We agree learning to love and be happy with ourselves is the single greatest gift we can offer the world, showering happiness on us and everyone we touch. Why then is it the hardest thing? And how on (this troubled) earth can we progress toward giving and receiving the love we crave, for ourselves first and last?
Loving ourselves enough to be happy is hard because we do not see ourselves clearly, but through a glass darkly. It’s the superficial nature of ego-mind to look for what’s the matter—with us, and some days, with everyone and everything else.
Self-love requires discipline (not my favorite thing). It also requires an extraordinarily firm intention to skirt the drama, accept our flaws and keep peering through the fear and doubt into the core of us. There—with some luck and pluck—we begin to realize that nothing is wrong, with us or anything; that all is always well. But, boy, is it easier to see that in you than in me!
Whether most of us know it or not, that’s why we do yoga and meditation. (Or so it seemed to me from watching many, many of my students transformed to their great surprise). No question it changed my life 180 degrees to start to turn inward, feel what I feel and look at myself with compassion (or, really, look at myself at all), which is what Kripalu Yoga guided me to do.
Down on the mat stretching my spine; taking deep yoga breaths; sitting in meditation, or chanting; and soon, eagerly sharing what I was learning with others—every lick of it worked to calm my preternaturally restless, hypercritical mind. In the process, yoga dropped me into my body and opened my heart unto myself for the first time, pouring balm on my weary soul.
That was our path, aided and abetted by plopping ourselves down at the gurus’ feet. And those were “disciplines” this disciple could handle because it all felt so good. It seemed only right and natural to get out of my head and into my heart, where fear was slowly overcome by love.
While it worked well for me and might for you, we don’t have to do yoga in order to love ourselves and be happy. And only the person with an almost unheard-of passion for God-realization will sit 10 hours a day in surrendered silence for 22 years as Bapuji did. But, hey, he attained what’s known as Nirvakalpa Samadhi, a thought-free, formless state of ultimate union. He was also far and away the most ecstatic, generous person I’ve known. (So I’m just sayin’.)
Luckily for us ordinary seekers, something is better than nothing in the practice department.
A little goes along way, and I was happy to see the other day that as significant an authority as the Bhagavad Gita (verse 2.40 in Stephen Mitchell’s version) agrees:
On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow.
We don’t have to go all out to progress. But there is one practice we’d do well to adopt if we want to love ourselves, be happy and spread love in the world. It’s simple but not so easy to remember and be willing to do, particularly when we’re wrought up and most in need of it.
What we must do, regularly and deliberately, is stop in our tracks, step back from the fearsome fray and dive as deep into ourselves as we can. We must hang out there and pay attention.
To remember who we are (or for newbies, start getting to know ourselves) there’s no way I know around it. We’ve got to drop out and tune in—body, mind and spirit. We might sit (or even lie) down, close our eyes, and draw deep, steady breaths. We take however long it takes to direct our mind’s eye inward, training our awareness toward the same essential Self Bapuji morphed into.
I can’t promise anything like steady bliss but, based on my experience as recently as an hour ago, greater happiness—or at least less distress—is pretty much guaranteed. For after you face down your fears and doubts (which may be present for a while each time you sit), you will begin to like what you see and feel deep inside. Maybe not at first, but sooner or later if you persist, you will see the light (though in my case that’s more figurative than literal.)
I call this essence we’re tuning into the Self of All. That’s because I’ve noticed that when we drop deep into the core of our quiet, loving hearts, we come face to face with the truth of the great adage We are all one in the spirit. You and I aren’t “connected”; we are one, cut from the very same loving cloth.
I really got that when I did an exercise at Kripalu where we were asked to sit across from one stranger after another, staring for a very long time into their eyes. Sitting alone in silent witness to the Self, we come to know that same truth of our oneness as well as we know our names. We feel it and it allows us to be kind. From that place of true yoga (the word means unite), we understand that what we do for ourselves, we do for the world. And equally, what we do for each other we do for ourselves.
Whatever actions we are called to take in the spirit of love are bound by their (loving) nature to serve us all. But remember, we cannot give what we do not have. To give love, we’ve got to be full of it.
So, please, let’s make time to love ourselves any which way we can. External nurturance is a fine start, whether it’s yoga, meditation, great books, nature walks, intimate talks, or whatever juices you. But there is no substitute I know for spending “down time,” alone and in silence. I also mean facing ourselves down, gently—exactly the way we show up in this moment and the next—whether we initially like what we see or not. We need to look and look some more.
We need to be with it, with every bit of who we are, so we can see and be ourselves, and some day learn to love ourselves, in all our gory glory. That, finally, is my answer to the question I asked a few posts back: How can we get so friggin’ happy with ourselves that we enjoy the gifts of an abundant life, with joy to spare and share? What’s your answer, your thoughts and observations? If you’ve gotten this far, I know you have wisdom to add to the mix. Please do, in service to us all.
Categories: Inspiration, Self-Care