The paragraph I just read explores this idea of loving ourselves. The author talks about how for many of us love was conditional – we were loved as a child because we met a need or requirement of our parents(s) – to be clever, good, quiet, adventurous, to score high in tests or do well at sport……if any of these successes were met with the message “I love/approve of you for doing well in this” rather than “I love you and you don’t need to do or gain my approval in any way” then we very likely internalised an inability to give unconditional love to ourselves. Instead we learnt “I am only of worth for how well I can perform/please another” and the inner critic will then berate us as we fall short of being good enough.
This week also saw week 2 of the 8 week self-care course for LGBT people that I’m enrolled on. They talked of the concept of ‘backdraft’ – how when a fire is contained in a room it stays small, but open a door or window and the fresh oxygen will cause it to flair up and explode out. The course leader commented on how when we come to areas in ourself where we had closed a door on a painful experience if we open it too fast there can be this flare up and the example she gave was of this feeling of lack of ability to give unconditional care to oneself….if one starts to do a practice based on self-care and one’s underlaying belief is I don’t deserve it then as we open this area up there can be a strong reaction, like opening a door to a room with a smouldering fire. Suddeny all our beliefs of not being worthy of self-care or unconditional love ignite and we feel overwhelmed rather than full of soft and gentle wishes to ourself!
If you recognise any of this then I recommend reading the book on Conscious Loving as it takes you through in a lot more detail. They make the point that true self-love is not conceit, making the interesting point that conceit is an attempt to prove to the word you are alright and a success after becoming consumed by self-hate. This brings an interesting perspective on being able to feel compassion for people we see who are consumed by conceit. The challenging part of their teaching is that conditional love will mean loving ourselves as we are – if we feel anger and fear, then loving the parts of ourselves we think of as dark or that have been pushed into the shadow will bring heeling. They give the example of a man who had never cried, and how in his life he felt hard and rigid which led to an inability to experience love. He was asked where he felt this in his body, and he replied it was in his chest. The therapist placed her hand on his chest and asked “Have you ever just loved yourself for being hard?” and he shook his head. “Then let’s do it together” she said. He burst into tears at that moment and cried for 20 minutes as the therapist invited him to feel it and breathe with his sadness. This allowed him for the first time to be with a part of himself he had felt was wrong.
Ajahan Chah, who was the head of the Thai forest lineage I trained in, once said:
Do not make yourself into anything.
Do not be a meditator.
Do not become enlightened.
When you sit, let it be.
When you walk, let it be.
Grasp at nothing.
If you haven’t wept deeply, you haven’t begun to meditate.