Is Self-Love Selfish?
Is Self-Love Selfish?
Life on earth is orchestrated in an exquisite flow of cycles, rhythms and patterns in a continuous process of growth and development. Even though the industrial revolution and the accelerated nature of technology has consumed our lives, the indestructible strength and majesty of nature continue to regulate existence. Humans, animals and plants across continents and habitats are ruled by the intelligence of the universe.
We do not doubt the rising of the sun, no matter how dark the night and the waxing and waning of the moon through the month, the changes in temperature and seasons, or the daily, annual, lunar and tidal cycles. Nor do we question the earth’s rotation on its own axis or it’s revolution around the sun. We take for granted the blossoming of the cherry blossoms in spring and the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to a butterfly. The infinite sizes, shapes and colors of marine creatures, birds, animals and plants envelope our earth.
A closer look at our bodies reveals the splendor and artistry in its design, systems and processes. The body is akin to a chemical producing machine where every organ is working in tandem with several other to assist optimal performance. The cells are continually regenerating to promote growth, fight toxicity and protect vital operations. Isn’t it a marvel that the body is simultaneously executing functioning at the muscular, skeletal, lymphatic, respiratory, endocrine, excretory, reproductive, nervous system, digestive and circulatory systems?
In spite of the miraculous bounty of nature, why do we ceaselessly struggle to value the splendor of all its divine creations. We are speedy to criticize, belittle and judge our own lives, ignoring that we too are a manifestation of the same source. We dismiss our distinctiveness, failing to appreciate our wholeness. When and how did we lose this connection with ourselves?
Compassion, as described in the Merriam Webster Dictionary is the “sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it”, and in the Cambridge English Dictionary is “a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them”. These definitions equate compassion as focused outside our self. Further, our religious systems, societal structures and socialization process endorse placing oneself at the end of the list or worthy of the least. As a result, our role models of courage are those who sacrifice self for others’ wellbeing and happiness. Heroes are those who gallantly stand in the vanguard with a willingness to stake their own life to protect others. This has instilled in us a need to ensure we are always serving others in some capacity, even if it is at the cost of the self.
No wonder the concept of self-love, self-nurturance or self-worth gets crushed in a world that does not acknowledge that compassion towards self is a prerequisite to compassion towards others. In the ceaseless pursuit to oblige our family, peers, colleagues at work, neighbors and community members, we push our gaze outward, with little time or regard for one’s own needs and desires. Yet, Brene Brown in her book “How She Really Does It” states, “You can’t give people what we don’t have!”
In addition, one’s worth in society is verified based on another’s performance. At school, children are evaluated in association to their peers. At work, one’s output is related to other employees. Additionally, our physical appearance, social stature and net worth is also assessed in comparison to others. Moreover, in order to satisfy our need to belong, we make adjustments to fit in and be attractive. In a culture that values perfectionism, we endlessly pursue credentials, titles, material goods and luxurious lifestyles to prove ourselves. Yet, ironically, the distinguished French designer and businesswoman, Coco Chanel had affirmed, “Beauty begins the moment you decided to be yourself!” So, the only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday.
Striving for perfectionism is an illusion as ‘perfect’ does not exist. While we may strive to be our best, there is no ‘best’ that we can strive to be! We can engage in a process of growth and advancement and use our own lives as the yardstick rather than endeavor to reach a destination of perfectionism that is elusive. In this attempt to become ‘perfect’, we cultivate ripe opportunities to experience shame, guilt and judgement. Paul Hewitt, in the book, “Perfectionism”, likens the inner critic to “a nasty adult beating the crap out of a tiny child.”
We may deceive ourselves to believe that we can stay buried under the duvets of our comfort zones and cozy in our known shells. Yet, the pain of not showing up for oneself and staying limited in the expression of one’s true self lurks incessantly. A writer and research professor at University of Houston, Brene Brown, in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” states, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running form it.”
It takes courage, resilience and strength to awaken from a slumber and take the first step towards self-love. Afterall, it is rebellious to embrace yourself in a society that profits from your doubt and self-loathing. We are comfortable being unhappy as we can project all our fears, anxieties, anger to people outside us, escaping the pain of owning the same. Daisaku Ikeda, the President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), says, “Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin.” This inward journey will need a lot more reflection, patience and time. Hence, we need to create the time for self as we scramble through the flurry and flutter of our times.
As we venture deeper into our internal realms, we become increasingly aware — aware of what feeds me and what depletes me, aware of my unique footprint, aware of my strengths and gifts that I can offer the world and aware of my treasure tower that rests within my own life! Once we are cognizant of the inner landscape, we can move to exert influence on the external aspects. We can then make decisions from a space of wisdom rather than pressure, create boundaries from a space of self-compassion rather than resentment, and live from a space of love rather than judgement.
Since we have denied the existence or expression of our true selves, the process may be uncomfortable at first. As the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, rightly claimed, “The only devils in the world are those running around in our hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.” As we begin to discard the masks and peel the onion to unearth the self, we are bound to be met with resistance and struggle. The fear of showing up manifests itself in varied forms such as anger, doubt and confusion. We need to appreciate and honor ourselves during these moments and emerge without apology, guilt or shame. What would happen if the caterpillar held on to its vision as a caterpillar and not actualize its potential to fly as a butterfly? Also, remember that a phoenix must burn at first in order to rise from its own ashes. Hence, rather than avoiding the pain, it is best to becoming a loving witness and allow the process.
Slowly, we can change the ‘self-talk’ player in our heads from a critical, harsh, condemning voice to that of a nurturing, gentle, affectionate provider. It is essential to harness our inner resources, strength and potential rather than expecting that ‘perfect’ person to manifest or craving the recognition from outside! We need to ‘mother’ our deepest wounds with the tender touch of a warm-hearted creator. We need to be our own ‘best’ friend, take time to unconditionally listen to the unspoken and honor the process of the different emotions that emerge. We need to be that ‘lover’ to self who affectionately endures the journey patiently. As a result, we will transition from victim to victor, from lack to abundance, from separation to unity, from resentment to love, from pride to love and from anger to happiness. Only then we will begin to celebrate our strengths rather than harp on our shortcomings.
Yet, one must know that there is not destination to arrive at. Rather, this unraveling is a persistent journey of awareness, being mindfulness present and operating from a space of grace. As Rumi says, “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.” Let us awaken to the abundance of our spirit and endorse our worthiness!