By Robert Butler
It could be argued that self-love is the ultimate goal of all personal growth work.
Naturally, people who have been wounded or traumatized have deeply rooted self-esteem issues. Coming to a place of understanding and valuing oneself is essential to the process of healing, and one must beware as there are booby-traps along the way. Many people who have begun working through their issues proclaim to have arrived at a place of unconditional self-love, when their behavior more resembles adolescent selfishness.
The problem begins when one hasn’t dug deeply enough, has a few transcendent experiences, recites a few affirmations and begins to think that the world revolves around them, when in reality the world owes us nothing. They don’t take into consideration the impact their self-absorbed behavior is having on those around them. A false sense of entitlement can take root. Another fly in the ointment is that in order for us to possess authentic self-love we must know who the authentic self is.
Authentic, unconditional self-love does not require any sacrifice.
Neither for the individual nor for other people. It is not demanding, nor is it apologetic. It is humble, bold, compassionate, broad-minded and unyieldingly loving. It can also be quite contagious.
When one is in a state of authentic self-love, those around him or her will also naturally desire the same. “I’ll have what she’s having,” goes the famous line in When Harry Met Sally. Indeed!
This has been a general observation after 45 years practicing bhakti-yoga and nearly 25 years of facilitating and staffing personal growth and healing workshops. It’s not a universal situation, of course, and I’ve observed it enough that I felt compelled to write about it. It is especially prevalent in my community of Encinitas California, where yoga studios are prevalent, and numerous forms of spiritual, quasi-spiritual, new age and healing workshops are being offered to the public.
In spiritual circles it could be called a “razor’s edge.” Likewise, in the beginning there are other pitfalls to spiritual awakening in that one could develop a false sense of superiority, judging those not “on the path” as somehow inferior. These are traits are primarily observed in neophytes who have made some progress, but have really only just begun their journey of self-discovery.
In its grossest form it can manifest as fundamentalism or fanaticism.
In one sense we are all eternally neophytes. Over the years I’ve experienced that the more advanced one is in their healing process and spiritual development, the more humble they are as well. We are fortunate indeed to have those people in our midst!
Self-love is not cheap. It requires practice.
The world and our fellow earth travelers pull at us constantly. Our minds never seem to shut up with all the habitual negative thinking patterns that have been ingrained since childhood. It is perhaps easier to purchase if we believe that we are all divine children of a divine source, conceived in love by an all-loving creator. After all, spiritually speaking, if we are conceived in love by an all-loving creator, what possibility is there that we are not lovable? But whether we subscribe to that mode of thinking or not, self-love still requires practice.
In the bhakti-yoga tradition that practice takes the form of prayer, hearing and chanting, and worship. In Buddhism, the recipe is meditation and mindfulness. Every spiritual tradition has its own practices.
But no matter which path (if any) is chosen, doing the emotional heavy lifting of healing our past wounds must be prioritized, lest we fall into the trap of spiritual by-pass. Whether we want to be better people for ourselves and the world, or maybe we are just sick of suffering the outcomes of our behavior when we are not loving ourselves, self-love is a natural extension of universal love.
The good news is that whether we believe we deserve it or not, it is our birthright.
Om Tat Sat
Even as a child, Robert Butler was fascinated with the nature of consciousness. A practitioner of Bhakti Yoga and committed vegetarian since the age of 17, he embarked on a lifelong journey to help himself and others uncover the mysteries of life. After living in an ashram in his late teens through his mid 20s, he traveled extensively, and delved deeply into personal growth and healing work. For the past twenty-five years, he has run a San Diego based nonprofit that supports three Bhakti Yoga ashrams and sustainable farm communities: Audarya Ashram in Philo, California, Sarahgrahi near Asheville, North Carolina, and Madhuvan in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He is an author, spiritual counselor and senior staffer with the ManKind Project, as well as a mentor with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network. He lives in Encinitas, California.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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