Chris Whitley, one of my favorite musical artists, does a cover of an old standard that I really like. The name of the song is “Nature Boy”. (The video above is his version set to images of our soldiers serving overseas. It’s quite moving.) The last line of the song goes like this:
“The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
Loving, being loving, is not easy, and that’s an understatement. Being loved in return, being able to accept love, might be just as difficult for some. But to be able to fully love and be loved in return, you must learn what might be the most difficult thing you’ll ever learn, and that is to love yourself.
Mention “loving yourself ” in social conversation and you’ll either get snickers or an uncomfortable silence, depending on the company you keep. The importance of self-love is like an iceberg, immense, yet so hidden. To ask the question “Do I love myself?” cuts deep down to our very perception of who and what we are. If we even get an inkling about the extent of our own self acceptance and self-love, it’s usually due to the lack of it.
And it’s no wonder. Self loathing is such an epidemic in our modern culture, it’s almost fashionable. The Flawed Hero or Anti-Hero is our current popular icon. Dr. House, Jason Bourne, Dexter, Jack Bauer. Even Spiderman’s a nerd.
Yet, the fact remains, and it’s indisputable. You can only love another and accept love to the extent that you love and accept yourself.
What keeps us from loving and accepting ourselves? Many things. Negative conditioning from the past, resentments against ourselves for past failures, negative conditioning from the culture at large. Watch the news. Violence, war, death, murder, betrayal, dishonesty, cheating, lying, greed. It’s hard not to come away with the belief that people are terrible, and since I am people, I must be terrible. Do you see the subliminal programming taking place here?
So what do we do? How do we overcome any dislike, judgement or even loathing for ourselves? How do we learn to love and accept ourselves for who we are as well as who we are not?
Start by separating who you are from what you do. Here’s the thing that makes it so very difficult. You cannot base your love and acceptance of yourself on what you do. In other words, you can’t say “I love myself because I do good things.” That’s called conditional love. “I’ll love myself as long as I do good things”, implies that if I do a bad thing, it all goes out the window. Other examples:
- I’ll love and accept myself as long as I’m winning.
- I’ll love and accept myself as long as I’m kind and generous.
- I’ll love and accept myself when I feel good about myself.
- I’ll love and accept myself when there is someone around to tell me they love me.
- I’ll love and accept myself when I ‘m doing it right, living up to my expectations, etc.
See the problem with these? Love and acceptance for yourself is not created in the conversation “I love and accept myself because of these reasons…” It comes out of the following conversation:
“I love and accept myself for who I am: a being whose nature is to love, who is capable of love. I don’t need a reason to love and accept myself. I love myself because I choose to. Period.” Like I said, this may be the hardest thing you will ever learn. Sadly, many people never learn.
If I stand in the place of “I love and accept myself unconditionally” then I have love to give and I am more aware of when I am not loving to others. I accept my humanity and the fact that I will screw up, make mistakes, hurt people. I can forgive myself, and thus, have a greater capacity to forgive others. I see that when others are hurtful, petty and mean, that they are being challenged by their own self dislike, and then I can have compassion, because I have been there.
You might ask, “Should I love and accept myself if I am doing terrible things?” I would suggest that if someone is doing terrible things they are doing it out of their own self loathing. If I have truly learned to love myself, then I honor myself. To cheat you, to betray you, to inflict violence upon you, dishonors me, dishonors the highest ideal I hold for myself. That ideal is to be loving to all, starting with myself.
We will fall short of our ideal as humans do. Yet in my experience, it’s the inability to accept that we will fall short, and the judgement that results, that begins to extinguish the inner light of our own magnificence.
Keep your flame alive. Refuse to tear yourself down or beat yourself up. Forgive yourself or ask for forgiveness. Tell yourself daily “I’m ok and doing the best I can.” Learn to love yourself and accept yourself while knowing that there is always room for improvement. The greatest things to learn are often the hardest.
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TManTed A. Moreno Personal/Small Business Coach Certified Hypnotherapist Specializing in Your Success www.TedMoreno.com (626) 826-0612