What is Self-Love?

Why the ways we try to love ourselves do not work and why it's so much easier than we think...

Generally speaking we all believe it's a good thing to appreciate who we are and not be too hard on ourselves.  We get that on some level, it's important at least like ourselves somewhat.   After all, we wake up with ourselves every day for the whole of our lives and it's tough to put up with the constant presence of someone you mildly detest.    

When it was first suggested that I might need to practice to learn to love myself, I was told to look in the mirror everyday and repeat "I'm beautiful! I am fabulous! I am loved!" over and over until I could feel it.  

I've written about using affirmations and I've taught visualization and visioning and I've nothing against them. Affirmations in particular are always intended to have a positive effect. And frankly I can't see how saying "I love you" to yourself could have a negative effect.   I have simply noticed that most people, affirmations well in hand, still find it difficult to love themselves and accept love from others.  So I started wondering about that.

I came up with a simple reason why affirmations don't work to love ourselves.  We are trying to love the wrong thing.

When look to our personalities, which are constructs that we have built over time, pretty much everyone finds it difficult to see their innate value and lovability.  We have spent so much time trying to be deserving; it's impossible to see that we are deserving just because we are here.       

So stop trying to love your "persona."  Personas are not lovable. They are a mask over our true nature.  It is no wonder why positive affirmations don't help people.  We are desperately trying to love the mask.   

"Learning to love the personality you've built in order to interface with the world is a waste of your time"  (101 New Pairs of Glasses Chapter on Self-Care) 

We need to look beyond the construct, beyond what we have got used to seeing in the mirror and identifying as "me."  We are not these personas and masks that we wear. We are not our stories about ourselves.  We are something else.

What are we?
Who are we?
What experience do you have of who you are beyond the body and beyond the daily self-chatter?  
Do you believe you are broken?
Do you think that although you arrived as a baby perfectly and beautifully made to live your life, that somehow you inner self got taken away from you, dashed to the ground and  shattered?

As we look past and beyond the mirror, it may sound slightly esoteric, but really you do have a very real awareness of this.  Otherwise you would not know you are talking to yourself.  You can only know that because there is something that is you that can observe "you."  Aside from this, you'll also recognize that you are are picking up non-physical, or beyond physical information all the time.  What is that? How do you know someone can be trusted, for example, when only you've just met them? What sense is picking up on that?  What are you picking up on? The fact is that we look beyond the persona that people present to us all the time in everyday life.

Seeing beyond bodies, beyond forms is not as difficult as we make it out to be. And at the same time it is the hardest challenge we face.  

Notice times when you have been able to reach beyond what someone is saying or doing and see their essence as a human being. Times will soon come when you can see your own more clearly.

If you are not entirely fooled by what is looking back at you.
picture by Ellen Britt
photo by Ellen Britt
It's not what we say
or what we do
that makes a difference,
but rather who we are.

Every morning when we wake up and look out from our two eyes into the world something happens.  We become aware that we have a body, we seem to step into that body like the crab scrambling for a shell, and then out of that body we gaze, blink, step forward, and spend our day.

We don't give this routine much consideration, so it is very easy to just assume that we are limited, confined, fragile and our sphere of influence is reduced to those we meet or talk with in any given moment.   

I think we often start our day inside a feeling of smallness. We forget that our influence is not limited to our task list, our meeting calendar or today's projects.  In truth, we are not aware of how wide we reach, how many people we touch, and most importantly, how we are transmitting beyond our shells.

In part I'm simply talking about just lifting our eyes for a moment to take in a wider view of life.  A greater awareness of the largeness of ourselves. When you do that, just briefly, right now, do you really think that you are this dinky body and nothing more?  How can you be certain that people don't remember you, think of you, care for you and are impacted by you -- in ways that you have no idea of.  In fact people right now who have never met you may have some kind of opinion of you.

Each of us has a reach that is far greater than it might seem.   

Even people, like myself, who have decided that to reach out deliberately to touch others and to be a part of moving this world forward in a loving direction, may or may not be fully aware of this all the time.

But everyone makes a difference to someone.

