“We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections.  If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create.  Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life,” John Lennon.

Valentine’s Day is soon to be upon us.  Many consider it to be a Hallmark day, drummed up to push us to consume – cards, candy, flowers etc.  Others enjoy the celebration of love – with their partners and family members.

Historically St Valentine was not associated with love bwas apparently a Roman priest who administered to Christians and was martyred for his failure to convert to the Roman multi-theistic belief system.  There are myths around his use of hearts to remind people of God’s love and the wearing of an amethyst ring (now the birthstone for February) with Cupid, which indicated to the Roman Soldiers that he would marry them; and that he wrote a card to his jailer’s daughter the night before he was executed, signing it “Your Valentine.” Others suggest that Valentine’s day was not associated with love until Chaucer wrote a poem about it, in the 14th Century.

Regardless of it’s history and whether you are in a relationship or not, I would like to propose that you consider your goal for February 14th to be self-love. It’s hard to love others if you do not love yourself. Self-love involves listening to yourself: doing what is right for you and importantly it involves understanding and some tools to get us there.

Understand Self-love

In Dr Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, she defines love:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.  Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” 

In her book, Daring Greatly, Dr Brown teaches us how to engage with the world in a Wholehearted manner which involves a number of actions.  One of the first things we need to do is embrace vulnerability through the development of shame resiliency.  This predominantly focuses around letting go of shame, so we can open ourselves up to others. We develop shame resiliency by identifying it, talking about it & embracing it. I can tell you that separating from an almost 16 year relationship: my partner and father of my children and the resultant painful revelations could easily create in me a desire not to connect with others again, for fear of betrayal, shame & pain. But I refuse to become that person. I will continue to open myself up to others – telling them my fears, my pains, what frightens and embarrasses me – in order to connect. Even if my heart gets broken – the benefits of connection outweighs the risk of vulnerability and I know that to fully embrace vulnerability, I need to talk about the things that I find shameful, so I can develop shame resiliency.

Another important feature of engaging with the world in this way is self-compassion. According to the researcher Dr Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three elements.  The first is self-kindness: treating ourselves as we treat others, being warm and kind towards ourselves when life is hard. This brings to mind a quotation that I came across the day after my daughter was born: “When it comes to the whole subject of loving others, you must know this: how you handle your own heart is how you will handle theirs,” John Eldredge.  Why do we treat ourselves so badly? We need to show ourselves kindness. The second is Common Humanity: which is the awareness that we all suffer and feel inadequate – it’s not just something that happens to me. This concept is vital to understand and to resonate with: we all suffer.  And, as the first of the Noble Truths says: Life is Suffering (but there is a way out… you can learn to change how you feel).  The third is Mindfulness: being aware of our negative emotions, and our pain but learning not to define ourselves as these emotions – as I have mentioned numerous times before, the mind is the blue sky, the thoughts and emotions are the clouds. They are not permanent and they do not define us.  These concepts are very much grounded in Buddhist philosophy.

Another key feature of understanding self-love is letting go of perfectionism. I suffer from this one – why do it if it’s not perfect? As Dr Brown notes, “perfectionism is compulsive, chronic, and debilitating – it looks and feels like an addiction.” When I first started blogging in 2012, I would spend weeks creating these posts, and editing and reworking and never posting them! A friend who is a professional writer offered to edit my first blog piece. I asked him whether I should take some more classes on writing, to which he replied “No. Just practice.” I realized that I needed to set myself a limit of writing one blog post per week. I book up my schedule so I can’t spend too long writing. For a little while, I had a lovely editor who would read it through before I posted it, but now it’s back to me. Some weeks it goes out and it’s not perfect and there are typos, or issues with the grammar or the html links. But, hey, I get the message out and people get to read it, and as Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project author) notes – that’s better than it sitting on my hard drive and no one reading it.

“Perfection is the enemy of done” Andrea Sher

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

So, what can we do to practice self-love?  Here are some tools for self-love.  I suggest that they should be daily, because, like John Lennon said: “Love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep on watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”

1) Daily acts of self-love for the physical body

Hee hee hee! But, I’m also talking about massaging your body, eating good food, exercising. Develop proprioceptive awareness: where is my body in space and how is it moving?  Am I doing things that are beneficial and helpful for my physical body.  Tune into this and find a way to know, and thus to love your body.

2) Daily acts of self-love for the mind

Do something that engages you – whether it’s write, read or play lumosity. Do something to become friendly with and to learn about your mind: meditate.

3) Daily acts of self-love for the energy-breath body

Exercise: connect movement with breathing. Pranayama: notice the breath. Try observing the inhales and exhales. Try manipulating the breath – a naturally managed part of our autonomic nervous system, that we can control: equal inhale and exhale.

4) Daily acts of self-love for your intuitive/wisdom body

Meditate: notice the way that the body hosts the mind, but the mind is not the brain. Can you let go of the ego?

5) Daily acts of self-love for integration

Do something every day that brings your physical, mental, energetic & wisdom bodies together – Asana, Tai Chi, Play your guitar, Cook food without recipes.  You know what works for you.  Find it and do it.  Daily. Find the bliss.

This is about how we nurture.  I have written about the koshas – or sheaths – before and framed them above: the mental body, the physical body, the breath/energy body, the intuitive/wisdom body and the bliss body.  One of the ultimate goals of yoga and meditation practices is to let go of the ego. According to Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras (II.6), the ego is thought to be the reflection of the True Self on the mind – what happens is that we confuse the mind and the True Self, and our job is to remove the false perception of the ego, which occurs as a result of our confusing the True Self with the tools of perception. Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary suggests that our life’s work is to remove the ego. Ego is worked with in the West in psychoanalytic traditions, for example Jung who thought that the ego was part of the self, which, developmentally needs to be established, but that as you reflect & grow you can perhaps let go of the dominance of the ego. This is done by learning to accept those difficult aspects of one’s personality. The Dalai Lama described this when I saw him speak in Louisville a few years ago – all religions, whether theistic or a-theistic have the endpoint of letting go of ego.  The difference is what path you take to get there: theistic religions (whether mono or multi) get you there by the giving of yourself over to God(s). A-theistic religions get you there by the realization that we are all connected – that the mind is continuous and un-ending and we are all connected.

Thus, if we truly practice self-love, and we will realize that we are all connected, then we realize  that loving oneself is actually a practice of loving all beings.

Copyright 2015, Tamsin Astor.  www. yogabrained.com/blog