Updated: Oct 28, 2022
“You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.” -Buddha
Sharon Salzberg, a respected teacher of mindful living, recalls a conversation she had at a conference with the Dalai Lama:
“What do you think about self-hatred?” I asked when it was my turn to bring up an issue for discussion. I was eager to get directly to the suffering I had seen so often in my students, a suffering I was familiar with myself. The room went quiet as all of us awaited the answer of the Dalai Lama, revered leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Looking startled, he turned to his translator and asked pointedly in Tibetan again and again for an explanation. Finally, turning back to me, the Dalai Lama tilted his head, his eyes narrowed in confusion. “Self-hatred?” he repeated in English. “What is that?”
“All of us gathered at that 1990 conference, India-philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and meditators were from Western countries, and self-hatred was something we immediately understood.”
Self-hatred was foreign to the Tibetan, which invites the question: why is self-hatred is so familiar in the West?
Self-hatred may express violently as addiction, self-harm, self-abuse, or suicide. But many successful people suffer variants of self-hatred. Self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy persist regardless of income, title, or accomplishments. Indeed, it's as if their very success affirms their sense of inadequacy and confirms the underlying fear that constantly urges them to do more, to be more, to work harder.
Self-love is at the heart of much of our inner work. We turn attention inward once the futility of seeking outward becomes clear. The choice to meditate, to sink below the noise, and to experience the true nature of a pure mind undisturbed by thought takes effort, discipline, time, patience, persistence, trust, and motivation. These are variations on a theme of self-love.
Self-love is neither selfish nor is it to be confused with narcissism. For when we transcend the apparent self, or ego, we recognize our interdependence and the wholeness of which we are a part. Remaining apart, by contrast, is a characteristic of the divided, egoic mind which also seeks aggrandizement, external validation, and specialness. Self-love is dissolution of ego. When ego is quiescent, there is nothing more to prove or to become. Inner peace is sufficient unto itself.
We meditate for the well-being of the whole self of which we are a part. When we are centered and present, we are more resourced and available for others. The more we commit to exploring the mysteries and depths of mind, the more encouraging we can be to others embarking on their own journey toward Self-realization. My guides marked the path I follow. Motivated by compassion, they pointed out the way. Those of us who now walk the path to union, in turn, point out the way to peace for others.
Self-respect is an expression of self-love. Self-respect promotes a kind of untouchable self-confidence and quiet, inner dignity. It expresses as a profound respect for a body we did not create. We show respect through observation and study, applying what we've learned to optimize health as we age. We exercise, we rest, we eat right. We respect the mind which we did not create. We show respect through observation and study, experimenting to learn how best to harness the power of mind to enhance our sense of well-being and promote the interests of the whole. We respect our emotions. We show respect by observing them as they arise and remaining open to instruction, taking care of strong emotions and using the energy of e-motion to nudge us closer to peace, equanimity, and acceptance.
Self-discipline is an expression of self-love. Self-discipline says, "I know you want to (eat that donut, smoke that cigarette, have that glass of wine, purchase that item you cannot afford, binge on media or social media, work harder to avoid sitting with discomfort, etc.), but I love you too much to let you have or do that."
Self-love is compassionate... and ruthless. Self-love cuts through the bullshit of ego with patience and lovingkindness: the self-pity, the self-criticism, the self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, the attachment to the suffering we pretend we're powerless to change. It smiles upon the ego's drama without blending with it. Without blending with thought, we can be as loving and strict with ourselves as we need to be. We can push ourselves harder and go farther.
Self-love is exploratory. As the mind colors moods, marshals thoughts, directs attention, influences perceptions, directs behavior, and orchestrates our very lives, it is the one thing worth attending to! We co-create reality. Our brains are made up of billions of neurons. Each neuron can be connected to thousands of others. The processing power of the brain arises from synaptic connections between neurons. Scientists estimate there are 100 trillion synaptic possibilities. How you express as a human is one of countless possibilities.
Self love is at the heart of meditation practice, but you have to be willing to do the work. These words won't take you to that stillness place. It is also important to note that meditation is just a strategy. It is not a cure-all. Nor is it right for everyone.
Whatever path you choose, may you know true peace, true love, and true happiness in this precious lifetime.