“There is no such thing as self love,” my friend said the other night as we sat around the fire pit in his backyard.
He hosts a monthly community fire as a space for us to come together. We sit and listen and share.
And eat chocolate and some smoke cigars as we consider the whole – of the world, of our society, of our communities, of our selves, of ours souls.
Sitting on the ground near the fire, I leaned forward when he said this, wanting to hear more as “Self Love” was something I’d been thinking a lot about lately in my Winter Solstice and New Year’s intentions setting preparations. Especially since the term seemed silly to me, though I didn’t quite know why. Nor did I have a better term.
The friend relayed the rationale presented by another elder in the Huitchol community, a native Mexican tribe, in which he is an initiated shaman, which I’ll paraphrase.
It all made perfect sense to me.
Self Love is a Misnomer
Self love is a common phrase. Love of one’s self. But, by separating love and self it implies that we can have love for our self…or not.
And in having options, we can choose to love or not to love.
“Unconditional love” is a similar phrase, commonly used, arguably inaccurate.
Though I’m sure there are many people and professions who have explored this topic, I believe I was reading Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s essays years ago when I had my Aha! moment understanding the inaccuracy of “unconditional love.”
Here’s how I recall the rationale:
For unconditional love to exist, then conditional love must exist.
But if it’s conditional, then it’s not love.
So when we say unconditional love, we really mean love.
Just so, self love is simply love. And it’s a given. Always.
Just as we all have dignity and are all inherently worthy.
So, there is no such thing as self love.
And yet, almost everyone referenced self love while we were sharing what was on our hearts right now, at this time of year, on the cusp of the holidays and a new calendar year during our conversation around the fire.
So then, what do we really mean when we say self love?
Self Love is Actually Self Devotion
I think nowadays self love is synonymous with self care, of how we take care of our body and mind. Perhaps because there seems to be something deeper that drives self care.
Perhaps devotion, akin to “Bhakti”?
This is a term in Hindu culture and spirituality with many meanings that was introduced to me by one of my yoga teachers, Emily Light.
Most often it refers to one’s spiritual commitment. It also “refers to the perfected state of consciousness – exclusive and continuous love of God, the natural condition of the soul; eternal, enlightened bliss,” according to Radhanath Swami.
Over the years, I’ve been noticing a lack of devotion, of bhakti, to my soul, along with my self and body.
It’s a big realization. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken years to digest.
I had adapted so deeply into the way I thought I should be, I no longer paid any attention to the way I need to be.
The should was driven by attempting to function, fit in, succeed, and ultimately serve basic needs of self care, for instance shelter, warmth, food, healthcare.
When I started working independently years ago, I also starting paying a lot more attention to the way I need to be, or rather the way I am.
And to the conforming routines, habits, thoughts, and beliefs I had developed.
I sensed that if I were to survive “making a living” independently, it needed to be in my own way.
Self Devotion Generates Self Care
A way that simply needs me – my body and self – to follow, to obey.
Given an independent, driven personality, those are not easy words for me to swallow.
For me, it’s easier to understand all of this when I make it tangible and apply human characteristics to this stuff.
Last year especially, I learned that my body and self “knows” exactly how to take care of itself, what it needs, not only how to stay balanced in homeostasis, but how to constantly adapt in allostasis.
For instance, my allergies are a constant personal alarm system. Though often annoying like when a smoke alarm goes off while cooking dinner, it’s very useful!
Quite awe-some actually that my central nervous system is so attuned.
Thus, in being a devoted follower of our senses, intuition, body and being – the “containers” of our soul – we show respect.
A feeling or understanding that “someone [in this case our selves] is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.”
We are indeed “putting ourselves first” or rather attending to ourselves first. Just like love being a given, this devotion becomes a given, and so does self care.
I have noticed that as I follow my bodies’ needs and obey its indicators – feeling tired, hungry, angry, nervous, scared – self care naturally proceeds.
What is “self care” other than caregiving?
Caregiving is most often thought about as something we do for others, especially related to an elderly or disabled person or to children.
But, we’re already doing it all day, every day for ourselves: taking a shower, brushing our teeth, grooming, making meals, transporting, feeding and the list goes on and on.
Love is a Given
During the conversation around the fire about this pervasive, but actually nonexistent idea of self love, someone mentioned how the Greeks has many different words and forms for love.
Greek Types of Love:
- Agape – divine love
- Phileo – friendship love
- Storge – parental or sacrificial love
- Eros – romantic love
Note: the Greeks did not have a term for “self love.” More validation that there is no such thing as self love!
Clearly, the through line between all these terms is love, that omnipotent force. That just is – or isn’t – there (for eros, storge, phileo).
Perhaps there are people whose selves or souls are so deeply wounded that love isn’t there.
My optimism makes we believe these people are few.
Love Keeps Me Whole
I know I am not one of them. I would not have fought so hard, “obsessively,” as one mentor noted, pursuing the Way…to get out of my own way…to be in my own way…if the love was not deep and true and always there.
A love that is whole and keeps me whole. Because, the whole cannot be whole without all of me.
This conversation lasted long into the night, actually into the next day, as we all realized around 12:15 am that our bodies were actually quite tired, even as our hearts were stirred.
As I drove home and for the last couple weeks, I have been swishing this revised understanding around and finding so much more clarity about my focal points in my life next year.
I had identified “self love” as the most important area of focus, followed by my new lifestyle business, followed by finances and fitness, and throughout all, lots more fun.
If “self love” is actually love, which is always there, and when devoutly paid attention to automatically generates caregiving. Then, by simply following my being every moment, of everyday will lead to everything.
That’s pretty profound.
So simple, but said that way, seems enormous.
To make it more concrete for now, instead of self love I think I’ll call it Bhakti or self devotion (respect for “the natural condition of the soul”), and work with the mantra “obey my body” to turn the intention into action.
Perhaps now that I understand, I will simply live that. Doubtful, from my experience.
I expect this will be an intention I solidify in 2018, though continue living into the rest of my life.