18 Jan Love Others as You Love Yourself
This is known as the Golden Rule: a fantastic, simple maxim to live by. And yet…how much, honestly, do we love ourselves? How much do you love yourself? Perhaps this question makes you squirm? Or perhaps you equate self-love with egotism? Narcissism? Self-adoration?
And yet…the foundations of the spiritual life begin, and end, with loving the Self.
What do we mean exactly by self-love?
Perhaps it is easier to approach it from other angles. The phrase ‘self-love’ does not sit easily with many people.
What if we use the expression ‘self-compassion’? Of showing the same kindness to ourselves that we would to another. How often we catch ourselves playing the most vicious ‘mantras’ in our heads- “I’m worthless/ I’ll only fail again/ I’ll never be able to do that/ they’re all so much smarter than I am/ who would be interested in what I have to offer?”- and these mantras of unkindness poison our outlook, our energy and our self-esteem. We write ourselves off before we have even tried.
I challenge you to observe yourself over the next few days and see what records you’re playing to yourself in your head. And it’s interesting to note who they sound like! Can you trace them back to source?
So, even self-compassion can make us uncomfortable. We whole-heartedly agree that compassion is a good thing- this ability to meet someone where they are and walk beside them. And yet, how often do we meet ourselves exactly where we are, and with kindness? It seems we have one set of standards for others and a ridiculously high set that we keep especially for ourselves. Of course, with these impeccable standards we set ourselves up to fail time and again, and then we begin the cycle of berating ourselves all over. Someone once told me that this kind of perfectionism is a form of self-harm; that’s worth sitting with for a while.
So, self-love may sound great, but do we mean it? Really?
Self-compassion- great in theory, but do we practice it?
Where does this leave us?
At a recent yoga conference, my mind caught on a phrase used by one of the speakers: she referred to yoga as “radical self-care”. A penny dropped. A light went on. An expanse opened in my mind and cogs began turning! What a fantastic phrase- and a superb ‘entry-level’ concept to fall, truly and deeply, in love with ourselves.
Why ‘entry-level’? Perhaps you are a seasoned practitioner- a yogi or meditator of many years- and yet we still all get snagged on the thorns of this self-love business. We all have off days. Do you ever find your practice becoming more about duty and discipline- the shoulds- than about love and flow? It’s worth asking yourself if your yoga is fuelled by shakti- sheer raw energy- or also by bhakti- devotion. What is your intention when you hit the mat? And, as teachers, telling some people to love themselves in our yoga classes is as impossible a request for them as asking them to draw down the moon!
So we begin with a concept we can all get hold of.
The ability to nourish and maintain ourselves.
‘Self-care’ sounds sensible and do-able, like looking after a neighbour’s rabbits; like keeping the oil in the car topped up. It is practical and expected of a functioning adult human. Self-care sounds non-threatening. It is the kind of advice we might find on an NHS website.
We can all have a go at caring for ourselves without feeling undeserving in the way that many of us do when we talk of self-love. Self-care is self-love without the baggage.
Yoga as radical self-care.
Yoga-the practice of unifying breath, body and mind-provides the most profound and holistic self-care package known to man! Yoga, as Yogi Bhajan always reminded, is a technology. You apply it- like a science- to the human mind and body and a specific outcome is produced. Regular application produces consistent results.
Many people struggle to adopt a daily practice- sadhana- in their lives. Why is this? Often people cite lack of time: but, perhaps the truth is that they feel this time spent on themselves- a yoga set, a meditation- is somehow selfish. How can I afford this time spent on myself? I’m not worth it. When we dig deep we may find truth in that. Or maybe we are sabotaging ourselves, knowing that our yoga erodes our deep un-wellness, and that to give this time to ourselves means inevitable change?
So if we come at our yoga practice as a simple self-care modality for maintaining the engine of the body and the soundness of the mind, what’s not to like? It’s as essential as brushing our teeth or combing our hair. There is a wealth of scientific research becoming available to prove the benefits of regular practice.
Let us drop the concepts of self-love and self-compassion because they can simply become blocks to our progression.Let us begin with embracing ‘self-care’ whole-heartedly and getting a regular yoga practice up and running.
And the beauty of this path is that, very quickly and very quietly, you will wake up one morning to find that you have fallen in love with yourself. And surely this is the great project of our lives? All else radiates out from there. Our vessel must be filled and the waters pure before we can pour ourselves out to others. Only from that place of deep love can we begin to practice Christ’s imperative to “love others as you love yourself.”