As we grow up we tend to pick up beliefs about needing to do or not do, be or not be in order to be loved. When this conditioning falls away, we are left with a stunning realization: we are loved. We are always loved—utterly independent of anything we do or say or choose. Each breath—our breathing happening—might remind us of this. As we release the collective clutter from our minds this love is free to flow through us and out into the world. Loving yourself is a prerequisite for being of truly useful service in this world. It is at once the greatest gift we can give ourselves and an act of altruism.
As I have traveled around the world visiting spiritual groups, attending countless personal development and healing seminars, connecting with those seeking to bring about social justice or environmental care, and simply chatting with people in everyday life, I have noticed a curious malady that unites us. It is both a symptom and the cause of the very separate self-experience we have come to assume is true. This malady obstructs our full humanity from being fully expressed.
This malady is self-hate or self-loathing. This is unconsciously projected out on to the world and indeed will affect the very circumstances of our life including our physical health. It is an absence of love for ourselves which keeps us from being able to receive the love that is all around us, from friends and family, from the very fabric of existence. We beat ourselves up; label ourselves "wrong." We harm ourselves, often physically. There are plentiful measures of this crisis of the soul or mind in our culture. Physical self-harm, depression, peaking suicide rates, and the like attest to this monster in our midst. It is the elephant in the room, kept well hidden by the fear of being vulnerable and judged by others were we to share. I have, time and time again, witnessed twenty or thirty people in a room all nod their heads in compassionate agreement and recognition when one is brave enough to share the experience of their own occasional self-hatred. Can you relate to this experience? Even if this is not current in your experience, has it been before? Are there aspects of your being that you still judge? Can you give kindness and a warm embrace to this part of your humanity?
If we buy into the culture of competition, where being the richest, most beautiful, most popular, or "successful" are glorified we will feel insufficient. There will always be someone who seems to have or be more. And as long as we feel we are not enough, we will always seek more by acquiring and conquering. And when we get to where we wanted, we feel we are empty there too. Abundance is not measured by riches— abundance is a feeling of "being enough." When we consistently generate the feeling of abundance, the outer world naturally aligns. Abundance, like happiness and personal or planetary healing, is an inside job.
This business of judging is passed on from one generation to the next. The cultural undercurrent that arises from the blasphemous idea of a god that is apart from us and anything but love is also a root cause of our disconnection. We have believed the profoundly ignorant stories from people who have, because of their own fear and judgment, claimed to know what is real. No wonder we find strident atheism in response to such poor caricatures of infinite intelligence. There is wisdom in rejecting these old stories.
And we must reject the story that we are mechanisms—mere biological beings— living in a purpose- less world of matter, scarcity, and competition, victims of genes and heredity, adrift in a world of no greater intelligence than that of which we are aware. For we live by our stories. We can replace these old stories not by bemoaning the darkness, not by judging the world as we once judged ourselves, but by creating a new story, a new worldview, and embodying it—a story that is so luminescent, so evidently less partial, speaking to all levels of our being, that our old, cynical, doubting eyes are blinded by the light.
This loving oneself is not only about our well-being. It is not merely a psychological issue; it is a social, political, and perhaps even survival issue. We are realizing that anything prevalent in our inner worlds is of collective and planetary concern. If I cannot love myself, my capacity to demonstrate concern for you or for the air we breathe is diminished. If I see myself as really worthless, then what spare worth will I have to give you or the world that nourishes us?
You will probably have experienced how your own emotional mood or your own self-view colors your view of another, indeed of life itself. It is easy to see at such times how our view of the world begins with our view of our self. Is it mere coincidence that, at a time when the dominant culture on our planet is in the grips of self-loathing, we are destroying that which nourishes us and sustains us? In truth, we are destroying ourselves!
There is a common misconception that we must deny ourselves and give to others first in order to be "good." In truth, to give anything to anyone, I must first possess it. I can offer you only the love present in my experience. If there is a part of me that I loathe, I will loathe it in you. It is only once I have made peace with my foibles and imperfections, my darkness and my shameful secrets, that I meet you, with yours, in peace. It is only when I realize I am whole and complete, as I am, that I can see you the same way. My offering you unconditional love is dependent on me first allowing it for myself. Your receiving it is dependent on your relationship with yourself.
