I figure you’ll get enough of that commercialized romantic love BS from the holiday industrial complex in February.
Let’s talk about loving ourselves instead.
Romantic comedies often give lip service to loving ourselves when the protagonist of their story has trouble emotionally connecting with their love interest. That protagonist may learn through a series of failed connections, emotional outbursts and mishaps that they need to “love themselves” before they can be really committed to a romantic relationship. The story ends at this big revelation, or skips ahead to this realization making their romance work out. We never see how the practice of loving oneself actually comes to fruition.
That’s probably because there’s no simple way to do it. Loving yourself is a life-long, ongoing practice.
Two ways I have explored self-love is through the traditions that I practice: my yogic meditation practice and Christian practices and teachings.
In my meditation teacher training a few years ago, we spent about a month on heart-centered meditation practices. I found that they can build empathy both toward yourself and others.
Basically, you start by breathing into the space of the heart and then send that heart energy to yourself, to someone you love/care about, someone you feel neutral about, someone who you are challenged, and then finally to the entire world. In each phase of sending the heart energy, you repeat the phrases:
May I/you/we be happy.
May I/you/we be healthy.
May I/you/we be peaceful.
May I/you/we be filled with loving kindness.
During the month I practiced this and other heart-centered practices, I happened to be in a place of conflict with a couple of co-workers. When I sent heart energy to them, I found my empathy expand. It didn’t change the challenges we faced, but I could approach them with more grace than I did before.
This Buddhist meditation practice ignited a new understanding of my longer-held Christian teaching and prayer practices. The word “peaceful” reminds me of the Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace, wholeness, completeness, prosperity.
Metta also has a deeper meaning. The Theravadin scholar Acharya Buddharakkhita, as quoted in the article by Barbara O’Brien, writes “’The Pali word metta is a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others (parahita-parasukha-kamana). … True metta is devoid of self-interest.’”
I felt my heart grow exponentially in the month that I practiced Metta. Perhaps for the first time, I experienced the felt sense of the “Greatest Commandments” from the Judeo-Christian tradition:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NRSV)
This lovely Buddhist meditation practice showed me that these loves of which Christian scripture speaks — God, neighbor and self — are inexorably intertwined. They are not felt in spite of life’s challenges, but because of them. Joy, health, contentment and loving kindness are in us all the time — we just have to allow them to shine from our heart.
Here’s a little homework assignment for this first week of celebrating self-love: Notice when you are thinking about “powering through” to do one more thing, despite how exhausted or burned out you feel. Pause. Breathe. Then, consider just putting the task on your list for another time or dropping it entirely. Please let me know how it goes by commenting here on the blog or feel free to send me an email.
More Time For Self-Love: Join me for my weekly restorative yoga class, in which we will explore these practices of self-love more deeply. We meet Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. ET via Zoom, or you can access the recording later. I always offer your first class free. Just sign up for the link and join us!