Love – the basis for all that we do, the very foundation of our lives on this planet. Continuously, we’re taught to love: to love others, to love the earth, to love our bodies, to love and love and love. But I don’t think that nearly enough focus is given to the idea of loving our selves – not as much the small aspects that make up our lives in the present moment, but instead the very core of our being, the essence of our identity. And yet, I believe that self love is one of the most essential practices that we can ever engage in, more helpful and healthy than any eating pattern, exercise plan, or even yoga practice. I’ve been coming, slowly but surely, to the realization that without a strong sense of self love, all else is absolutely meaningless. So what exactly does that mean? First of all, it means that ultimately, you put yourself first. But wait. That sounds so contrary to everything that we’ve ever been taught. From childhood, we’re taught the importance of sharing and caring, of being a friend, we’ve all had the Golden Rule embroidered into our brains… so where is the line drawn between self love and just plain selfishness? I so often find myself neglecting self love for fear of being selfish, or self-indulgent. And this is a fair thought – I believe that we as human beings are made to be here for each other, to care for each other, to interact with and love each other. But behind all of that community and love, there need to be individuals who first love and know themselves, and then, once they have achieved that point, they can start to love those around them. There is a quote on the inside of my bedroom door that says, “you cannot fill others until you are full,” and this is what I believe is the defining line between selfishness and self love. Self love is filling yourself, loving yourself, knowing and honoring you as a uniquely wonderful individual, and then turning around and giving to those in your sphere out of the excess of love for life that comes from loving who you are. Someone once told me to be sure to give “out of a place of abundance, not a place of emptiness.” Simple, but effective. You can’t give what you don’t have, and love is a key example of that. To truly have the space within yourself to love and give to others, you must first reach the space where you hold that much love for yourself.
So how to reach that level of self love? That is the journey that I’m currently on. But to share insights from my progress, I’ve discovered that before you can start to truly love yourself, you must learn yourself, really and fully know yourself. This is not a one-time venture, because we are so constantly changing, so setting aside time consistently to draw back into touch with who you are is crucial – you cannot truly love what you do not know. Take some time: go walk in the woods, or sit in the corner table of a coffee shop, light some candles, or go on a long train ride. Journal, draw, listen to music, sign up for a yoga class. Whatever it takes to get you to a space where you feel like you can release everything external to you and simply breathe in the essence of who you are.
Once you’ve begun to learn yourself, I’ve found that the next step towards self love is to move towards a place of honesty. And that honesty is reflected in several different forms: honesty with yourself, about who you are, what you like and don’t like, what you want, what you need, but also honesty with others, being up front with those around you about who you are and what you want. Both of these sound easy, but present a truly difficult practice. I became very conscious of this struggle tonight in yoga class – my practice was consistently punctuated by nagging twinges of stress as I remembered all of the social obligations that lay ahead of me after the class. It took me the full hour and a half to come to a place of honesty within myself to acknowledge the fact that what I really wanted, more than anything, was to come home, drink some dandelion tea in bed, and write. Not talk to anyone, or see anyone, or owe anything to anyone but myself. It had been a day that had left me with very little to give, but it was truly a challenge to come to a point where I could acknowledge and accept those feelings. The next step in the process of honesty was then to relay those feelings, and their importance, to others, and not apologize, but instead to own my needs. To contact those I was supposed to see, and simply explain that I needed a night to myself, and would see them another day. No apologies, no excuses, just honesty.
Finally, I think that a crucial aspect of self love is to be constantly striving to enjoy life. An old teacher of mine from high school had a sticker on her door that said “don’t postpone joy,” and that’s a phrase that I’ve been reflecting a lot on lately. Another way of saying it comes from the source of most of my nuggets of life wisdom, Albus Dumbledore, when he advises Harry that “it does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.” There is so much importance in setting goals, working towards achievements, looking with excitement towards the future, but it is crucial to remain present in the moment, to live and love each second as it passes by, to embrace full joy and enjoyment every single day. “Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.” I’m in the middle of a fantastic book called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and she made this point in her chapter about finances, called it “spending out.” She brought up the idea of hoarding away time, money, or objects to save them for another time. I think that we’re all guilty of this in one way or another, and a key element to self love is to stop hoarding, and to allow yourself to indulge in joy, because you deserve it. Buy a bar of dark chocolate, and drink some red wine with it, because you’re fantastic. Take that trip to Central America that you’ve been talking about for years, because you’ll always remember it. Don’t postpone joy. Live life, do it now, because there’s never a guarantee on tomorrow. Love yourself enough to allow for joy in ever day, in every moment.
Moving forward with this new year, I think that more self love, more honesty, and more enjoying the moment, are all such beautiful things to strive for. Set your goals based on a deep love for yourself. Sit down now, and carve out time throughout the year to truly get to know yourself – it’s never too late. Get in touch with what it is that you really want to be doing, and make a plan to do it. Don’t postpone joy. Honor your being enough to truly be honest, with yourself and with others, about who you are and what you want. Make changes. Live differently. Seek joy to the fullest, because that’s exactly what you deserve. Commit to loving yourself, because you are incredible, and owe it to the world to share that light that only you possess.