Valentine’s Day got me to thinking about loving ourselves because I came across many posts on social media about it. Yes, to self-love and the sentiment behind all of those posts. It is the best thing we can do for ourselves because when we love ourselves, we get to disengage from so many of the mental struggles that pull us away from what I believe is our real work: fulfilling our purpose and utilizing our gifts to enrich the lives of others.
Still, it made my brow furrow in thought. When people used to tell me to love myself, I really had no idea what that meant and how one goes about it. It sounded woo and schmaltzy to me. I thought it meant taking flower baths, getting massages, and staring into the mirror while repeating positive affirmations. These things are lovely, but I do not think that is the path to self-love.
Choosing to love yourself is terrifically courageous and may just be the most rewarding act of your life.
Why should we love ourselves? As I mentioned in my last blog post, I believe with all of my being that each of us has a purpose to live into and are called to be the best versions of ourselves in order to do that. Living into our potential is also our greatest reward because when we are using our gifts to their capacity, we feel whole. Loving ourselves is part of this equation.
When we love ourselves, we naturally strive to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy. We don’t have to talk ourselves into it. We find our boundaries and keep them most of the time; we leave the party early because we have important work to do in the morning (our lives); we get the sleep we need because we want to be on for our life; we exercise to keep our mood balanced, improve longevity, and to facilitate clarity of mind; we take time to be quiet and listen so that we can check in with ourselves and with God (or universe, or whatever term you are comfortable with); we eat well so that we have the energy we need; we play, we have fun, we notice negative self-talk before it gets a hold on us and even begin to find humor in it. We fill ourselves first so that we can show up for others. We value ourselves so much that we are willing to make at least the same amount of compromises for our own well-being that we make for those in our lives.
This can be hard because finding motivation to take care of ourselves in this way first requires that we take that inventory I wrote about last week. To love ourselves requires looking into the dark places to bring them to light, and this takes courage.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” – Carl Jung
Dr. J sure had a way with words.
I danced with doing the shadow work for years but what stopped me from going all the way in were two things: 1) The self-judgment was a fierce contender that had been in training for decades and I was a newbie, and 2) I had no idea what I was doing.
I naively thought that all it took was courage, unaware of the forgiveness, empathy, curiosity and gentleness that it would ask of me. Shadow work does not require a hammer.
The dark parts that “thwart our most well-meant intentions” can be approached with curiosity instead of fear. My favorite tool for doing this work is journaling. My second favorite tool is community which can be just one or two people we feel safe sharing with, who have done the work, and who won’t throw blankets of judgment over us to carry us unseen into the basement.
What comes next, after we have made the journey into our darkness? Freedom. And you guessed it, self-love.
In my own journey I learned that I am no different from the rest of the world; everyone has a shadow. I hid my darkness like a stain on my heart because I felt ashamed of it or perhaps afraid of it. I did not yet understand that the lessons of the darkness brought me the depth and wisdom I needed to break my heart open and allow the light in.
The goal is not to rid ourselves of the darkness but instead to shine light on it and welcome it in, to “embody” and integrate it as Carl Jung alluded to in the quote above. This reminds me of the many years that I watched my mother weave on her big loom in the living room. First, she would prepare the warp, or the vertical threads that are attached to the loom. These are the foundation for the textile and hold a lot of tension. The weft threads are the threads that pass horizontally through the warp, attached to a wooden shuttle resembling a little boat. She would toss the shuttle back and forth through the warp threads, over and over, until a pattern began to emerge. That is when the magic happens; that is where the beauty is, in the juxtaposition of color.
I once dreamed that there was a pint-sized crustacean-like monster living inside of my leg, a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. To rid myself of it, I wrenched it out of my body and tried to kill it but could not. Its spiny shell was formidable, and its sharp teeth were snapping at me in fear. I am extremely fortunate to have a friend who is an expert in Jungian psychology, so I asked him about it. He said, “If it comes up again in a dream, ask it why it is there. Do not try to kill it.” A few weeks later that little alien came to me again and this time I asked the question. The answer was, “I’m protecting you.”
When your little monsters show up, start asking the question “Why are you here?” I think you will be blown away by the answer.
A favorite song that came on my Spotify just after I wrote this seems apt to include here. Ah, synchronicities.
Go, Do, Be friends.