Most of us try to avoid negative things and grab on to the beautiful things in life. This is a natural response embedded in almost all life forms. We would like to move towards pleasure and avoid pain – physical or psychological. However, the problem with this dichotomy is that it keep us ‘externally’ focused. Our attention gets diverted towards perceiving, judging the external thing. When we apply a label of ‘like’ to a person or thing, we immediately move towards identifying with it. When we apply the label of ‘dislike’ to a person, event or thing, we do not accept it; we want to move away from it. In both these movements, we fail to see the thing as it is. In moving towards it, we project our aspirations and inner needs onto it. In moving away from it, we map our fears and anxieties on it. In both, we do not accept the thing as it is.
Let us be clear. Labelling and judging is critical to our survival in the external world. We need to know who our friends are and who are antagonistic to us. We simply cannot survive and thrive in this world without making informed judgements about the world. However, we must learn to leave judgements to the external world of objects. In the internal realm, we need to transcend labelling. When we begin to label ourselves as good and bad, we create a harmful dichotomy. As humans we are a sum total of all our positive and negative attributes. And our life’s journey or purpose lies in working on ourselves to improve our positive attributes and skills while slowly transforming the negative traits. Labelling our negative traits is a subtle act of condemnation. And we cannot come close to that we condemn.
In order to move towards loving ourselves we need to begin by accepting who we are. And acceptance is precipitated by self-awareness. Did we behave awkwardly with our family the other day? Did we feel angry at our colleague? Did we feel jealous of our sibling when they got a new job? When we accept and allow these feelings to exist in us, we begin to have the courage to look at them head-on. If not, we are caught in a perpetual cycle of avoidance. We distract ourselves through activities, social functions and even hobbies to keep us away from painful realizations. This is where we need an ounce of courage to look at our deficiencies right in the face and cognize them in entirety. And as we begin to accept these darker faces of our personality, we can begin to be comfortable with them while starting to work on changing them. In its most simplest and basic form – this is self love.
Many think of self-love as this new age ritual of sitting with oneself and affirming “I love myself”, “I am a beautiful person” and so on. I am sure this has its place too. But we can take the direct path. And that is by facing our negativities and saying, “Ah! How wonderful I had no idea I could react like this”. This curious approach to knowing oneself is far more effective in transcending one’s limitations than affirmations. Awareness precedes change. As they say in traditional teachings – we need not eliminate darkness, all we need to do is open the curtains to let the light of awareness in.
As we begin to accept ourselves, we begin to get comfortable being who we are. When we are comfortable with who we are, the external world’s influence on us begins to reduce. People, events and things do not impact us so much anymore. We are fully active in the world, and yet complete. Our actions begin to become an expression of our inner potential and joy as opposed to being a constant hankering for happiness (or more aptly pleasure). The whole gestalt changes. This self-comfort is the beginning of self-love. It is not necessarily this “feeling” of unabating, unending, undying love that we feel towards ourselves. “Bliss” may perhaps be a facet of us being comfortable with who we are, but it is not the sine non qua of self love.
When we truly accept ourselves this way, we can begin to accept others for who they are. Remember, we cannot love another without accepting them totally and completely. Even if they hurt us, leave us, disturb us – we accept them in totality. This doesn’t mean that we remain mute and do nothing about it. We do not become doormats. We may even choose to move away from them. This decision too, will be based in understanding that the other is not mature enough to be with us at this stage. This act of leaving them is not born in hate or anger. True love for another comes with full acceptance. And full acceptance of the other comes with full acceptance of oneself. And when we accept ourselves fully, we realize that we do not need anything from anybody. Nobody needs to complete us anymore. And this “not needing” anything from the other gives rise to such enormous space and freedom. And only in this space can the other breathe. In fact, the other is attracted to this space. Therefore, every relationship, must be grounded in the individual’s self-acceptance. And only through that can true love flower.