In a world with a growing population where technology is rapidly shrinking international and interpersonal boundaries, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the vast amounts of external stimulus we are all exposed to. It is not surprising that as a result, the concept of “me time” has become a global phenomenon.
Whether it means heading to your favourite spa, relaxing on a remote beach, or just being holed up in your bed and severing all contact with the outside world, “me time” is something most of us require, be it to rest and re-charge ourselves, to take a pause and take stock of our lives until the present moment, and sometimes to just preserve our sanity!
It is quite common for us to encounter life coaches, motivational speakers and gurus speaking about managing one’s health, mind and body, of ways to help oneself before reaching out to others. This idea of focusing on oneself or rather focusing on the journey inward has been a part of many cultures around the world in the form of meditation. In fact, Yoga which is widely popular today, actually began in ancient India as a practice for sages to condition their bodies so they could sit for extended periods of time in deep meditation.
The significance of self-love holds relevance in today’s fast paced life. Yet, in many cases, this journey stops at the physical – getting a massage to feel good, indulging in skin-care, or spoiling oneself with a shopping spree.
But if love is not skin deep then why should the love we direct towards ourselves be?
It is critical to understand that often the self image we carry is actually a component of many entities – the physical, the astral and causal – making us more akin to Russian Matryoshka dolls than we would like to believe!
If the focus of self-love is on the physical body, you may get caught in the web of complexes that physical existence weaves around you. On the other hand, when you love your inner self, you set yourself free from all complexes attached to the physical existence.
So why should you love yourself?
The short answer is – to grow, to evolve, to expand who you are, and to ultimately reach a point where you are able to worship the divinity within you.
It is important to qualify here that the intent is not about loving yourself romantically, frivolously or vainly, but learning to accept, respect and revere yourself.
This is certainly not an easy task.
The art of loving yourself has been understood and advocated across ancient philosophies and modern self-help doctrines.
The 8th century Indian philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya, was one such proponent of the self. He said, “As the mind becomes gradually established in the self, it proportionately gives up the desire for external objects. When all such desires have been eliminated, there is the unobstructed realisation of the self.”
What Adi Shankaracharya is referring to can be summarized in the old Sanskrit phrase, Tat Twam Asi, which means, I Am That.
“I am that universal energy that was the advent of all existence and continues to exist until the end of time.”
‘Tat’ stands for the universal energy, also referred to as the consciousness supreme or the true self, to which all life (humans included) belongs. ‘Twam’ refers to the body, the spirit, the mind and the jivaatma (individual soul). ‘Asi’ means you; you are a part of the consciousness supreme, even if you do not know it, even if you do not feel it, even if you do not want to believe it.
A poignant quote by the 15th century poet and saint, Kabir Das, explains this concept beautifully:
When a drop merges into the ocean, everyone understands it
But when the ocean merges into the drop, seldom does one understand it.
Oddly enough, this very idea was also asserted by the 13th century Persian philosopher Rumi who said “You are not just a drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in a drop.”
These adages aim to explain that you are not just a part of the consciousness supreme but you are the consciousness supreme.
How do your learn to love yourself?
The most critical step to loving yourself is learning to accept yourself on an ‘as is where is’ basis. .
Self-perception does of course have a significant role to play in this. It can either make or break us. Our self-imposed expectations and our achievements or failures often becomes the basis of our self-perception, and as a result can become an obstacle to self acceptance. As adults we might measure ourselves by getting a high-paying job, buying our dream house, marrying a good looking partner. As kids in school achievement might mean getting the highest grades or receiving constant appreciation from our teachers or classmates. These expectations we set for ourselves are triggers to our self perception. Success may boost our sense of self-esteem, while failure may cause our self-esteem to come crashing down.
It is important to realize that our expectations and desires are self-created. By learning to accept ourselves equally in both our successes and our failures, we might begin to maintain a positive self-perception even in our toughest times.
Our thoughts can be another obstacle to maintaining a positive self-perception. The more negatively we think the more likely we are to form a negative self-perception.
However, take comfort in knowing that it is not your fault if you think negatively. It is estimated that our minds are bombarded with anywhere between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day. Just knowing the sheer magnitude of that can be unnerving. To add to, studies have shown that self-preservation dictates that we are biologically pre-disposed to think from our fears – yes, we’re naturally pre-programed to be negative thinkers!
So if you find your mind projecting thoughts and circumstances based on your fears, there’s nothing wrong with you. You are just like any other human being out there. Understanding this should shift the onus of these negative thoughts off you and on to Mother Nature and will hopefully allow you to maintain a relatively positive self-perception even when your mind is thinking negatively.
The toughest obstacles to overcome in the pursuit of self-love are perhaps the feelings of regret and guilt. The way to overcome these obstacles is knowledge of destiny. Until we understand the concept of destiny, we will continue to blame ourselves for all our actions and often even our thoughts.
There are many stories throughout history wherein predictions made about the future have been accurate. If that is possible, then is it not also possible that the trends of our life are pre-determined and the future has already happened? After all, the future is nothing but a cross-section of time and space that we have yet to see. Understanding and accepting destiny, will make it easier to overcome regret and guilt, making the road to self-acceptance an easier one.
Who we think we are, is not the reality but is the delusion of the mind also known as Maya. We can overcome this delusion by through self-love and self-acceptance. Remember that self-love has to go beyond attention seeking. If you look around, your dog is asking for it, your kids are asking for it, and many of your friends are asking for it as well. So do not join the attention-seeking club. Once you see the spark of divinity within you, you will not want attention from anyone else.