The Practice of Self-Love
Self-love is practiced in the hardest and most difficult moments. I don’t believe it is a state of being but rather a practice within thoughts, only to be observed through subtleties. I think a practice of self-love or lack thereof resides in the thoughts we have when we make a mistake, when we feel uncomfortable emotions, or when there are opportunities to receive love.
Bring to mind a moment you were unable to complete your to-do list at work or didn’t get what you needed to get done that night. Where does your mind go?
You let down your friend and they tell you. Where does your mind go?
Someone you’re close to treats you to dinner one night or spends all day helping you with a burdensome task. Where does your mind go?
The opportunity to practice self-love occurs within these moments of feeling failure, shame, unworthiness. The practice—or the work—is noticing the unloving thoughts and perhaps amping up the volume of a more loving thought available to you.
The practice does not involve getting angry at the unloving thoughts or wishing them away—this only results in them getting louder. Instead, it is noticing those thoughts and seeing if you can bring in a more loving one.
Recently, I received a mark I was not proud of. The voices in my head immediately began; you should’ve studied harder, if only you did this instead of that, now you’re a step farther from achieving your goal. But then a meek voice emerged, it was your last exam, you were probably burnt out, you tried your best and that is more than enough. It was a quiet voice, but I chose to pay more attention to it and it grew a little louder. The other voices did not disappear but to me, choosing to hear out the softer loving voice is self-love.
Like a muscle, it needs repetition of use to be built. The loving thought may start as a whisper but with time and repetition, it grows louder and stronger until it may be the first thought that appears the next time.
It’s not easy and it’s a forever ongoing practice that can occur in big moments like being rejected from your dream job, or when you mistakenly miss your stop on the metro. It appears in subtleties like when you trip then let out a loving laugh instead of looking down and praying that no one saw. Or when your friend picks up the bill and you graciously smile, hand to heart, and say thank you.
Self-love is practiced in the difficult moments—when it is the hardest to come by. It is noticing when the unloving thoughts appear and staying open to the more loving thought. Maybe even increasing the volume until that is the only one you hear.
How Self-love Extends to Others
Taking a step back from the self, this practice naturally extends to others. If I trip, and the voice that occurs in my head is, I’m such a stupid clutz, hide your face so no one sees. Then most likely, when I see another person trip on the sidewalk next to me, I will look away to not let them feel more shame. But if the voice I practice in my head when I stumble is, you’re human, it happens, good thing you’re not hurt. Then, most likely, when I see another person trip, I will reach out and ask, are you okay? To me, the latter is a more loving reaction.
In The Beatles album Abbey Road, there is a two-minute song that often gets lost in the medley of short songs on side two of the album. It’s subtle and the lyrics are only said once,
“And in the end,
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.”