We might be wary of such talk of self-love because we are aware of the ugliness of the narcissist, the self that is obsessed with itself. Look closer at such a being and you might see that this posture is merely protection from a magnitude of insecurity and self-loathing—so much that an entire anti-personality was required to obscure it from the conscious mind. We are rightly wary of this form of self-regard as it comes from a wounded separate self. The self-love I speak of comes from (and is an expression of) the integrated being realizing itself as one with all things. It is not a narcissistic "I am great!" or "I am better than everyone." It is more like "I am inherently worthy, and I see others as equally so. The world loves me every day, nourishing me with breath and being; who am I to disagree?"
Another common misperception in "spiritual" circles is that one must deny oneself in order to be spiritual or good—or that, as we are ultimately impersonal, we must ignore the personal. Here we find partial under- standing arising perhaps when we are unwilling to look at our own darkness. From the vast expanse of the impersonal, there is only love. No edicts or proclamations. Another "spiritual" idea, that of the ascetic, can be an expression of self-judgment, resting on a belief in a god (or goddess) who desires you to suffer to receive their love.
In its wiser form, ascetism or mere self-restraint expresses the greatest self-love: we decide we deserve nothing less than the perpetual blissful union with God/Life (and within this union we desire nothing but the Beloved and would not desire anything that would obstruct this). There is no self-denial here unless one has touched only the pleasure derived from a cookie, and imagines it comparable to being peace and love. Indeed I would suggest that even your love of Spirit/ Life is proportional to your love of self. To be spiritual is to love for love is Reality's essence. In loving the self, loving others, and loving the world, we realize it's all ultimately the same. It's all, literally, one.
Between the extremes of narcissism and self-sacrifice there is a happy middle ground. It is the realization that we are, in our entirety—with our fears and doubts, our judgment, our failures, our petty selfishness, our shallow desires, and harmful actions—lovable. There is perhaps no more precious moment in a human life than when finally we realize—perhaps for the first time—that we are loved and lovable, independent of action. We are loved by virtue of our being. As we love the infant who vomits down our back, pees in our face, and throws food on the floor for the fifth time in one meal, life loves us! For we too know not what we do. Would you treat a child as you treat yourself? Will you commit to giving yourself the same care and love as you would a child?
When we realize our inherent lovability, we can begin to share this unconditional love with the world.
My own journey has included going into dark corners of self-loathing. I have been to a place where I decided that I was worthless. It was only when I cleared the last remaining fragment of this idea—the last piece of shrapnel from a hate bomb I had self-detonated long ago—that this book began to flow.
The reward for this work of learning to self-love is the experience of love itself. From this stems all manner of wonderful consequences. When we are in anything other than loving acceptance, we expend a huge amount of energy on wasteful mind activity. We preen, posture, and prattle on to look cool and be popular. Of course, we only try to be cool and popular when we feel uncool or perceive ourselves as unpopular.
To be cool is often to be nothing more than a master of masks and mirrors. We mistakenly seek external salve for an internal wound that ultimately can only be healed from the inside, by our love for ourselves. The energy we once wasted on trying to be someone else is now free to be put towards creative pursuits, starting that business, going on that trip, commencing that community project, and building a new world through our transformed being. Coming from a place of wholeness, a place of love, these creative offerings and this new world will be whole and loving. From this view, we see that the world depends on our falling in love with ourselves… on our allowing unity where there once was division.
The purpose of this article is simply to invite an unflinching, loving look at oneself, to ask to what extent do I love myself and how might I make this love more complete? How might I improve my relationship with myself and thus improve all other relationships? Please be mindful not to beat yourself up if you notice yourself beating yourself up! Break the vicious cycle with love.
There are side-effects to developing self-love. As you allow the love that is always here into your experience, you alter the very matrix of energy that is your life. Likely shifts will be that you experience more love and less judgment from others, relationships will grow (maybe that relationship you have always wanted will present itself), and financial circumstances will improve. All that was stopping you before was the confusion that you needed love and abundance from out there. In choosing to allow these feelings within yourself, the outer is taken care of, and inner and outer are ever more clearly seen to be unified.
Excerpt from Will's book Blessed with a Brain Tumor.