The month of February is upon us and as is tradition we are bombarded with hearts and cupids and diamond rings and all things romantic. Socially, the concept of relationships, specifically romantic relationships is held up as the ultimate expression of love, attainment and meaning in our lives but in February this is even more heightened.
It is easy to find oneself lost in the propaganda and to experience feelings of failure or unworthiness if we do not have a romantic partner, or even if we do because our relationship seems to fall short of the illusions of love which are constantly fed to us.
Partnership can be a source of great joy, support and even magic in our lives; however, I would like to call our attention to a different kind of love. A deeper kind of love. A primal and necessary kind of love. The kind of love from which all other magic grows. I would like to talk about self love.
Within the context of social norms, the overall message concerning relationships insists that the most important relationship a person can have in their life is found with the person you fall in love and spend your life with, which is in fact true. The falsity in this story though is in the assertion that this is a person you must find outside of yourself.
The truth which many of us are never told or at least never given a chance to believe is that you are the only person with whom you truly spend your entire life, therefore you are the most important person in your life. Which is also to say that the most important, life changing and all consuming love a person can experience is self love.
Self love is a concept which is widely overlooked and even sometimes demonized, especially as it concerns women. We are conditioned to care for all others, to think of all others, to do for all other first.
We are taught that self love is selfish, that it is indulgent, that it is conceit and vanity. However, conceit and vanity are not symptoms of self love at all but instead stem from feelings of inferiority whose root always can be found in a lack of self love. Make no mistake, these confusing and misleading belief systems are specifically designed to separate you from yourself in order to diminish your power and keep you in your place.
Self love is the foundation from which we love all else. Self love in action is the source from which our strength and energy flow. Self love is the authority from which we set boundaries to define what we will and will not accept from others thereby protecting our power. In self love, there is self knowledge, and in self knowledge there is will. Magic which stems from a place which is neither conflicted or doubtful is magic which produces results, magic which moves mountains.
How then can we practice self love in a world that works tirelessly to ensure that we are emotionally, physically and subconsciously incapable of it? I want to be very clear on this matter, within the context of the world we have been given, truly loving oneself is a radical thing to do. It requires clear intention and for many of us a long and difficult journey of unlearning and deprograming.
If you struggle with the concept and practice of self love, you are in good company. Let that be an encouragement to you. Even people who love themselves in ways you admire and strive to emulate likely started from a deficit.
It can and must be done if we are to truly evolve as humans and as intrinsically necessary pieces of a universe becoming self aware.
As a beginning step, it is important to understand that the things you have been taught and the ways you have been treated (which created dissonance in the act of loving yourself) are not your fault while simultaneously taking responsibility for repairing it. We do not begin this journey from a place of self blame and accusations of failure. These actions are a step away from self love and not a step toward.
Self love, as all forms of love requires a certain acceptance of conflicting truths which cannot be resolved. It is true that we have done the best we could with what we had been given, and it is also true that we can and must do better.
Loving yourself means both accepting yourself as you are and determining to improve upon the parts that do not serve you. It means that you are perfect as you are and that there is space for growth. Both things are true and neither truth invalidates the other.
You must take responsibility for yourself;, however, you must not accept blame or fault which is not yours to bear. The difference between the kind of relationship you want to have with yourself versus the kind of relationship you currently have with yourself can be blamed on too many sources to name. Your parents, your teachers, your abusers, your community, your society, social media, tv, and yes, even yourself; but despite all the people and things at the root of this struggle, only you are capable of repairing it.
At the end of the day your relationship with yourself is between you and yourself, and if it is contingent on your experiences with outside sources then it will forever be in a place of dissonance and uncertainty. We accept the blame that is ours, we refuse the blame which is not, and we take responsibility for the condition of our relationship with ourself moving forward.
The next step towards radical self love is to know yourself. You cannot fully love that which you have not fully accepted, and you cannot accept that which you do not fully know.
This may at first feel like almost an absurd suggestion. Of course you know yourself, right? After all, as I’ve already asserted you have spent your entire life with yourself. How then could you possibly not know yourself? There is a difference though between being with yourself and spending intentional time with yourself.
There are innumerable ways for a person to be entirely alone and still manage to distract themselves from their own condition. Radical self love requires radical self knowledge which goes deeper than many people are comfortable considering, let alone doing on purpose.
