“Loving myself seems indulgent. What is all this stuff about loving oneself? I get the best feelings when I help others meet their needs regardless of myself. When I focus on myself, I feel selfish.”
A spiritual definition of loving oneself might be a place to begin. Indulging oneself is yielding to our wants, desires and whims whether or not they are good for us. Loving oneself is making space for those things which feed our soul, our heart and our bodies.
Indulging oneself might be buying another tee-shirt in a color we don’t have or drinking the third beer when two is really enough for the particular evening. Taking a walk outside to be in fresh air and allow all our cares to float away with the wind, is loving of self. Calling a good friend to reconnect because we have been meaning to do it could also be loving of self. The first examples are little treats we might want which we give ourselves permission to do. They can be fun and though they are not really needed, we might say, “go ahead, you deserve them”. The second set of choices are gifts to ourselves of something we really need and benefit from, in order to feel love’s flowing energy in our lives. They are both fine approaches to living, the latter though can bring balance and flowing energy to our sense of self and our bodies.
Why is loving ourselves so hard to do?
Perhaps because we have not ever seen this behavior modeled. Perhaps because when we do things for others, we get recognition and appreciation from another which strokes our ego temporarily. Perhaps it is hard to love ourselves because we don’t recognize our real needs or even know what is a loving act for ourselves.
Loads of us put a very high value on what gets external recognition, reward or influence with others. Others make daily choices that will “get them ahead”, “get them in good with so and so”, or “pay off in the long run”. For example, Washington D.C. is one place I have lived where folks actually get together at breakfast meetings for the long run. When I first moved there, I was astounded to discover this repeatedly. When we continue to fill our days with such choices, our time gets filled up with things we think will bring us concrete rewards in the future. The present can become stale and literally lifeless. Our self suffers.
Then there are choices to help others because it is the right thing to do, it is my role in life, it is required and it is certainly expected of me. Frequently, women tell me they have no time for themselves because they are fully committed to their children, their husbands, their parents, their pets, their neighbors, their synagogue ( church) and the PTA. Men often tell me between home and work, there is no time to even consider what might be a loving act for self. The very thought of it is often strange to contemplate.
A choice to love oneself is foreign in a world where we so often measure ourselves by how well we are doing externally and how fully we meet our responsibilities. A loving choice towards oneself only works when we move beyond finding pleasure in the way others see us, in our external indications of success and in the material possessions and experiences we can gather at will. A loving choice for self, requires some deep time with our own integrity to even begin to recognize what that might be for ourselves. We may have to make some mistakes before we know what really feeds us on the inside. Keep trying though, it is a pathway to the Divine.
When we love ourselves, we are actually able to come closer and closer to the divinity within. When we lose ourselves” to an endeavor of love such as a garden, a hot bath, a painting or walk up a mountain, we totally commune with ourselves. We are One with All That Is. We are not separate from All That Is unless we choose to be by not taking time to “be still and know that I AM God”. Loving oneself is a spiritual act, an act of loving kindness which enables our deep well of love to flow without consideration of the outcomes, rewards or implications. A choice for love enables us to be in the present moment which is all there really is, anyway.
We are not loving ourselves when we are pushing ourselves to do ANYTHING. We are not loving ourselves when we see ourselves as sacrificing our health, well-being or personal needs. We are not loving ourselves when we are trying to please others, influence others, impress others, get something from another or act some way other than in integrity with ourselves. We are not loving ourselves when we constantly choose others’ needs over our own needs.
Well, what about if we have to do something and the only way is to push ourselves to do it? A mental and spiritual adjustment may be needed but pushing is really not loving of self.
I was a life time hoarder before I worked with my mother to clear out her house where she had lived 40 years. I rarely threw anything out and the thought of spending an afternoon cleaning out seemed a completely distasteful experience. At 86, my mother finally decided she needed to move to a retirement center. I was the only one able to work with her to clear out the house, make the choices for keeping, throwing and selling of her things. I dreaded the thought of what had to be done.
I literally felt sick thinking that I had to do this but there was no other way presenting itself. I knew enough spiritually to realize that I needed to clear my fear of clearing out the family homestead and my fear of getting overwhelmed doing it. If I didn’t, I would simply make the process agony for myself and my mother. My mother was already overwhelmed enough for the both of us.
I asked myself, what is the most loving way I can do this without pushing myself, beating myself up, or going into anger and rage about what needs to be done? I decided to move my work around to allow for two days out of town with my mother each week until the work was finished. That schedule, I could handle. I could enjoy being with my mother if I was not paying heavily with my own life. I could have enough energy in small doses to actually be helpful. I could retreat at a given time and re-marshall my energy to be my most effective loving self. This way to work with my mother was a choice for love, and one of the biggest I had ever made. That time became a blessings for us so thoroughly and deeply, I could have never imagined it, ever. The love simply grew and grew between my mother and myself and between my brothers and me as well. The love simply took over and the work got done with the Grace of God, with Love’s Divine Presence! That choice for love turned out to be one of the best experiences Mom and I had ever had in our entire life. We laughed and cried with abandon and wove our hearts together in a new way.
When we choose to love ourselves, everyone around us benefits. We engage our highest self because we put ease, grace and love on the front burner. The act of loving oneself is deeply sacred because it helps us really know the deep integrity involved in making a loving choice for ourselves. One act of loving towards self can teach us more about love than helping everyone on the street and all our next of kin. When we put ourselves into the equation for loving acts towards others, we truly engage the part of us which acts from a pure place of service, loving without need for recognition, reward or attachment.
There is such a thing as a self-centered or selfish person. That is different from making loving decisions for oneself. A self-centered person operates from a space of lack. I need this to happen in this way and these folks to act in that way, for the following to occur. A loving choice for self can only be made from a completely different well inside. In that well is integrity, self-acceptance, allowing and kindness. From that one space, love can expand in infinite directions.
When we experiment and practice making loving decisions, then our choices to help others come from that well of loving kindness inside rather than from the well of shoulds, ought to and have tos. We can then allow the natural order of Divine Love Energy to swirl around, up and through us and extend out to all we meet. Make the choice for love of self with as much humility, kindness and gentleness as you can. You and everyone around you will be richer for this.
What choices can you make today which are loving ones for yourself ? Share these if you’d like, in the comments section at the end of this post.