How to love yourself — the 7 things I learned from 3 years of exploration
When I married myself a little under 3 years ago at Burning Man, I foolishly thought that it was the beginning of my happily ever after. Only to have learned, sometimes the hard way, that loving myself is going to be a long journey, one I am going to be tempted to quit every other day.
But I have not, and just like any marriage, I have been faced with challenges that humbled me, and magic and beauty that astounded me.
First things first. Why loving oneself?
Aside from reading all the articles about it, believing the Buddha, Jung, etc., who preach self-love, I personally experienced that whenever I did not beat myself up too much, or I got myself off the hook about a mistake, I was a kinder and more compassionate person to my community, family, friends and employees.
Since my goal in life is to reach my compassion potential, I was sold on this journey.
But, what is self-love?
You should love yourself,
said your spiritual friend.
What does it practically mean?
Self-love to me is a bit like a romantic partnership, instead you turn the principles around.
- Know yourself
- Accept your flaws
- Show up
- Admire your gifts
The KASA for acronym lovers.
On to the 7 things I have learned.
I- Start with your body
Experiencing burn-out brutally taught me that the first way to love myself is to listen to my body. Thich Nhat Han, the zen celebrated Buddhist teacher once said, the body is the home of the feelings.
Since I was wired to escape my difficult emotions, I now find the body the way to come back to them. To locate them, listen to them and get to know me more.
I respect my body more, and in turn I respect myself. Before saying yes, I tune into how it is feeling, by simply closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
Getting to know it, makes me realize how resilient it is, and patient when I abuse it.
I no longer think about it as fat or slim. Why would I? It is much more than that. In turn I do not judge myself as often about my weight and body shape and cellulites.
Practical tip: My favorite ways of connecting with my body, is doing stretching or yoga at home, lying down on my back and listening to relaxing music, doing a body scan, anything to feel the different parts of it.
II- Get the shame out of the closet
In getting to know and face my shortcomings and vices, I found them buried deep under the lava of shame. A volcano that erupted at a shameful event or situation in my life, left dried lava covering the vastness of my heart.
The thing about shame is that it intrinsically puts you in an isolated situation which makes it impossible to get out of it.
And the only way to start healing is to connect with others through talking about it. Brenee Brown referes to it as courage. It also makes you realize that we ALL share the same feelings, so nothing is especially wrong with you.
To practice what I am talking about, this is the first time I share publicly some of the things I am ashamed of. This is part of loving myself, by freeing myself of this weight.
I can express anger at times when I do not get what I want or need.
I do not understand my dad and have a hard time connecting with him.
I still experience fears of abandonment when I am in relationships.
I can be demanding and cold with my team and colleagues.
I can be needy and ungrateful with friends.
III- Learn to be with your pain
My worse enemy on this journey, has been impatience. YES. I want to not feel these difficult emotions anymore. I want to love myself all the time.
I already spent so much time meditating and in therapy, why do I still get triggered?
My impatience throws me into doubt. And then I give up for a few days, binge on Instagram stalking, comparing and self-hating and eating baguette.
It turns out that there is no magic formula in eradicating wounds and traumas.
But part of loving oneself is showing up to them.
The progress in this case is not the eradication of emotions, but staying put with the feelings and attending to them, which is the hardest in my experience, yet ultimate way to love yourself.
This is where asking for help is key. I often seek for the support of friends and different communities I am part of.
And that is the ultimate love of oneself, accepting that you are weak and vulnerable and instead of stabbing yourself with a second and a third arrow, you start by doing one small thing to make you feel loved.
Practical tip: Check resources at bottom of this essay.
IV- Do Passion Projects
The organization I founded The Passion Co., supports people in connecting with their passions and launching passion projects in 30 days.
It came with no surprise that the #1 benefit of the program is increase in self-esteem, and appreciation for one self which leads to more courage and ownership of one's life.
When you love someone, you want to allow them to do something they like, because it brings them joy.
When it comes to yourself, you can do the same.
The practice is to allow time for yourself to paint, sing, do a fundraiser, work at the dog shelter, dance, play tennis, start a side business, whatever it is your heart desires. Even if it is one hour a week! If you do not have time, then pause Facebook, Netflix or video games for a week and you will surprisingly find yourself with many hours to spare.
And here is the hook! You are not only practicing self-love you are also inspiring others to do the same, and through your creations adding value to the world. A win, win, win.
In my case, my writing has been a passion project, and I feel so full of love every time I hit publish on Medium.
V- Cultivate a daily practice
I am officially the worse at routines. So if you are like me, when you hear the word a daily practice you cringe. Or when you read the 20 things successful people do every day you puke.
What worked however, is finding something that I enjoy at this period in my life, allowing it to change over time too.
I was meditating every day, then I began practicing yoga daily. During my travels, I did a gratitude practice: 3 things I am grateful for before I sleep.
Other things I do is also a worksheet on questioning my negative thoughts, that you can access for free at thework.com. For some people, it is going on a 15 minute walk every morning. For others, it is running.
Whatever you pick, a practice is your way to show up for yourself even when things get tough. it reminds you of the commitment. It is essential.
Everything can fall apart, but a practice always shows up.
VI- Gather reminders
With life’s distractions popping from everywhere, it is easy to lose sight of the important and crucial journey. I do often.
For reminders, I read poetry, books, listen to podcasts, go to retreats sometimes for a day other times for a weekend, or whatever time I can afford.
I talk about it with friends who get it, which also brings me reminders.
I even offer my support if I see someone struggling which reminds me of the importance of cultivating my self-love and resourcing.
VII- Question your beliefs
The most precious investment I have done is attend Byron Katie’ school for the work. During 9 days we questioned our thoughts and beliefs across all topics, from love to death, to criticism to hunger etc.
What I found is underneath the self-hate lie stories I stored in my head repeated to myself every day, and ended up identifying with them.
My mom told me when I was a little girl that I was selfish like my father. I internalized it, believed it, thought it every day and it became me. For the first time in 20 years I sat there and asked myself if it was true.
It was not true, yet I brainwashed myself to believe it over and over.
How many stories do we tell ourselves that mask the beautiful gifts we have to offer the world? How many stories make it so hard to support our feelings when they get hard?
Taking my marriage to myself seriously has allowed me to let go of some of my ego driven ways.
By beginning to tap into the well of love within, I slowly let go of the need to receive love and approval from others.
Which in turn makes my relationships cleaner, and my life calmer, because I realize I have nothing to prove to anyone. I now get it because I am experiencing it. The only way to really learn is to experience, so hopefully reading this is only a step, and you would still take action to get closer to the beautiful you.
Self-love resources that have helped me:
- The work of Byron Katie (book, course, teacher,++)
- Plum Village (retreat center)
- Headspace (app for meditation)
- Brenee Brown (book, talk)
- Mindfulness self-compassion (book, course)
- Radical self-acceptance (book)
- Metta meditation (practice)
- Eckhart Tolle (book, teacher)
- Vipassana (meditation retreat, practice)
- Jack Kornfield (teacher, podcast)
- Spirit Rock (meditation retreat)
- The Passion co. (Community, class)
- Nature :)
- Psychotherapy and somatic therapy
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