Self-love is not narcism but because we fear being narcissistic or vein we may confuse loving ourself with this and feel that it is somehow bad or wrong.
What did the Buddha have to say about self-love? After all he taught that there is no fixed self, so he might be expected to say don’t waste time loving something that is not there. But he knew that before the full realisation of being pure consciousness could arise there was a need for a healthy ego. And his words to his followers were:
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
Or to paraphrase it: love yourself because you deserve it as much as anyone else.
This self-love starts with kindness. I know that if I were to talk to others as I talk to myself I would not have any friends – the harshness of how I talk to myself would not make me popular with fiends! Yet I think it’s ok to call myself an idiot, or tell myself I’m a failure. But why is this? If I would not do this to a friend, why do I think it is ok to do it to myself?
This self-talk comes from a deep wound, the sense of feeling I am wrong. For many of us who grow up gay/bi/trans the shame that gets instilled in us through the messages we received of sexual attraction between men being wrong gets translated into the thought “I am wrong” and hence shame is born. It’s hard to feel love for oneself if one believes one is wrong and so it’s so important to find ways to pull out these roots of shame and instead celebrate who we are. Learning to believe that “I matter, I belong here and I am beautiful as I am”. This will not happen overnight, but as you practice Loving Kindnesses and are very present to your inner world and how you speak to yourself you can start to bring about a change. One way to explore this is to take time to celebrate one achievement or good quality you can see in yourself.
Kindness then is the first step to self-love, followed by self-appreication and celebrating ourselves. Learning to have a gentle and kind tone of voice to the inner dialogue…and then making the words of that dialogue kind and gentle. Speaking to myself as I would a good friend. Rather than having the internalised voice of an exasperated parent and angry teacher as my inner voice and being able to gently acknowledge something I have done well or can celebrate in myself – even if that is my ability to withstand difficult thoughts! As gay/bi/trans men we have all withstood so many challenges, we really can celebrate our strength at withstanding the things life threw at us as we grew up.
As I meditated last week I had a beautiful moment where I heard a gentle femail voice say to me “forgive yourself” she then kept repeating it as I sat. Forgive myself for not being perfect. Forgive myself for being fallible. Forgive myself for haivng made mistakes. We were none of us born with an instruction manual for life. So it’s understandable we will make mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the inner critic will see we have learnt from a mistake and then berate us for not haivng known in advance this lesson. Instead be glad you have gained a new perspective and accept that you did not know it before so could not have acted on this new wisdom before it was born.