It's a topic thats come up a number of times in talking to people lately, so I felt compelled to explore it and to share some thoughts and tips 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?
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?
I think a lot of us are in the habit of beating ourselves up continuously 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, or job, or relationship, or diet, or house. Some people self-medicate through drinking or overeating, some become control freaks, or obsess, some attack others, and some of us 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.
One technique that works toward making this shift and 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 will 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. It will work toward elevating our energy and our lives and allow us to love others and become who we are meant to be.
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.
Another simple and yet powerful tool to help build not only self-love, but also 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.http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/better_than_sex_and_appropriate_for_kids
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.
Do you have any self-love practices that have been successful for you? I would love to hear about them!