How do you change the color of the sky?
I’ve always been a bit mystified when I hear personal growth and life coachy folks telling us to love ourselves more — as if this was something we could simply choose to do.
How we feel about ourselves is like the color of our inner skies. If we could just change the color to a prettier one, we would.
A few weeks ago, in my post about giving up addictions, I almost gave one of those unhelpful prescriptions. I wrote: “This isn’t about affirmations. We need to actually feel that deep self love.”
Jennifer added this comment on the post:
“My self-love isn’t quite what it could be. You say “We need to actually feel that deep self love that comes up like a wave and, with its fierce energy, pushes us past our habitual ways into the new unknown.” I don’t feel that. I’ve come a LONG way from where I was, and I definitely believe that I love myself, but I don’t FEEL it in my body. I’d love to hear you talk more on how to get to that point.”
Here’s a follow up post on the puzzling topic of how we actually get there — how we actually can come to feel deep self love.
What I know is this:
It’s a mysterious and mystical process. There is no map or tip sheet.
Trying to be self-loving is something we can do in any instant, but actually feeling self-love? That’s not something we can do immediately on cue.
Self-love arrives because of grace, and because we’ve laid the foundation for it slowly, consistently, over time.
Here’s what helped form that foundation for me:
1. People who love me well.
I’m a little surprised when I think about how important this has been for me, because in general I tend to think inner change drives most everything. Yet the presence of loving people in my life — an “outer” thing – has undoubtedly taught me to be more loving to myself.
Through their behavior, the people around us tell us a story about ourselves.
Their respect or disrespect for us,
their kindness or harshness,
their support or their rebukes
all tell us a story about who we are.
Who are the people in your life who love you well, who keep showing you — through their words and their behavior — your own basic goodness, worthiness, enoughness? How can you spend more time with them and increase their influence on your soul?
2. A loving higher power.
The thing is, however, all people are flawed and hurt and limited. Their love for us will be too. That is why it is so powerful to also learn one’s lovability from a much greater power.
If you believe that God, or the Universe, or Life or Nature or whatever you want to call it loves you,
If you feel that love daily in prayer or meditation or on your morning walk or while listening to a favorite song or gazing at a mountain or whatever it may be for you,
it becomes harder and harder to treat yourself poorly.
3. Doing what brings us joy.
Doing the things that bring us joy also brings self-love. I’m not sure why this is true, but it is. Maybe because when we do what we love we become filled up with love — and that love can’t help but spill back into how we treat ourselves. Maybe because joy gives us so much energy that we find the stamina to change our old ways. But my best guess is this: when we do what brings us joy we come into contact with our souls, and our souls carry none of our egos’ baggage about our unworthiness or guilt. When we do what we love, we access a kind of “just being,” and from there, self-love is natural.
Doing what brings me joy — writing, seeing art, dancing, being connected to others, being in beauty — is a path to self-love as much as it is an embodiment of it.
4. Doing the work.
And we also must do the work.
Experience by experience, mistake by mistake, we can look at those old cob-webbed thoughts about how we aren’t worth it, or why we can’t prioritize ourselves, or why we are flawed.
We try on a new thought, a new narrative with ourselves — even though it feels strange and foreign and impossible to believe.
We do this slowly, unglamorously, attentively, for days and weeks and months.
We work steadily on making change in our inner garden, not sure if it’s paying off at all. We weed and plant in the dark, not quite able to see any results of our work.
When we do these things — experience the love of loving people, experience the great love of a power much larger than us, do what brings us joy, and refresh our old ways of thinking, we lay the foundations for greater self-love.
one day, when we need it, when life hits us with something,
a storm, a shock, a tragedy, a violation
a stronger, greater self-love
is there – waiting there for us
ready to carry us through.