There is a pretty common hang up among humans which actively prevents us from fully living in self knowledge. For the most part people are comfortable thinking of themselves as mediocre, not a terrible person, not a perfect person, not particularly special but okay. That's the sweet spot humans are by and large most comfortable living in. Anything that weighs too heavily to one side or another is too much responsibility and too much to bear. Anything that makes a person feel too different from others is threatening to the acceptance we seek from our families and communities. It is important to understand, this is the place where magic and growth go to die.
Knowing yourself is a double edged swordthing. You must know and be willing to accept responsibility for both the ugliest and most awesome parts of who you are:. Your gifts, your triggers, your deepest, darkest most terrifying thoughts and beliefs as well as your greatest acts of kindness, selflessness and strength.
Sure, you know your favorite color but do you know how you like to play? Do you know what your triggers are? Do you know what inspires you, brings you to your highest points? Do you know what makes you angry? Do you know what that anger is trying to tell you? Do you know what things the quieter parts of you might like to try and what is preventing you from trying? Do you know what your strengths are? Do you admire and cultivate them? Do you know what your weaknesses are? Do you take full responsibility for the harm they have caused? Do you know what you need to do to grow? And if you do not know, how will you discover that knowledge?
You will discover it by spending intentional time with yourself.
The way you plan time with your best friend, your mother, your partner, your children, that is the way you must connect with, see and know yourself. To meticulously plan and look forward to days spent alone, doing what makes you feel happy and in love with yourself, whatever that means.
Taking yourself on dates, trying things you've always wanted to try, checking in with the one person whose well being has the most profound impact on you in order that you are always in touch with who and where you are in your process and in your heart.
Prepare to discover things which will astonish you in wonderful and terrible ways so that self knowledge can lead to self acceptance.
Knowing yourself will do little good if that self knowledge causes you to hide your strengths so as not to stand out or to judge yourself for the parts which are unflattering.
This is not to say that we should be either arrogant or complacent but that we must approach all of our truths with the same compassion, enthusiasm and acceptance that we extend to any other human we love so that we can encourage ourselves in our strengths and nurture growth in our weaknesses.
Accepting your faults does not mean allowing yourself to repeat unhealthy patterns of behavior. It means making peace with the fact that you are human and therefore fallible. We all make mistakes. It is part of the human condition.
Acceptance does not justify our wrongdoings. It simply accepts the fact that they exist so we can take responsibility and move on without self punishment, without wallowing, without self loathing which inevitably leads to worse and worse behavior. The less acceptance, the more judgement and cruelty you subject yourself to (especially from yourself). The more hurt you become. The more hurt you are, the less able you are to act in ways which you can feel proud of.
Accepting your faults is in fact the only way to truly give yourself a chance to not become stuck in them. Treating yourself with forgiveness and compassion facilitates an environment of growth and triumph. Likewise, accepting the ways in which you are extraordinary and living in the fullness of those gifts unapologetically gives you permission to be proud of yourself, permission to be remarkable, to admire and be in awe of yourself from a place which feels authentic, not forced.
This creates a cycle: personal responsibility leads to self awareness, leads to self acceptance, leads to change, leads back to personal responsibility and so on.
This means the work is never done, that the depth of your love keeps spiraling deeper and deeper and with every cycle you learn more about what it means to love and what that love is capable of manifesting.
So what does it truly mean to love? People describe it as a feeling, as an action, as an experience, as a chemical reaction, even as a force of fate that leaves one feeling powerless and without choice. Personally, I believe we call a lot of things love which in fact are not. Infatuation, lust, even abusive tendencies and ego trips can be easily mistaken for love.
The kind of love we learn to give and receive when we are children is for better or worse our default setting - especially if we are not being intentional, or if we have not begun the process of examining our belief systems.
The truth is that love at its highest form is nothing more than pure being. The more we are truly our authentic self, the more we are the embodiment of love. The further from our authenticity, the further from love.
Love then is the active state of existing fully as you are. The “feeling” we describe as love is not actually the love itself but a symptom of the state of love. This means that loving yourself is the active state of simply existing in such a way as to honor your peace, your creativity, your playfulness, your sensuality, your spirituality, your fun, etc.
As difficult as it seems, and as hard as we search for the answer, it is just that. You exist in order to fully exist so that the rest of the universe can interact with you, thereby creating a more fully formed and realized collective.
Self love is the act which allows all things to exist at their highest form. It is the act which allows us to be so fully realized that each next step is even comically obvious. It is the magic which facilitates an environment of clarity, joy and peace from which all other creation and manifestation are born.
In fact, one could even argue that self love and magic are simply different words for the same thing, the innate belief that you are powerful enough to manifest your will.
The calm and immovable knowing that the very fact of you is magic.