How Do We Love Ourselves?

How Do We Love Ourselves?

I was in a workshop last fall and a woman shared that she had a hard time connecting to her own self-love. She found herself more frequently caught in the mental trappings of low self-esteem, self-destructive thinking and behaviors.


Someone in the workshop recommended she go to the mirror each day and look into her eyes and say I love you.


Affirmations are helpful, and if repeated I suppose can make a difference. Looking deeply into our own eyes and seeing the truth of who we are can be very powerful.


But affirmations never helped me. Perhaps because after doing them a few times I didn’t continue, perhaps speaking words never penetrated my heart as deeply as they could, perhaps staring in the mirror could not be sustained long enough.


Someone in the workshop asked me how I came to know my own self-loving. And I answered without hesitation: Meditation.


Many people don’t meditate because they think they have to calm their minds, or they think that their thinking which carries them away is wrong, or they think that meditation is all about being without thought and that seems entirely impossible.  


But it is thought that is in actuality the key to meditation – it’s what teaches us how to come in contact with our heart. And when connected to the heart, thoughts lesson dramatically.


When we catch ourselves thinking during a meditation, our work is to lovingly, gently, kindly return back to our heart—literally a sensation in the center in our chest.


It is this practice of repetition to come back to the heart that teaches us how to return to our heart in our daily lives— whenever we are off center, whenever we are triggered, whenever we have lost contact to our self-loving.


I suppose if I spent 30 minutes in front of the mirror like I have been sitting meditation each day for the last 15 years I would experience the same shift. But that was not my way. Nor do I believe meditation is the only way either.


The largest Buddha in Southeast Asia was made of clay. It survived over centuries through storms and battles. One day (recently–like in the last 20 years) a few cracks started to form and when a light was shone into a crack they saw a flash of gold.


The Buddha had been covered with clay to hide its solid gold interior. Now Buddhist teachers use this story as a way to illustrate how we try to protect ourselves in a difficult world. They say our goal is to shine a light on our coverings to become aware of the light we really are.


As Rumi says, “Our path is not to seek for love but to find the barriers we created against it.”


This is why mindfulness practices ask us to inquire and investigate into the question of what is between our happiness and us. And ultimately what is between our happiness and us is trying to figure everything out.


But we don’t have to believe our thoughts. We are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are real but not true.


They’re real because they’re happening but also not the truth—because our thoughts have a negative bias. Thoughts are looking for “the problem” so that we can think there’s something wrong and not OK.


Underneath our fears, anger, shame, depression, etc. is a feeling we are flawed. And the only way through this is to have compassion for ourselves.


This is how I learned to love myself. It was (and is) an act of self-compassion to sit on my cushion 30 minutes a day or more and return to my heart.


“Thinking!” I say to myself and lovingly, gently, kindly return to the center of my chest. “Daydreaming!” I say to myself and lovingly, gently, kindly return. “Creating lists of what I have to do!” I say to myself and lovingly, gently, kindly return. “Obsessing on an issue!” I say to myself and lovingly, gently, kindly return.


Whatever it is . . . blaming, anger, shame, grief, embarrassment, self-judgment, judgment of others, I catch myself, recognize it and lovingly, gently, kindly return to the light in the center of my chest.


Now in my daily life, when I lose track, when I’m caught, when I’m stuck, when I’m lonely, when I’m angry, when I’m lost, when I’m grabbing for the other half of a bar of chocolate, when I’m impatient, when I’m anxious, when I’m confused, when I’m uncertain, when I’m scared, when I doubt myself …


I lovingly, gently, kindly return to the center of my beating heart. That is where the gold is.


Wishing you self-love and compassion!