience that only people who’ve had wildly fortunate lives or a rare great childhood can access.
Sometimes, all self-love means is that we stop, breathe, and notice what we’re feeling without judgment. Stopping, means we’re willing to accept what’s happening in this moment by not running from it. Breathing helps us take a moment to feel life within us and around us, the movement of our ribs, the subtle exchange that takes place between the environment outside of us and our inner ecosystem. So much of what’s happening within us at any given moment is actually astoundingly miraculous when we’re willing to step back and pay even a small amount of attention to it.
Noticing means we repossess our awareness. We take it back from all the distractions singing their siren songs, insisting that we do this or that. Many of these distractions were never even consciously chosen. We leave behind the devices and click-bait and to-do lists and big, shiny imaginary carrots dangling at the ends of our “I’ll-be-happy-later” mental sticks–all the obsessive, cycling thought-loops hacking into our present. Once our attention belongs to us, again, we can switch gears for a few moments from doing to being.
Self-love is giving our inner mental, sensory, emotional and energetic life priority over the past and the future, over fears and regrets. It’s noticing ourselves within a larger connection to our non-negotiable worthiness. By noticing, we’re saying, “I’m worth my own time and attention.”
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