Everyone matters.


You don't have to decide to change the world and help thousands of people to be making a difference in your world right now. In fact, you couldn't NOT make a difference if you tried.

The question is, what difference are you making?  You don't have to sign up for any cause if you don't want to. But would you like that to be conscious of how impact works?

Anyone who is working for change certainly needs to. Without that awareness people try to influence in all the wrong ways, through bullying, guilt-making, pushing, forcing, and many other angry forms of activism.  Every time you've been repulsed by someone's approach to donate to their cause, you were reacting to their impact on you.  You were not reacting to the cause itself.

So, difference-makers (in other words, all of us), who are you?

Are you acting from the discomfort of your own badly-fitting shell?  Your limited perspective?  Your anger?  Your frustration?  Your blaming others for the state of the world?

I don't think any of us humans will ever be perfect, so forget being squeaky clean.  But do pay attention to who are you being.  Who you are being is not an action, it is an attitude.  Here are some ways we can see you as you transmit who you are:

-  are you opinionated or open?
-  are you a listener or are you only interested in confirming what you think?
-  are you hard with yourself, so you cannot allow yourself to forgive others?
-  are you rushing so much that you find it tough to give someone your full attention? 
-  are you reflective in a conversation, or reactive?
-  are you often thinking how other people need to change their ways and habits?
-  are you blaming the person you love for not giving you what you need?

Of course we all show up all these way sometimes.  No one is immune from being human.

Gage your true impact on others, not from your actions, but from the deeper ways in which you hold fixed opinions and views of other people.  Notice the feeling in you when you talk to someone.  What's your internal opinion?  What do you think you are really transmitting to them?  We are never transmitting words, we are transmitting US.

The smaller and more limited you feel inside you, the greater your negative impact on others -- no matter how noble your cause may be. 

You cannot replace inner shrinkage with outer expansion.  You must expand inwardly first before you can do anything effectively in the world, with your partner, children or your colleagues at work.

May you see something bigger about yourself today.   In other words, may you see something true.  Because the truth is that your shell is nothing more than the collection of all the smallest ideas you have about yourself.  Who you are could never fit into any shell. 

And knowing that makes a difference.

Have you noticed lately that lots of things we never thought could possibly happen, have happened?  Did you know bionic research is in the process of creating the 'Million Dollar Man'?  (OK, actually she's a woman and she has a bionic arm she can attach where her physical arm used to be.    See last months' National Geographic if you think I make this stuff up). More to the point, guess how you control a bionic arm? You use your mind.  Not the conscious mind, the one that takes effort - the other one, the one that just simply 'moves the arm'.

The mind truly amazing and too wonderful a thing to waste. I believe it is not confined to a brain, but just as we supposedly activate only a small portion of the brain,  we waste the true power of our mind every day.

What does this have to do with the limits of the impossible?  Basically, our minds have a lot of say over what we believe is possible.  Ever tried to outwit your own mind when it says - I can't?  Now when I suggest we waste the capacity of the mind, I'm not talking about creative day-dreaming.  I'm talking about going unconscious.  For example, you might go to exercise after a hard day, let's say, taking a long run in nature but as the body oxygenates, you use your mind to replay the stress of something that happened earlier, over and over again.  I'm talking about going for a massage and lying there thinking about all your faults and all the ways you hate your body.  That kind of thing.

How many times have you had a wonderful idea and then stomped it out with all the reasons why it is not possible? If dreams were socks, somewhere there are drawers and drawers full of all the lost socks waiting to be found again and paired up with their owners.

Although we may be more accustomed to choking off our dreams, by labeling them 'Impossible' the good news is that we can use the same imagination either to argue for our limitations, or to find creative ways to dance our way to our target.  What I'm saying is essentially, it's possible to change the film running in your head from today's matinee of fear and limitation to tomorrow's long running smash hit called your life.  And while I don't think that's accomplished by "positive thinking" alone, I do think our creative resources are easier to access from a mindset of openness rather than shut-down-ness.

