It’s February. So we’re going on the obligatory love story trip. But instead of getting stuck in the commercialism of Valentine’s Day that reinforces everything we lack, lets turn the paradigm on its head. Let’s look at the life-long love affair that each of us can develop: the one with ourselves.
Before you throw up in your mouth a little, just go with me for a minute.
I once gave a friend some unsolicited advice (bad habits die hard). Our own history was a little checkered: we dated briefly, he admitted he wasn’t looking for a relationship, and we continued to spend… time together. (Mom reads the blog sometime, so I’ll leave it at that). Some months after we had gone fully platonic, he was bemoaning his romantic life and psyche in general. I said to him: “How can you expect anyone else to love you if you don’t love yourself?” He stopped, dead in his tracks, looked at me with a pained expression and said “That is the cruelest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
It was clear in that moment that he was so far from loving himself he didn’t even think it was possible. He thought I was sentencing him to a loveless life — without realizing it was he who did that.
Self-love is perhaps the most difficult affirmation practice, and not just because it makes us feel like heading straight for self-help aisles in bookstores and resigning ourselves to being new-agey and wearing organic, hand-knit, alpaca sweaters and magnetic bracelets. My friend is a great example of why.
Try it for a minute and see. Go stand in front of your bathroom mirror (or any wall mirror) and stand close enough that you can see all the details of your face. Take a good look – examining the ridge of your nose, that place in your eyebrows where the hairs change direction, the pores on your chin, the flecks of color in your eyes, the curve of your lips.
Notice the thought patterns that come up when you do this. You don’t have to even try to think something — you just look at your face and you think something. Notice that.
Do you admire your latest wax job? Love the color of your eyes? Or, like me, do you see all the things you wish were different? Do you see the roundness at the end of your nose that you wish were sleeker? Wonder how anyone can stand looking at those pore-craters? Maybe you see things you hate, things you’ve hated for so many years that that hate has grown into resentment.
Imagine: resenting your own face. The impact of a realization like this — and the genuine pain of it — is incredibly powerful, and can be overwhelming.
In case you aren’t feeling awkward enough, now comes the really hard part. Look at yourself dead in the eye, and say “I love you.” Now say it again, like you mean it. Say it until it doesn’t feel awkward or like a lie or like you belong on a 1980s meditation tape. Say it until you can fill it with enough back-up and texture as when you say it to your best friend, your mom, or your lover.
If that sounds like an impossible assignment, you aren’t alone. This is one of the most difficult spiritual practices there is.
There are five ways of showing someone you love them, according to a dude named Gary Chapman. The basic theory is that we each learn how to give and receive love in some combination of the five ways: Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, or Physical Affection. (If you’re curious to read more or to discover your primary ways check it here). You probably already have a hunch, based on the fights you’ve had with exes about they don’t (touch you / talk to you / spend time with you) enough.
So here is your assignment: pick one example from each of the five “languages,” this week, and do/give that to yourself. Do this especially if the mirror exercise is hard for you. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is by doing it.
- What small gift can you give yourself that would make you smile each time you saw it/touched it/heard it? What would you want someone to give you for this Valentine’s Day? Or what would you give to your significant other to show them exactly how much you love them?
- What words can you say to yourself to reinforce this love? What do you love most about yourself? Conjure up a powerful compliment. Again, remember the quick displacement exercise: what would you tell your lover to show them how much you care? What would you want them to tell you?
- What event could you take yourself out to this week? It could be something fancy like dinner out or a live music show, or it could be something simple like a post-prandial walk. What would you usually be doing while holding hands with your boo? Do that. You can hold your own hand, but only if you have a marsupial sweatshirt – it freaks out strangers otherwise.
- What tedious task do you put off because you hate to do for yourself that you would do for someone else in a heartbeat? Fold their laundry? Change their oil? Cook dinner? Wash the dishes? Do that thing, but for you.
- Giving ourselves physical affection is weird. I know. There is one very common practice that we all do that we tend not to talk about in yoga classes or other “enlightened” gatherings. When you do that, watch your mind. Are you thinking “Let me get this over with,” or even, “I feel so guilty/dirty doing this?” What if you were with someone who was thinking that when they touched you? How can we cultivate the same physical passion with ourselves as we share with someone else? If that feels hard, there’s an Ayurvedic practice called Abhyanga — it’s just self massage. Google it if you need more instruction, but it can be a powerful practice. It’s the same challenge as before — watch your thoughts, be mindful of what you tell yourself about touching yourself.
We grow the most when we’re doing something we don’t know how to do. When it feels weird and awkward and wrong and all we can think is “I’ll never be able to…” – remember that you are growing the most in that moment.
And you are growing the most important relationship you have in your life – the one with yourself. You are the one you can’t escape, you can’t dump, you can’t estrange, you can’t divorce, you can’t emancipate. Instead, you can begin to learn how to fall in love with yourself – one awkward, painful moment at a time.
Come practice this in your body with me at Wild Lotus Yoga.
Playlist on Spotify here.