It seems that every day the world feels the reverberation of another tragedy. Gun violence, race relations, war, changes in the economy, poverty, inequality, gender gap…the list changes daily and also stays the same. The world is hurting. From whatever vantage point you have on whichever continent—if you look for the negative, you will inevitably find it.
I asked myself after the third shooting in a week that was blasted on every social media platform, and on every news source: In a world that is hurting, is there a place for self-love?
When I dug down deep and asked myself this question over and over again, the answer is YES. There is a place for self-love in all of this. It is the question that no one asks and therefore the answer that few will find. There is room for self-love in the midst of oppression, hate, violence, inequality, inaccessibility, poverty, and shame. In the places where you think there is no love, is exactly where love can come from.
I have seen this question asked on several social media platforms recently, “What can I do? How can I help?” I see these questions and then I also see the resignation, “I can’t do anything to stop what is happening around me, this is just how it is,” and inevitably deep regret and shame. We as a global community want to help, want to feel that we are doing something but don’t know what a first step is. It begins to feel too huge and that it will never be enough. Self-love can be our first step.
What I have noticed about the culture and community around me is that there is a tenuous walk between what self-love is and what self-love can be perceived as which is selfish and vain. A ‘selfie’ can be seen as both fabulous and conceited. We attack others for their thoughts and feelings but are so disconnected from our own. People post on social media, “Why aren’t you upset? Why aren’t people talking about this? Why don’t you care?” There is a power struggle to be fully present with the issues but not allowing each other to be present with our self. When we uncover shame and guilt and silence we see that what is underneath is a deep need to let love in.
Self-love teaches us to come back home to the body and to deeply listen.
Our body is our home. It is where every experience is noticed and felt. When we see and experience pain, this pain is experienced from the body. It is where we hold our joy, memories, and it is where we feel our emotions. While we understand this on a intellectual level, there is a piece that we often miss and it is that while daily we function mostly in our brains: thinking, working, problem solving, dreaming, wishing, planning, our brains are one part of an entire network that is our body. Deeply listening to our body takes us out of our brains and allows us to notice the physical and the emotional cues of how we understand and interact with our world. By deeply listening we give ourselves information on needs for safety, community, solitude, connection.
Self-love teaches us to reach down deep for what we know and allows us to listen to our needs and desires.
How many times do we have a feeling in our gut but we ignore it? Self-love allows us to come back home to our body and trust that our intuition will guide us and give us information that is useful to us. Often we have learned to not listen to our bodies and our own wisdom. There is external and societal pressure to deny ours needs in order to be present to others. The process of continually denying our wants and needs leads us to stress, resentment, anger and violence—to ourselves and to others. When we learn to really listen to our needs and desires we become closer to being able to ask for them and to have them met. Imagine if every time you looked inward you became clear on what you want and felt the power to be able to ask for it? You may not get exactly what you want every time but you wouldn’t feel again that you couldn’t ask and that you weren’t worthy of asking.
Self-love builds our internal resources to be in community with others, work on our goals and champion causes that we care about in our world.
The metaphor I find most helpful here is the one of the oxygen masks on the airplane. If there were to be a need for oxygen during a flight an oxygen mask would drop down above your head and you are advised to put yours on first before helping others. While sounding strange at first it makes a lot of sense- if you have many people helping each other but not putting their mask on first you run the risk of more people running out of air. How can you be there for another person if you cannot be there for yourself? Self-love builds our internal resources to show up for others. If we are continually self-sacrificing and denying our needs and not building time for self-care, we are running around helping people with their oxygen masks and gasping for air because we have not put on our own. Looking within and building our reserves of love and compassion is integral to being in community with others. It means that I am not seeking competition with another; I can be truly present and not be in my head with self-critique and internal fatigue. Self-love is showing up for ourselves as we would for others. When I feel grounded and can build my reserve of love and care for my body I can turn to another person and be present with them. I can get to work on what I care about because I am ready and coming from a place of love.