Argue for your limitations and quite simply, you'll have them.  Unless you have a great friend (or a great coach) who will risk being honest enough to challenge you, I don't think many people will bother to take the opposite view.  In fact, most people are happy for you to keep your limitations and live happily ever after with your long list of These Are The Things That Are Quite Impossible For Me, Thank You Very Much.  Because they are doing exactly the same.

If this sounds horrid, it's because it is.

Challenging your 'Impossibles' is one of the most liberating experiences you can ever have.  I saw it in Michael Neill's "30 Days to Creating the Impossible" and I've talked about it plenty on the show.  Most recently with 'Who Says The Impossible is Impossible" (aired January 20, 2010)

To challenge your 'impossibles' I highly recommend keeping an eye out for Michael's next program.  Until then, here are some things you can do/read:

Gay Hendricks' book, The Big Leap
Get past your Upper Limit Syndrome, by expanding your tolerance for things going well in your life

Barbara Sher's books Wishcraft and I Could Do Anything, If Only I Knew What It Was  (I highly recommend her Twitter IdeaParties on Thursdays for getting past dream blockages!)

And you can:
  • Create a powerful mantra that is true and makes you feel good (use it to replace the "I can't" dialogues you've got running).  "I am open to more good that I have ever experienced before" is a great one!
  • Create a self-care routine that puts you in touch everyday with the well of good feeling in you
  • Get a buddy or coach or guidance from a spiritual teacher to challenge your limiting beliefs and fears and let them go
  • make room in your life for new ideas by mindfulness and openness practices - especially forgiveness - which is the best mental de-clutter I know of
If you know you have a dream and you want to start getting it out of the sock drawer, talk to me about my ProjectDream Mastermind group where you can learn to get creative, take action, enjoy the process and build something you've always wanted.  This is a small group of very focused people, so you'll need to talk to me to see if there's room and if it's right for you.  You can write me at  elese.coit@earthlink.net 
Calligraphy, Deer Park Monastery
If I'm feeling stressed and pressed rather than blessed, it's a sign to look inside and see what's up. Tempting though it may be to think having lots to do is what creates my busy schedule, what is actually true is that I run my schedule and, even if I am rushing what is my excuse for not being mindful as I go?

I had the opportunity to talk to Bryan Douglas, who wrote "Doing Good Works!" on the show last Friday. He decided to test the idea that we Pay It Forward and decided to go out and help people. That seemed meaningful to me.  It made me want to look and see if my own giving had meaning in the way I hope or whether I'm mindlessly sending cards and buying presents and simply going through the motions.

I guess I had a feeling that there was a sense I might be going through the motions in some ways. In the newsletter last week I included some wonderful thoughts from Jonathan Ellerby, the author of "Return to the Sacred". One of the ideas he raised was that the holidays are a time which naturally give rise to 'spiritual reflection and celebration.'  If I'm not feeling that, maybe there's a reason? His words and the simple practices he suggests reminded me that putting the 'how'  into the holiday is not difficult to do - no matter how busy we are getting the last projects done, while packing, planning, wrapping and cooking.  He suggests practicing old-fashioned kindness toward others, saying yes only to what we can really commit to, and to remember to breathe (and while you take that walk in nature, to notice that the animals are not having difficulty making this holiday pleasant).

As I slow down, clear the calendar and consider what I really want to make time for, I realize that to have anything to give at all, I have just got to remain as connected to my own center as I can.  Anything less and I'm just flying around like a kyte off the string.  

I remind myself that I am committed to take care of myself and to notice when I'm off center. Thich Nhat Hanh is a wonderful teacher of mindfulness, (as well as a tremendous peace activist) and on the website for the Deer Park Monestary it says:

"Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive and present with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning cup of tea."

Instead of becoming 'wrapped up' in doing, this an invitation for me to stop and take stock of who and how I am being.  And like Bryan probably felt when he just gave a stranger a lift for no other reason than to help out, that just feels good.
Thich Nhat Hanh
More on how giving to ourselves is our best holiday gift in my show with Jack Armstrong
More on the retreat events offered at Deer Park, including their holiday events can be found on www.deerparkmonastery.org/events