We hear over and over again from self-help gurus and spiritual teachers that self-love is the most important practice we can build; how important it is to gain our independence, love ourselves fully, or else no one is going to love you back. If you don’t love yourself, then how can others love you? In Western culture left without a nourishing communal context in which to develop and grow, often times our love of self and sense of belonging is contingent on external validation. While I am over-simplifying a more complex topic, there is a contextual foundation to look at here while we begin exploring what it means to love and nurture oneself from the most authentic and fundamental of places. Self love can look like many different things to each individual, depending on the process of development you’re in. For some, self-love is about creating space for the sacred “no,” slowing down and doing less. For others, it can be about getting out in the world more, valuing yourself by way of self-expression and cultivating your voice. And while self-care can be about exercise and eating right, manis, pedis and massages, it’s more so about radical honesty, acceptance and forgiveness.
In my work as a spiritual and practical life coach over the last 12 years, folks come to me to work through pragmatic issues in their lives. Typically the issues are a result of some event or circumstance that triggered them, leaving them questioning a behavior, pattern or relationship. It could be a career choice, relationship issues, losing weight, ending an addiction, but more often than not it’s a general sense of longing for more, for something deeper, or to find an answer to the question: “what is this all for, anyway?” As humans, we have the innate desire to fit in, to belong. We also must survive, and so we are left with desire and survival sometimes confusingly intertwined. We are left feeling vacant of an understanding of who we truly are and what it means to care for and love ourselves fully…. as we are.
Getting caught in the “if x then y” equation isn’t a fault of any of ours. It’s natural to put constrictions and expectations of ourselves based on culturally defined success. I will be happy when (fill in the blank); I will be successful if (fill in the blank). Creating a paradigm where self-love becomes about doing something more in order to prove your worth is just another trap that keeps you locked in the cycle of conditions that have left us all feeling empty, searching for more, longing for belonging and dying for love. Self-Love.
So, how do we coach ourselves to self love and acceptance?
We don’t have to fake our happiness, nor do we have to over-dramatize what’s not working. By accepting what is without involving the emotional weight of making something mean something other than it is, we gain incredible freedom. To be honest with yourself, where you’re at in your life, what your strengths are, your feelings, your preferences takes great courage. This is self-love.
To truly love is to love without conditions and to love freely means to allow one to be exactly as they are, without expectations to be anything other than where you are and who you are.
What if rather than expecting, we start accepting? Radical self-acceptance: this doesn’t mean to stop growing or to become complacent, it means to allow for compassion and love in order to grow. When we truly accept where and who we are, we can then allow space for growth and transformation.
End the fix-it game
We live in a culture where we have every little possible thing we could hope for at the tip of our itty bitty fingers. Scroll, point, click, receive. We have a hard time sitting in the “uncomfortable” and constantly faced with comparison. If we don’t live up to where or what we think we should be, we therefore think something is wrong with us and something must be done. How often do you walk around thinking that something is wrong with you and you need to do something to fix it? Whether it be your thoughts, behaviors, relationships or material possessions, so often we spend too much time and energy invested in what needs to be done or fixed in order to be a whole and worthy person. You’re worthy, now, here, today. There’s nothing wrong with you, you don’t need fixing, just a little shifting.
Set yourself up with realistic plans and visions. Don’t overload yourself with too many to-do’s, plans, ideas and dreams. Choose wisely, what you want to do with your time, how you want to spend your energy and who you want to be around. If you overload and overpromise, there is rarely any time left for truly being with yourself.
“To know thyself is the beginning of Wisdom.” ~ Socrates
On this wild crazy ride of life, to know yourself is the beginning of wisdom. Self-knowledge cultivated through honesty, acceptance, presence, purpose and forgiveness is the surest way that I know and have experienced a path to self-love. To know oneself naked in the mirror without the masks of judgement, jealousy, competition or external influence. It’s you, without the things you think you should be, or the body you think you should have or the degrees you think you should get. It’s just you: where you came from, the choices you’ve made and why, the desires you have, your hopes and dreams, fears and “imperfections”. All of it encompasses you. There is no becoming, it’s only undoing… undoing the years of programing, negative self-talk, and all the “shoulds” that you’ve placed on your path. There you are… right there in front of you. Just you, beautiful you.
The desire to grow through self-examination.
Growth takes time it also takes patience and perseverance. To love oneself also means to make a choice around what you want to grow out of: watching and observing patterns and behaviors that aren’t serving you. Taking the time to examine through reflection is one of the most radical gifts you can give yourself.
Forgive forgive and forgive again
Forgiveness is a daily practice and without it shame can build creating a disconnect between who you truly are and what you think you should be. The energetic force of forgiveness over and over again, along with acceptance, compassion, and love are key ingredients needed to activate into each day with a fully awakened heart. When we stay in the past or resent ourselves for something that has been done, it’s nearly impossible to move forward or create the momentum required to keep going and cultivate joy and love in our lives.
A self-love prescription:
Develop a relationship with yourself: Just as you would cultivate a relationship with a loved one, carve out time EVERY day to spend with yourself in quiet. Listening, reflecting, writing; being in touch with your body, mind, soul and spirit are the highest forms of self love. How you do that is up to you, but creating a daily practice and rhythm of self-devotion is critical, even if only for 10 minutes a day. This is your daily foundation of self-love, it’s the mental, physical, and emotional hygiene necessary for survival. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity.
Create a network of support: Self-love is doesn’t have to be an isolating experience, it can also be cultivated through deep relationship with people in your community that are also doing the same work and rooting for you to thrive in life. Be choosy with who you surround yourself with, pay attention to how others make you feel, and make sure to maintain healthy and clear boundaries in all aspects of your life where you recognize the oxygen mask must go on you first!
Develop a healthy lifestyle: Knowing what foods work for your body and mind to function optimally is essential, committing to that it is even more vital to your success. Sleeping, eating well and moving on a daily basis are all essential elements to self-care. Lovingly nurturing the vessel that you live in from the inside out breeds space for vitality and joy.
Create sacred boundaries: What are your absolute “no’s?” Getting clear with what you are wiling to give and what you aren’t are critical aspect to self-love. Boundaries are a practice of self-reverence and self-respect. When we create boundaries, it allows for time and energy to be invested back into you.
And after all that, let it all go… remember there is no “one way” to do it or “right way” to get it done, you are a beautiful unique being unlike any other, you are special in your own special way and should be treated as such (by you).
Each day is a new start and a new opportunity to think and grow in ways that are aligned with our highest good. It’s up to you to make the choice and take the steps necessary to love and accept all of yourself: heart, mind, body, spirit, soul.
For more, check out The Alchemist’s Kitchen’s Season of Love Collection of herbal offerings here!