In my last few posts, I wrote about self-love and why I believe that if we want our life to be better, internally or externally, we must start with love. Self-love occurs when we give ourselves the best and most noble gifts. These beautify our inner life and, in turn, this beautifies our external lives. Three of the most important gifts we give to ourselves are respect, presence, and compassion. I have written about these three gifts in earlier blog posts.
Below, I have included some reflection and action exercises that help us practice self-love. (You don’t necessarily need to read my earlier blog posts to answer these questions or to do the practices.) I start with some questions directly related to self-love and the gifts of respect, presence, and compassion I wrote about earlier. I recommend that you write about one, a few, or all of these questions. In the act of writing, we often discover new things about ourselves of which we were previously unaware. So, writing about the questions below may be helpful for you in understanding where you are on the path of self-love. Secondly, I am very interested in the types of things that help us show ourselves love in tangible ways. I am a professional academic, and so it is easy for me to get stuck in my head and to approach life in a primarily logical and intellectual way. While logical and intellectual approaches to life can certainly be helpful, I often forget that I have a body and that I learn really important things through physical practices as well. So, I have included some practices below that I have found helpful in cultivating self-love.
This painting is titled “Man Writing a Letter”, and it is by Gabriel Metsu.
Questions for Reflection:
What is one of the biggest obstacles you have that gets in the way of loving yourself? Which of the gifts discussed previously—respect, presence, and compassion—addresses this obstacle?
Which of the three gifts discussed previously is the hardest for you–respect, presence, or compassion? What is especially hard about this gift for you to put into practice?
Which of the three gifts is the easiest for you to practice? What is easier about this gift as compared to one of the other ones?
In regards to the gift of respect, I think most of occasionally treat ourselves as though our main goal in life is to get other stuff, a habit which often leads to self-objectification. Which of the following statements are things you have thought about yourself? My main goal in life is to be attractive and get attention or love from others; My main goal in life is to make lots of money; My main goal in life is to secure a partner (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.); My main goal in life is to be successful in my career; My main goal in life is to lose weight. My main goal in life is to gain weight.
How has one or more of the above beliefs made it difficult for you to be a good friend to yourself and respect yourself?
In regards to the gift of presence, how often during the day do you spend time being with yourself, not thinking about much of anything except the present moment? What keeps you from being able to do this?
In regards to the gift of compassion, how comfortable are you with allowing yourself to make mistakes? If you are not comfortable making mistakes, why is this? What belief about yourself does this discomfort reflect?
Suggestions for Action
Practicing Presence: One of the best ways we can practice respect, presence, and compassion for ourselves is to spend time meditating or being silent each day. During meditation, we spend time with ourselves, notice any feeling or thoughts that arise, and accept them without judgment. In doing so, we give ourselves the gift of respect, presence, and compassion, and this is what an excellent friend does. In doing so, we create a peaceful space of safety and acceptance. There is no one right way to meditate. It’s perfectly fine if we meditate for one minute, five minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour. Whatever time you are able to meditate benefits you. It’s okay to sit to meditate or to lie on the floor or even to meditate while you are taking a bath. In addition, it’s fine if thoughts come to your mind or you get a little distracted during meditation. Just notice the thoughts that arise, accept them, and let them go.
There are many different breath patterns for meditation, but here are two I like. First, you might like breathing in a word and breathing out a word. For instance, sometimes when I am meditating, I breathe in the word “Love” (you can think it or say it out loud), and I breathe out the word “Fear” (you can think it or say it out loud). Another way to meditate is to inhale to the count of four; pause for two counts; and exhale to the count of four.
A Self-Pledge: Sometimes the best way for us to practice self-love is to speak to ourselves like we would speak to our own best friend. Here is a practice for speaking to ourselves in a friendly way that I find helpful: Sitting in a chair or on the floor, put your hand over your heart and say, “I love you, (insert your name here). I will always support you and take care of you. I always have your back.” Think of how much it means to us when our friends say these types of encouraging words to us. The good news is that we can speaking these same encouraging words to ourselves all the time. (I recommend you say the words out loud to yourself, even if you also say them silently.)
Loving Thinking: A few years ago, I suddenly realized how frequently I spoke to myself in a negative, demeaning, or discouraging way. This surprised me because for all of my adult life I have been a teacher, and I am always very careful to praise my students sincerely and to encourage them for the good things they are doing. I realized I would never say to my students the things I used to say to myself. When I realized I was thinking negative things about myself, I started practicing something I call “loving thinking” on a regular basis. When I practice loving thinking with myself, I encourage myself the way I would encourage a class of students. Here are some of the things I say to myself when I practice loving thinking: You are smart and capable; You can figure out a solution to any problem you are facing right now; You are doing excellent things, and you will keep doing excellent things; You have excellent creativity and problem-solving skills; You have everything you need right now to be successful.
I recommend making time every day to repeat these loving thoughts to yourself. For instance, it could be a ritual you have right before you go to sleep. If you begin to say or think these loving thoughts to yourself on a regular basis, you will find that these will become your default thoughts about yourself and your condition, rather than the negative things you usually say to yourself. When your default thoughts about yourself are loving thoughts, it creates a wonderful space for you to develop confidence and excitement about your abilities and yourself in general.