Christ commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves . If we do not love ourselves, how can we love our neighbors? Today, we live in a loveless society. How can each of us liberate the reservoir of love which lies within? In this chapter, we will discuss how we can learn to love ourselves more. In the next, we will discuss how we can love others more.
WE ARE LOVE
Our basic nature is love. When we let go of body identification, and the personality relaxes and feels completely secure, we will find at the center of our being a reservoir of peace and love for all beings. That is what we really are. That love and peace are the contents of a lake which exists in the centre of our being, but the river, which carries the contents of our interior towards the world around, is blocked with various debris and obstacles. Thus there is little or no flow. How can we clean up that river so that our natural self can express itself in this world? Discovering what blocks us from loving ourselves will be facilitated by the questionnaire and method of analysing it presented to you in chapters 4 and 5 of this book. Even if you haven’t worked with that questionnaire, you will understand and benefit from the following analysis, but of course you will get much more benefit if you work first, or even afterwards, with the questionnaire. In that way, you will discover your specific obstacles to loving yourself.
Many of us have been programmed in our childhood years to understand that we are lovable and worthy of acceptance and respect from others only if we fulfil certain prerequisites. Depending on our parents and childhood environment, combined with the character we have brought into this life, we have learned to believe that we are acceptable, lovable and worthy only if we fulfil certain conditions. It is absolutely essential to analyze ourselves and discover which conditions we have allowed to be put on our self-love and feeling of worthiness. Otherwise, we will never be able to find lasting peace, satisfaction, happiness, harmony and, in some cases, even health. The lack of self-love, self- acceptance and self-worth undermine all these, as well as rob us of our ability to communicate with, or love others. This leads to many so-called complexes and an inability to feel comfortable or at ease. In such cases, we often feel the need to do something to prove our worthiness of love or acceptability from others. In those situations, we may think that we are doing things for others out of love, but the truth is that we are acting in that certain way which, we believe, will attract the acceptance, respect and love of the others. We need affirmation of their love and acceptance in order to feel that we are okay, so that we can relax and accept ourselves. Such a person will never feel free to be himself. He will always need to be what others want him to be, so that he can be acceptable to them. But what happens if he finds himself in an environment where three different people want him to act in three different ways? What can he do? He is bound to experience rejection from two of them. Does that mean that he is unworthy? Also, what happens when what, those around us want us to be, is completely in conflict with what we ourselves feel we must be? Unless we have self-love and self-acceptance, we will definitely suffer. We cannot live our lives based on the acceptance of others, just in order to have their love. We must follow our inner voice as long as we do not intentionally harm anyone through our actions. We are not responsible for the others’ emotions when we act according to our inner voice, not wishing harm to anyone, but others around us get upset because what we do does not fit into their expectations, addictions or programmings. If their love is so conditional, and we have to give up who we really are, to be loved by them, then that is not love. It is the manipulation of our lives by the other in order to fulfil his personal desires or expectations. We do not help a person to mature emotionally and spiritually by allowing him to act in this way, or have his way, because we are afraid of being rejected by him. This has nothing to do with the sacrifice of love. It is the result of our fear of rejection and lack of self-confidence and self-acceptance.
WHAT IS SELF – ACCEPTANCE?
We can understand what we mean by self-acceptance if we examine how we feel when we accept and love another person. When we do not love and accept someone, we are not interested in helping him. We do not want him to be successful or happy. We are not interested in his emotional, mental and spiritual development. If our feelings go beyond indifference, we may even want harm to happen to him, or want him to fail generally in life. All this applies in the same way to ourselves when we do not love ourselves. A person who does not accept or respect himself, does not help himself. He easily gets caught up in self-destructive habits such as over-eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, tranquillisers or other self-demeaning activities. He will not be interested in his health or success. It would be difficult for him to find the energy and discipline to employ techniques for self-improvement, such as healthy eating habits, exercises, relaxation, meditation or positive thinking. He will not believe that he is worthy of love and harmony with others and will, in subtle subconscious ways, undermine his relationship with others. He will not be able to believe that others can love and accept him, and will create rejection from those around him. If others do manage to love him in spite of his continuous attempts to create rejection, he will test their love to its limits, or just be blind to the fact that that love or acceptance is there, and continue to feel unloved and lonely. He will undermine his efforts for success in professional, social, family and relationship matters. He will not develop his inner abilities and talents. He may even undermine his own health, since he believes that he is not worthy of being healthy. But worst of all, he will never be able to love anyone else. A cup cannot give forth what it does not contain. A person who does not have enough love for himself cannot give real love to others. He needs to take love first and fill himself before he will be able to give. All his supposed sacrifices, made until that time, are really attempts to obtain love and acceptance from the world around him.
SOME OF THE OBSTACLES
Let’s look at some of the conditionings that we put on our worthiness and self-love.
1. “I must be like the others in order to be acceptable. I must dress like the others, act like the others.” A person who believes this will get caught in the obvious trap which we have already mentioned, in which he will live his life supposedly for others, but in fact, does so only to get their approval.
2. “I cannot love or accept myself if others do not.” In such a case, we are identifying with the role of the child, who does not know if he is “good” or “bad” or worthy or worthless. He needs his parents (now in the form of all the people around him) to tell him if he is okay or not. We are who we are independent of what others think. Does who I am change because some-one else has an addiction which conflicts with my way of life? If I am who the other person thinks I am, then I am as many personalities as people I know, because each of them sees me differently through his own conditioning. Then who am I in reality?
