In April I attended a retreat that I have wanted to go to for five years. Each year I would promise myself next year I’m going to make sure I attend. Every year when I received the brochure announcing the retreat, I would look to see when it was offered, only to discover another commitment prevented me from attending. This year I decided to make sure I made myself a priority. Attending this retreat was an act of self-love. Master Teacher Maya Breuer, at Kripalu Center for Yoga And Health, offered “A Yoga Retreat For Women of Color™” which she founded 12 years ago. The retreat was specifically for women of color, but the theme of the retreat was universal – Love Your Life. Loving your life is a tall order to fill. Knowing how can be a challenge. Like anything that seems too big to manage, I decided to break it into bite-size pieces. It occurred to me that in order to love your life, you have to start by loving yourself.
Self-love is the willingness to cherish yourself for who you are, not for who someone else needs you to be. Without self-love it is impossible to love your life or to love others, yet self-love is not traditionally thought of as being the foundation for loving your life. Self-love is not self-indulgence, but love of self that demonstrates that we regard ourselves as worthy. When we regard ourselves as worthy, we treat ourselves accordingly in thought, word, and deed. Self-love comes from the heart and results in an open heart that allows you to experience and express the love you actually are.
Why is self-love important? Because no one can love you better that you can love yourself – nor can you love anyone else better than you can love yourself. Loving others more than you love yourself is an energy drain that leads to great disappointment, bitterness, anger, and resentment. Looking for love from others drains them and leaves you feeling like a bottomless pit. It leads to feelings of dependency and ultimately deprivation and emptiness.
Learning to love yourself leads to fulfillment. You and you alone have the power to fulfill your own needs and desires. This is not to say that we do not need others. We do. We long to live in community and in right relationship. But a prerequisite is being able to take good care of your self. Many of us learn to equate self-love with vanity and selfishness. Actually, the more loving, kind, generous, and patient you are with yourself – the more these qualities will manifest in your relationships with others. Self-love has the power to enhance relationships even if only one person in the relationship practices it. It is transformational.
There are five aspects of self love that if practiced will open your heart to loving yourself and loving your life.
Kindness is first. To develop a loving relationship with ourselves, we must be committed to treating ourselves with loving kindness in thought, word, and deed. It means we must make peace with and affirm ourselves. We must refrain from thinking of ourselves negatively, calling ourselves names in anger, or engaging in behavior that is in any way harmful to us. We must be radically affirmative in our relationship to ourselves.
Authenticity is the second aspect of self-love. We must be open to the truth of our being. We must be willing to be who we are. This is what is meant by the saying, “To thine own self be true.” Each one of us has been given special gifts and talents to fulfill our purpose. To ignore, reject, or misuse these innate abilities is an act of self-rejection and undermines our sense of self worth and our ability to be in right relationship with others. Love yourself for who you actually are, not for who you think someone expects you to be. It is better to strive toward being who you are than to excel at being someone you are not. March to the beat of your own drum.
Gratitude is the third aspect of self-love. It is important to practice appreciating what you have, and who you are. Many of us spend far too much time focusing on what we wish we had, or what we don’t have, which leads to deep inner suffering. We think that having what we don’t have will alleviate our suffering. Actually, it is our focus on what we don’t have, not the absence of something, that leads to our suffering. As long as you are comparing yourself to others as being better or worse than you, you will suffer, and you will deprive yourself of peacefulness and contentment in your life.
Balance is the fourth aspect of self-love that we need to develop. We need to be able to flow comfortably between giving and receiving. Some people find it easier to give while others find it easier to receive. If giving comes more naturally to you, you will eventually have a need to receive. If receiving comes more naturally to you, you will eventually have a desire to give. Remember the sage advice of Bob Dylan in his song Forever Young: “May you always do for others and let others do for you.” We need to able to both give and receive to balance our personalities.
Forgiveness is the fifth aspect of self-love. Forgiving ourselves for our mistakes is an act of self-love that requires letting go of shame, blame, criticism, and self-accusation. There are three steps to self-forgiveness. Identify what you think you’ve done wrong. Let yourself feel the remorse associated with what you’ve done. Promise not to do it again and keep the promise. Then let it go.
Any one of these five steps if practiced consistently will inevitably lead to self-love, the foundation of loving your life. But to accomplish this you have to walk the path of self-love in complete devotion. It is difficult to remain on a path that doesn’t feel natural. So here is a practice that might assist you. There is a center in the body where love, compassion, and trust reside. It is the spiritual heart center.
Your spiritual heart center lies just behind the breastbone. Close your eyes and be aware of your heart as a space. Let your attention rest easily there. Breathe gently and sense your breath going gently into your heart center. As you do this, ask your heart to speak to you – and for the next few minutes just sit in silence and listen. Whatever message your heart has for you know that it is beneficial.
Love yourself, love your life.