Because self-love is a topic that frequently comes up when I'm talking with people, I felt compelled to explore it further and to share some additional thoughts on loving ourselves.
In Matthew 22:36-40 the bible says, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments". Hmmm...love your neighbor as yourself...what if we don't hold much love for ourselves then? How well will we be able to love our neighbor?
In her book All About Love, bell hooks states, "We are not born knowing how to love anyone, either ourselves or somebody else. However, we are born able to respond to care. As we grow we can give and receive attention, affection, and joy. Whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment." Are you learning in the presence of a loving environment how to love yourself, so you can in turn love others?
I've often heard that relationships are like mirrors reflecting our strengths and weaknesses, showing who we are at that moment. Deepak Chopra says, "The world is a reflection of us. If you don't like the reflection, it doesn't help to break the mirror". And Joe Vitale puts it this way, "What you see in the world around you is a reflection of your inner self. Once you change the inner you change the outer along with it." What do you see when you look in the mirror?
A lot of us are in the habit of beating ourselves up and exercising self-loathing. I'll never be able to do that, or I'll never be able to do it as good as so and so, or I'm not as smart, or as pretty, or as thoughtful, or as well-read, or as traveled as I should be, or as much as the next person, I'm dumb, I sound stupid, I look fat. It seems we are often looking for a way out by seeking...a better degree, job, relationship, diet, or house. Some people seek a way out by self-medicating through drinking or overeating, by becoming control freaks and perfectionists, through an addiction to spending, by attacking others, and some of us just hide it better than others.
Marianne Williamson states in her book, A Return to Love, "The perfect you isn't something you need to create, because God already created it. The perfect you is the love within you. Your job is to allow the Holy Spirit to remove the fearful thinking that surrounds your perfect self." She goes on to say, "To remember that you are part of God, that you are loved and lovable, is not arrogant. It's humble." Fear is the opposite of love. Fear and ego keep us from self-love. Just recognizing this goes a long way toward shifting and changing. Just shifting how we think about life produces a shift in how we experience it.
Cultivating self-love is a journey of spiritual growth and self-discovery in the practice of living consciously and intentionally. There are many layers to building self-love and many tools and techniques. I'll highlight some techniques that I've found useful in my own practice.
One technique that works toward building self-love is called mirror work. It's recommended that this routine be practiced every day for at least 30 days (it would be great to have it be an on-going daily practice). Look into the mirror, into your own eyes and repeat to yourself, "I love you, I really love you, I love myself as God loves me". It seems simple and maybe silly, but after doing this for a period of time you should start to feel an inner shift occur. During your first few attempts, you'll probably notice the bags under your eyes, or your crows feet, or hear the self-loathing talk and that's okay, go easy on yourself. Be intentional and keep working at it, keep working toward seeing the good in you and the beauty versus judging yourself. Many of us have a hard time loving all parts of ourselves, this exercise changes how we think, feel and what we believe about ourselves.
Another simple and yet powerful tool to help build self-love, as well as love for others is called Metta meditation or loving kindness meditation. The loving kindness meditation is a simple repetition of the following phrases...May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease...first directing them toward yourself, then toward someone you are thankful for, then toward someone you feel neutral about, then toward someone who is frustrating you, and then to the Universe as a whole. Repeating each as many times as you would like. Here is a link for more detailed information on this loving kindness meditation technique
Another way to exercise self-love is to start taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority. Nothing sends a stronger signal to your unconscious self than when your conscious self places priority on doing things that nurture you. Taking a walk or a hot bath, going to an exercise class, eating well, getting enough sleep, reading a book, spending time with friends are all ways to nurture yourself. We often times back-burner our own needs/nurturing and get caught up in the tasks of life, even to the point of feeling guilty if we do spend time doing something for ourselves. Refueling and reenergizing our own spirit is an important expression of self-love and will go a long way toward causing us to be more productive in all areas of our lives. Take time to nurture yourself and don't throw yourself on a guilt trip.
Some spiritual leaders would say that love is our purpose here on earth, that to experience love in ourselves and others is the meaning of life. That is a powerful statement, but love so greatly impacts all of the other elements of spirituality that I have to agree that it is clearly a very important piece...love your neighbor as yourself.