As always, a conversation between my friend and I lead to some pretty deep stuff last night. It ended up going to the place it usually does...the concept of self-love. It seems to be quite the topic lately. We hear it about it everywhere: "Love yourself and then you can truly love others," "I love ME, I don't need anybody else," "Love yourself and stop worrying about what others think about you," and other quotes like, "Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship that you have."
All of this sounds very great if we were born into a world that didn't completely focus on ethics and morals and the judgment surrounding them. Our society is based on the concept (whether we like it or not) of original sin. From the birth of humanity, per the Bible, we were barely even around on Earth as humans, and we just sinned right away! We didn't even have a chance, and the label was slapped onto us from the start.
We are told by most religions that we are born sinners, which leads to the practice of infant baptisms. These poor babies can't feed or clothe themselves, yet we are deeming them sinners and washing their sins away with a ritual of holy water and priests.
What is sin, after all? The first definition is, "An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law." We even have some pretty intense Bible passages that address sin,
“I was sinful at birth, filled with sin from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Dummies.com even reminds us that "A common saying that helps reinforce that pride is at the root of all sin is that “I” is at the center of “sin.”"
Well, what are we to do? Where is that grey area between loving ourselves too much and remembering that we, in fact, were born as sinners and "fall short of the glory of God" while loving ourselves so that we can stop caring about what others think? After all, isn't it the judgments that have been established by society that makes us into the sinners that we are when we disobey them? Yes, we have God's law in the 10 Commandments and even the Yamas and Niyamas in Yoga, along with every other religion and tradition's guidelines, but when we think about it, have we ever really felt the vengeful wrath of God or an all-powerful being?
What is sin, after all? What about the perception of right and wrong, good and bad? Who decides? If it is an over-seeing God, and we were created sinners, per our origination story, then what the heck do we do now? How do we fix it? And, the most important question: If we don't know how to love ourselves because we are sinners and are bad, how do we even start to love others, since they are DEFINITELY sinners and are bad? How do we learn to love others if we don't have the example of loving ourselves to use as an example?
OK, let's look at the concept of the Golden Rule: Love others as you would love yourself. As we have already asked, what if you don't know how to love yourself in the first place? And, what if your 'other' loves differently than you do and has a different perception of what love is? What if your actions hurt others and it wasn't your intention? What if you misunderstood their actions or what they said as something other than loving? These are the questions that spin around in our heads over and over that we consciously ask ourselves. Furthermore, the answers to these questions that we eventually rest with get stuffed into our subconscious, which gradually leads to self hatred and unworthiness--and, even worse, resent toward others.
I do not have all of the answers to these questions, and contemplate this concept quite often, but here is the simplest method that I use when I work on loving myself in a non-arrogant way. It, hopefully, will help you and give you a good starting foundation with developing a healthy relationship with yourself: I think about how much I love my children. You can do the same for anyone in your life--your own children, your mother, your father, your spouse or significant other, your siblings, a grandparent, whomever. When you consider your love for them, sit with the feeling for a moment. Don't just think about the feeling as a thought--actually feel it in your heart center and your physical body. It is a sensation. If it is anything like the feeling I get, it is expansive, warm, and a lightness seems to fill my whole center.
Now, in this same way, think of yourself. Are you able to incorporate this same feeling of love as you think of yourself? If so, can you feel the same expansive, warm, and light feeling that you do for your loved one?
How about the concept of unconditional love? When you think of your special loved one, do you love them despite any mistake they've made or despite the fact that they are deemed a sinner? Even if they hurt you through words or actions, would you still love them? My guess is that the answers to these questions are, "YES!" So...here is the ultimate question: "Why is it so difficult for us feel the same for ourselves?"
From this question, without over-thinking, listen to the first answer the pops into your head. Identify the answer, do not attach it or label yourself with it, and then observe your physical feeling in response to it. Sit with it and physically feel it. Normally, the answer will hear will be a label you've given yourself that stems from guilt, remorse, apathy, grief, fear, anger, desire, or shame. And here we are back to our original discussion. What was the foundation for this label you've given yourself? A feeling derived from the concept of sin as defined by...whom? Do you feel this way about your loved one that you thought about earlier? Would you ever dream of thinking of them in that way? Then why, my friend, would you ever do that to your closest best friend, advocate, and supporter: Yourself?
In the end, when we sit and feel in response to a label we have created about ourselves (which can be rooted from years of negative self-hatred), we can identify it's cause and realize it no longer needs to hold power over us. Only then, can we start to love ourselves as we would love our children, our family, or our closest friends.