3. “I must be perfect in everything to be acceptable.” As children our parents tried to help us to perfect ourselves by criticising us when we made mistakes and applauding us when we were correct (in their eyes). We got the impression that they accepted and loved us only when we were perfect (it may have been true) and thus we got the impression that we were worthy of love only when we were perfect. We then project this belief on the world around us, believing that we are unacceptable to others unless we fulfil the requirement of perfection. But think, do you have that requirement for others? Do you expect them to be perfect? Have you ever met a perfect person? What makes you think that the others too expect perfection from you? Try your best, that is enough. The result does not matter. It is the sincere effort that counts, not the results.
4. “I must achieve many things in life in order to be worthy of the acceptance and respect of others.” One who believes this will spend his life trying to prove himself in the eyes of others. He will never be able to do with his life that which he really feels in the centre of his being. He will have to realise some day that his worth is not measured by his achievements, but by his motives, efforts and character.
5. “I must offer gifts to others and in general give them more than they give me in order to deserve their love.” For people with this programming, love is a bazaar, where the more you give, the more you get. They buy their love with gifts and services which leave the other “obliged”; this is not love, it is currency exchange.
6. “I must do what others ask me in order for them to continue to love me.” This is called love with conditions. If the love of my friends requires that I do whatever they ask, even if it contradicts my beliefs, health or basic needs, then this is not friendship. In a real friendship, individuals have the freedom to be honest and open with each other. They accept and love each other independently of such conditions.
7. “I am worthy of love only if I’ve never created pain or problems for anyone in the past.” We perform various actions because some motive pushes us to do so. As long as it is not our intent to harm anyone with that action, then we are not responsible for the hurt or problem which the other experiences. Life, in such a case, has used us to bring him an experience which he needs for his spiritual growth. If we can help him, we should do so to the best of out ability. We must definitely explain to him that we had and have no desire to create any problem for him. Feeling guilt and worry for accidentally, or unintentionally, harming someone is another result of our childhood programming, in which parents accused us of being evil, when our simple curiosity, or some innocent game, caused some breakage or harm. We had no intention, but they still considered us guilty. In this way, we are programmed to believe that we are guilty based on the result rather than on the intent. Guilt and responsibility depend only on the motive.
8. “I must be better than the others in order to be loved.” Parents encourage this belief with their continuous comparison of the child with other children in matters of grades, sports and other aspects of life. In this way, they create in the child the belief that the love and acceptance from others depends on his being better than those who compete with him. This will create in such a person a need to compete and not cooperate. He may also develop negative feelings towards those who he feels are threats to his position of superiority. This is a definite obstacle to love.
9. “Others must trust me in order for me to feel worthy of love and acceptance.” If our parents did not trust us and rejected our words and our personalities, then we may have associated that condition with lack of love. So when others, who have a basic mistrust towards the world, tell us lies or do not show us that they trust us, we feel unloved.
There are many other possibilities of programming which may be obstacles to our loving ourselves.
The basic core beliefs which are underlying these programming are:
1. I am no good.
2. I am a sinner.
3. I must prove my worth to others.
4. My value depends on how others see me.
5. My worth depends on the results of my efforts.
6. I am this body and this personality.
7. My value depends on the appearance and ability of the body and the mind.
Christ said he would introduce us to the truth that would set us free. Spiritual truth is like a light which shines in the darkness and thus removes the ignorance, which is at the basis of all these wrong programmings. Let us examine some of the spiritual truths which will liberate us.
1. “I am who I am independently of the opinion of others.” Most of us give more attention to the people around us than the God within us. Each person sees us in a different way. Their various opinions do not change who I am. Each sees me through his own filters, beliefs, fears and programmings.
2. “My value or acceptability depends only on three factors.”
a) Whether my thoughts, words and actions are in harmony with my inner conscience. I act according to my true beliefs. I follow the golden rule of doing to others that which I would like them to do to me.
b) The quality of my effort: Whether I put all my heart and mind into it. Is it the best I can do? Then it is okay. Maybe in the future, as I evolve more, I will be able to do better. In the past I have done what I could with the level of evolution I had then.
c) Whether my motives are pure. Am I acting only to seek the fulfilment of my personal desires, or am I interested in helping the people around me? As I evolve spiritually, I will become more fulfilled and my motives will gradually become more selfless.
3. “I am an immortal soul in the process of evolution.” I am thus equal to all beings. I am worthy of love, respect and acceptance. All other beings too are immortal souls in evolution and are worthy of my love and respect regardless of their level of evolution. Our bodies and personalities have varying degrees of capability, but as spiritual beings we are all equal. There is no one above or below us.
4. “I am a spark of the Divine Consciousness.” I am divine consciousness occupying this body temporarily. St. Paul said that the body is the temple of God. God is the life force which is in this body and personality. We are that divine life force. We are worthy of love always. We are love itself. “God is love.Love is God.” says st. John. I am not this body, nor this personality, I am The Divine temporarily occupying this body.
5. “The imperfections in my body and personality are quite normal and acceptable when I consider that they are in a process of evolution”. Something which is in the process of evolution can never be perfect until that process stops. As long as we find ourselves on this earth in these bodies, we can assume that the process of evolution is still going on and that we have improvements to make. Thus we can accept and love our bodies and personalities exactly as they are, while simultaneously striving steadily to improve them.
In this way we can also accept and love others exactly as they are, realizing that all their negative habits are simply the result of their lack of evolution and that they require, most of all, love and acceptance from us so that they can feel safe enough to continue their spiritual journey. Each of you may now want to look deeply into what conditions you have put on your love for yourself and others. These are mechanical programmings which were printed into our minds and must now be removed so that we can experience a life full of joy, health, peace and loving contact with the world around us. We encourage you to take a look at the previous chapters in this book for help in analysing yourself more effectively. In our next chapter we will investigate the conditions we place on our love for others.