An Irish man decided to embrace monkhood because he could not deal with his anxiety and depression. He moved to Thailand to live in a monastery and there he mastered meditation. Though his practise allowed him to reach deep states of calmness and serenity, often, during his meditation, crippling anxiety would arise within him, leaving him completely exhausted and unfulfilled at the end of his practise. This continued for a few months till he reached a point where he did not know how to live with himself. In that instant of complete helplessness, he experienced a liberating awakening. He realised that all he needed to do was make friends with his unpleasant side - the deep rooted anxiety within him. He began to allow all the uncomfortable feelings, emotions and thoughts and just sat with them with compassion. Through this practise of non-judgemental and compassionate awareness, the Irish man was able to fully accept and love himself.
Truly loving yourself is easier said than done. Think about it, have you ever loved something or someone that you don’t understand? I don’t think so. The love that you feel for someone without getting to know them is only superficial. You are in love with the idea of them, a picture that your mind has created of them. Accurate assessment of the other leads to accurate expectations. And if you accept what you see, including accepting all that you do not like, you are in it for a loving relationship that is grounded in reality. Similarly, getting to know yourself requires wisdom and non-judgemental compassion. A clear assessment of your true nature will acquaint you with your strengths and weaknesses, your beneficial and detrimental behaviours and tendencies. Because as much as our ego tries to convince us that we are flawless, that is simply not the case. Reconciling with our lower nature, the parts that we do not like experiencing is what liberates us. This leads to self love that is rooted in pure awareness.
Most of us have a shadow-like relationship with ourselves; we know it’s with us, but we don’t really acknowledge its presence. This lack of acknowledgement comes from a mindless approach to life. If you haven’t acknowledged yourself, then how will you ever truly understand your being self? And, if you don’t understand your true nature, how will you ever experience the immense love that you already are? Self inquiry is at the core of self love. Nisargadatta Maharaj from the Indian Vedantic tradition puts it beautifully:
“To find water you do not dig small pits all over the place, but drill deep in one place only. Similarly, to find your “self” you have to explore yourself. When you realize that you are the light of the world, you will also realize that you are the love of it; that to know is to love and to love is to know. ”Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta Maharaj goes deeper than love that is a result of wisdom or self knowledge. He goes on to say that love is our true essence. Or in other words, love is all there is. And thus, when you reach high states of self realisation, you will feel the love rather than just know that you are love. On your journey of self exploration, you will learn that you and I are all the same. But to feel this connectedness and sameness, you have to start with knowing and loving yourself.
He thought painfully, how can loving someone feel like such a betrayal of myself. And in that moment, he learned self love.
Oftentimes, you have to completely ignore your deepest needs to realise that you have completely broken the chord with your own needs. You may lose yourself in work, in chasing an external dream or in loving someone – could be even a parent or a sibling – that takes you so far away from your true self, that it feels like a betrayal to yourself. This state is so unnatural for our soul that like the Irish man who did not know how to “live with himself”, you will have to find a way back to yourself to understand and fulfil your own needs. Like they say, to love someone, you need to fill your cup first! To do this, some of the most commonly recommended tips for self love are effective. Go for whatever floats your boat, it doesn’t matter. The aim is to fill your cup. You could:
Read a book
Get a coffee
Listen to uplifting music
Prepare a good meal
Spend time with friends
Meditate or walk in nature
You will notice that throughout I refer to ‘you’ as though it is a third entity – external to your ‘self’. It is because the whole purpose of self love is for your consciousness to awaken to the difference and the unity in ‘you’ as a finite body and the ‘self’ as eternal love.
The paths to self love include spending time with yourself and honouring your needs, self enquiry that leads to acceptance and finally, self realisation. Depending on your level of consciousness, you will resonate with different paths but to fully recognize the love that you are, you have to actively engage in all the three paths. This requires discipline and commitment, just like you would be committed to going to the gym to keep your body fit. And, overtime the scent of self love will precede your being.
I write about living from your true self in my blog called Source-Driven. Do give it a read and subscribe for a weekly dose of spiritual pick-me-up.