Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Unpicking the confused tautology that is self love

By: Simon Heathcote

“All you need is already within you, only you must approach your self with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors. Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of love you bear for your self, all I plead with you is this: make love of your self perfect. Deny yourself nothing — glue your self infinity and eternity and discover that you do not need them; you are beyond.”
― Nisargadatta Maharaj

Blame the planets, parental failures and fallacies, personal karma, ancestral cock-ups, even bad seeds and dark entities.

Sometimes, it seems the entire universe has conspired against us and we may never find a way out of the tangled web of our own creating to the cherished goal of Shangri-La or perfect love.

What we long for, either secretly or overtly, is peace; what we get is anything but. Then we crash land and realise the meadow has been overrun by weeds and a lot of clearing must happen before the promised land finally appears.

You might think loving ourselves would be intrinsic but so often it just isn’t. Few of us touch down in a perfect world or find ourselves in endless episodes of The Waltons where grandma is baking and grandpa is sitting on the porch offering homespun wisdom.

More often we parachute into a war zone and the essence of our being that should have been coddled and matured like fine wine is instead discarded and dashed in the fire.

Years later, when we finally emerge and begin our personal journey of spiritual growth or recovery, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will trot out the line on self-love as a must do, but phrased as akin to falling off a log.

This is when the blood usually drains from the client’s face and they look at you agog like a magpie hit by a ten-wheeler just as it’s about to take flight.

For the truth is the traumatised person has landed in unchartered territory without a map, and too often a guide whose glib approach entirely underestimates the task at hand.

Loving ourselves is everything and it’s a lifelong journey often started in the depths of despair. If love wasn’t handed over in a series of bundles as a child, to hear you must love yourself is like listening to a foreign language.

It’s almost as terrifying a proposition as the trauma already survived.

Perhaps we should start with defining our terms. Love is the easier of the two. In the beginning, I usually take the psychiatrist M Scott Peck’s definition culled from his classic work, The Road Less Travelled.

From this very human perspective, love is the willingness to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

Self is a little more tricky. Why? Because we have made the grievous sin of equating self with the body, the mind and the ego. Thus, when asked to love ourselves, we imagine going on long walks and running baths with noisome candles, booking a weekly massage and perhaps sleeping a little more.

Nothing wrong with any of that; tending to the temple that is the body and presumably long neglected, is vital.

But in thinking I must love myself, I have unwittingly stumbled across the root problem long ignored. Language reveals everything – here, our confused identity which assumes there are two of me.

In this equation of self-love, I play the role of both subject and object not realising it is this assumed separation itself that is the problem from which I suffer.

Self is consciousness or awareness, our sky-like unblemished nature recalled through sadhana, or spiritual practice where we gradually learn to reach the cooling mountainous regions where Snangri-La does indeed exist, not as a separate identity but as our very selves.

There, we have moments of total peace, even bliss; we have come home. The difficulty comes when daily life draws us back to the sweltering lowlands with all its problems, torturous attachments and gritty demands.

It is imperative then, we develop and stay with a morning practice, girding ourselves for the challenges ahead and the opportunity to slowly sink into Self on a permanent basis.

Most meditations work within duality, focusing on an object or other, but the ultimate meditation is awareness watching itself.

If consciousness, which gives rise to everything, is what we are, then in placing our attention there, into the emptiness while looking the ineffable between the eyes, we are indeed loving our self.

If we happen to have been graced by the love of a true guru or spiritual teacher, who can guide us through the maze of the mind, in loving the teacher and being loved in return – right at our very core – we can rise above our problems and hold the world like a loose garment.

In fact, only devotion can change our circumstances in the deepest manner.

The push and shove of ego and self-will may take us somewhere but it usually invites more problems than answers in the long run.

If instead, we hand our problems over to a higher power in faith, miracles can happen in ways we could never have imagined.

Understanding that consciousness does everything, we align ourselves with its power, which is our own, to see great rewards spring forth.

In loving ourselves, we should begin by asking which self? As Self is my own nature, it turns out that loving myself is simply being myself.

The problem is I have been too busy to allow the time to be still.

We rest in stillness and silence, do our sadhana and let what was buried beneath old patterns and samskaras emerge. The teacher cannot do the work for us, but will take us toward the goal, which is the discovery of the inner guru.

Many are they who want to heal the world and that is surely a noble aspiration, but we should remember that is still ego’s voice talking.

Our first task is to tend to ourselves; in fact, the sages tell us that awakening while alive is our sacred duty and nothing less. When we put ourselves back together, our world begins to fall into place and any action required will be shown through grace.

For in consciousness, there are no others. There is only one appearing as many. By staying at this root knowledge and refusing to move away from I Am into I Am This or I Am That, we can affect the world in unseen yet powerful ways.

That’s why the desert fathers insist that in praying for one, they are praying for all.

Imagine a world where everyone focused on their own awakening, then spread their light to those in their orbit. The world would be healed in short order.

But we should understand the world does not yet want to be healed and while it continues to keep ego or mind on the throne, little will change.

A spiritual revolution is required and it begins with each individual.  The choice is between a life run on self-will, or one turned over to consciousness.

By all accounts, it is on its way; and it will be seen to do a better job than anything we can muster ourselves.

Perhaps it is already here.

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