It's a popular phrase in the self-help/psychology world: love yourself. It's much like Don't Worry, Be Happy, which is upbeat and peppy but leaves the listener wondering: Yes, but how?
If it were as simple as making a choice, wouldn't everyone be choosing self-love and happiness? I'm more inclined to follow the Dalai Lama's prescription when he says, "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."
Ah, happiness and self-love aren't simply choices; they come from actions. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. The next question is, of course, what are these actions? My guess is that the Dalai Lama would say to practice meditation and loving kindness towards ourselves and others. Let's break down this practice even further into three simple actions.
1. Loving thoughts
One of the most loving actions you can commit to is to become aware of what you're telling yourself and your underlying belief systems. Many people's thoughts operate on an subconscious auto-loop or running commentary in which they're telling themselves negative statements about themselves throughout the day without even realizing it. It's a real commitment to pause at "check points" in your day to listen for what you're telling yourself about yourself.
You may be surprised by what you hear. Once you hear a lie like, "Nothing you do is ever good enough," you'll then be able to take a step back and assess that belief from a grounded, adult place, "Is that really true?" In this way, slowly and over time, you'll be able to replace your negative self-talk with the loving truth.
2. Loving feelings
Likewise, in order to feel loved, we have to embrace all of our feelings with compassion. We live in a culture that celebrates happy feelings but doesn't teach people how to turn toward their uncomfortable feelings with compassion. When we sideline the "messy" feelings like sadness, jealously, disgust, anger, or fear, we send a message to our feeling self that she's not important. This contributes to feel unloved inside.
Conversely, when you reverse this mindset and habit using a practice like Tonglen and instead make room for the uncomfortable places inside, trusting that difficult feelings are only energy that will pass through, you send yourself the message that all emotional aspects of you, not just the "pretty" or the "good" feelings, are lovable.
3. Loving actions
You can stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself all day long that you're a wonderful, worthy, beautiful person (which you are), but unless you support these words with loving actions, you won't believe that they're true. We feel loved when someone shows their love through actions, and the same is true with self-love. It's like if you had a child and you said to her, "I love you so much. You're the greatest kid in the entire world," and then spent all of your time working or socializing or sitting in front of the computer. Would the child feel loved? Of course not.
Loving yourself through actions means loving your body by feeding it nourishing foods and taking time to exercise, loving your mind through committing to a spiritual practice that works for you, loving your creative self by taking time to express your inner gifts, and loving your social self by spending time with people with whom you deeply connect and weeding out those who drain your energy. There are many other actions that make us feel loved. The essential question to ask yourself is, "What do I do that makes me feel loved?"
It's essential to say here that while it's easy to rattle off these "three easy steps to self-love" in a 700 word article, it's quite another to commit to learning about what it means to implement these actions. Like any daily practice that will transform your physical, emotional, and spiritual life, the key element that will determine whether transformation actually occurs is the willingness to take full responsibility for your well-being and commit to the daily practice.
Sometimes resistance is met when you sense that you could be leaving behind the uncomfortable yet familiar state of unhappiness that has defined your life; for many people on the precipice of new growth, it feels like leaving behind an unkind yet familiar friend. So you work first with the resistance, then you gather up your courage and leap open-heartedly into the unknown of a life that has always awaited you.
Are you ready to leap?