- Clear away brain fog
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- Rev up your energy
As human beings, we all have a desire to love and be loved. This is basic to being human and is our deepest emotional need. In order to love others, and to fully accept the love of others, we must first love ourselves. This isn’t the same as being arrogant or self-righteous, which is our ego talking, but instead is about understanding who we really are beneath all the labels and beliefs, feeling our connection to everything around us, and experiencing ourselves as Love itself.
There are many steps along the journey toward self-love. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, there are many obstructions along our path that keep us from experiencing self-love. So we must first release things that are getting in the way of self-love, connect to our infinite source of love, and ultimately understand our true nature, as Love.
Honoring Your Unique Nature
We come into the world and quickly learn we have a unique identity. We’re given a name and various labels, usually based on our parents’, or society’s, interests and desires. Then, we grow up identifying with these labels even though we know deep down that we’re more than just these things. As we learn to identify more and more with our roles as these separate human beings, we forget who we really are.
Having a separate human identity is necessary. It gives us an opportunity to play, interact with others, and experience the world through our own unique mind and body. In Ayurveda, our unique mind-body type is known as our dosha, which describes the unique set of qualities and tendencies that makes us, us. With our unique combination of nature’s qualities, we’re given an equally unique set of talents and abilities. These doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, each with its own natural gifts.
- Vata types, for example, exhibit the qualities of space and air, and are born with natural creativity, lightness, and energy.
- Pittas, with the qualities of fire, are gifted with a natural drive and determination, as well as a strong digestion.
- Kaphas have the natural ability to be calm and steady in a storm, along with strong immunity.
Although we have all of the doshas and dosha qualities within us, we each have a unique proportion of these qualities.
On your journey toward self-love, the first step, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is understanding your dosha and honoring the unique gifts and talents that come along with that dosha. You begin to see yourself as a beautiful expression of nature, as opposed to wanting to be different than you are. When you realize that you’re here to use your natural abilities to serve yourself and the world, you can cultivate those gifts and create meaning and purpose in your life. This helps you learn what creates balance in your life and allows you to make the best choices for you. When you make choices that nurture your unique mind and body, you are performing acts of self-love every day.
Try writing down or repeating the following affirmations:
- I appreciate my natural gifts and talents.
- I honor the unique mind and body qualities that make me who I am.
- I love myself as I am.
Obstruction to Self-Love
What gets in the way of loving ourselves? How do we go from being love to feeling unloved and separate from others around us?
From the moment we’re born we begin to create an individual and separate identity so we can participate in the world. As part of that separate self, we begin looking outward to have our needs met. Of course, we have to when it comes to some needs, like being physically safe and fed. And as social beings, we tend to look outward to have our emotional needs met. Initially seeking love from our parents, and perhaps then from extended family and other caretakers. Often, we get these needs met and feel comfortable with who we are and feel that love as an expression of the love inside of us. However, at times, we may feel that this need is not met, and it can interfere with our ability to connect to the source of love within.
Our deepest emotional need is unconditional love, which can be shown to us in a variety of ways. Psychologists have described the ways that we feel loved as our core emotional needs. These include:
- Attention — someone who deeply listens to us.
- Affection — someone who deeply cares for us.
- Appreciation — someone who sees our natural gifts and talents.
- Acceptance — someone who sees us as we are and doesn’t try to change us.
When these needs are not met by our parents or initial caregivers, we may not learn to love ourselves unconditionally.
When we look outward to have our emotional needs met, this is called object-referral. We are looking for love, and our emotional needs to be met, from someone external. And although as children, this is necessary, as we become adults, we can begin to shift to a place of self-referral. This means we get our needs met from within — we can love ourselves.
When we become self-referred:
- We meet our need for attention by deeply listening to our inner voice, through practices like reflection, contemplation, and meditation.
- We give ourselves affection by taking care of our mind and body through healthy lifestyle practices.
- We appreciate ourselves by noticing and honoring our unique gifts and talents.
- We accept ourselves by seeing our whole, authentic selves fully without the need to change it.
There is a place within you that is free from the thoughts and opinions of the external world. It’s free of the limiting beliefs of the past. It’s the source of love within you and you have access to it all the time. By accessing this source, you become more self-referred, getting your attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance from within.
Loving the Shadow Self
Fully loving ourselves means being able to see our unique gifts and talents, as well as accepting ourselves without judgment and without needing to change ourselves. This includes the parts that we feel are ‘undesirable’, sometimes known as our shadow self.
What is the ‘shadow self’? There are many ways to describe this, but in essence it’s the part of our personality that we try to hide from others, and sometimes from ourselves. We learn over our lives that there are traits that aren’t acceptable to our family or society. We begin to hide those parts away and only show people, and acknowledge to ourselves, the parts that have been deemed ‘acceptable’. The problem with this is that the harder we try not to show aspects of ourselves, the harder it becomes. It’s like holding a ball under water. It takes a lot of energy to tuck parts of ourselves away.
In addition, our shadow characteristics can lead us to behave in unhealthy ways. For example, if someone showed their emotions easily as a child, even in normal ways, like crying when they were upset, and they were ridiculed or criticized by others, they may learn to bury their emotions, as opposed to learning how to express them in a healthy way. As adults, they may feel they are ‘weak’ and hide or reject their emotional self. This then can lead to unhealthy dynamics in their relationships. It can also disrupt the opportunity to experience self-love, as we aren’t opening ourselves up to loving all of ourselves.
The reality is that we can only experience the relative world as contrast. We can only understand light by contrasting it with dark. We only understand day by having the opposite, night. So, every aspect of ourselves naturally comes with the opposite. For example, there are times that we are self-less, when we put others’ needs ahead of our own, and inherently with that comes times we need to be selfish, to put our self-care first. When we bring awareness to and accept all aspects of ourselves, we can keep these opposites in balance. When we try to hide one aspect of ourselves, it can actually grow, and then show up through unconscious, and unhealthy, behaviors.
Embracing our shadow is essential on the journey to self-awareness and self-love. When we make peace with all aspects of ourselves, we spontaneously make peace with the world.
The final step on our journey of Self-love is to BE love itself, where we don’t just experience love, but we identify as love. To do this requires us to let go of attachment and identity to our physical body as well as to our thoughts and emotions. We must realize we aren’t the constantly changing physical sensations that we call ‘a body’, and we aren’t the temporary mental experiences that we call ‘thoughts or emotions’. Instead, we begin to identify with awareness itself; the witnessing awareness of the body and mind activity.
We exist in present moment awareness. And when we experience the present moment fully, we shed the external, ego definitions of who we are, and we become pure love. This is the essence of who we are. The more we do this, the more we are unable to see anything, including ourselves, from any perspective other than love. We embrace all aspects of ourselves as opposites merge into one Self, infinite and boundless Love.
Meditation is a practice that allows us to experience ourselves as pure awareness and is ultimately the doorway to experience more love in our lives. With regular practice we begin to embrace all that we are in the relative world and also see clearly that we are the Universe and infinite potential.
When we practice self-love, we allow love to have its rightful place at the center of our lives, and all of our life experiences become an opportunity to BE love. Instead of judging or resenting ourselves or others we live from the level of heart awareness and awaken to the source of Love within us. We understand ourselves not as our transient physical and mental experiences, but as the infinite, timeless source of universal love.
Explore self-love and learn to honor all aspects of yourself to discover the infinite source of love within, in Journey to Well-being: Self-Love, a four-part series with Dr. Sheila Patel, available now in the Chopra App.