Tuesday, August 13, 2013

We Must Love Ourselves...In Relationship

Every single individual on this planet has a way of experiencing and expressing love in a way that is entirely unique to them. Through focused work and practice, as we learn to experience love for ourselves, we in turn can begin to feel love for everything around us. This is perhaps exampled best by the human ability to love other humans.

The attempt to be in a loving partnership with another, to truly support them in their personal path to self-love and self-actualization, to stand in the truth of who they really are and do everything you can to show compassion, acceptance, tenderness, and fierceness for that person is one of the most incredible experiences we get to have as human beings. It also one of the most painful, challenging, confusing, and irrational experiences we can have as human beings.

Trying to find the ‘right person’, or just trying to navigate how to have a sustained, healthy, loving relationship with someone else is one of the biggest mysteries of life. What it means for you to be with the ‘right’ person could never be defined by an external source. But it is essential that the lessons of self-love be applied for loving relationships to flourish. The most important thing to remember is that there is no one that can love you the exact way you deserve to be loved other than you.

There is limitless and divine and effortless love available for you to feel at all times but it will always be a personal struggle to allow this love to be felt. To feel this love is the responsibility of no one else except you. No one else can make you feel it. When we make it our partner’s job to make us feel lovable or loved, they will certainly fail, and eventually the relationship will fail. If we want our relationships to work, we must love ourselves.  

The reality is, we will never be fully capable of loving someone else unless we love ourselves. If we don’t have love and acceptance for the way that we are, there’s no way we could feel that kind of love for our partners. Instead, we believe that they must fulfill some idea of ‘how our partners should be’. We select partners based on this narcissistic criteria, instead of choosing with our wild, irrational hearts. We expect them to dress a certain way, have a certain amount of money, a certain kind of job, and a certain way of interacting with others or a certain way of communicating with us. We think if we have partners that fulfill these expectations, we will feel loved and we will be lovable.

Of course, by demanding certain attributes of our partners, we fail to accept them for precisely who they are, and thus we fail to experience true love. Our partners, by the same token, may have the same expectations of us. In fact, many people remain quite satisfied in relationships like these because they reflect the shallow illusion that many equate with reality. These kinds of relationships do not demand vulnerability, or even true feeling, because they are built on the same elaborate mind game that convinces us if we act a certain way, or have a certain kind of job, etc, we will be someday feel fulfilled and satisfied.

In order to use relationship as a platform to deepen our experience of love, we must understand there is a distinction between our desire to love another and our actual ability to do so. We must come to see the failures and conflicts we’ve experienced in relationship as reflections not of some problem in the other person, or our error in choosing that person, but reflections of some failure we have had in deeply loving ourselves. If all of your break ups or conflicts with others are the other person’s fault, think again. Own your part. If you can’t figure out your part, ask someone you trust, and then, listen. 

It’s not that the other person is always innocent. Rather, it’s that we can never truly know what a person is feeling or what motivates them, and we can never change them. We can only fully understand and control ourselves. Set the example and “be the bigger person”. Admit that you are flawed. Be vulnerable. Don’t do it for the other person, do it for yourself so you can grow. Admitting that you’ve done wrong and knowing that you are still ‘ok’ is one of the most powerful ways to love yourself. Admitting that you’ve done wrong and you are still truly and fundamentally lovable is even better.

“Loving” other people so that you feel loved or lovable doesn’t work. It has a nice outer covering, but it is actually manipulative. True loving is unconditional. We cannot love for any external motivation, not even if that motivation is to feel loved. To truly love others, you must love yourself, and acknowledge that no one can be loved better by you than they can be loved by themselves. If you allow others to be dependent upon your love instead of feeling love for themselves, you cripple and manipulate that person.

Despite deep experiences of love in romantic relationships, many people eventually fail at sustaining these experiences and the relationships fail in some way or another. Relationships can fail quietly over long periods of time, remaining intact to any outside observers but actually rotting from the inside out. Or they can fail in spectacularly dramatic, painful, and hurtful ways. However it happens, the occasion of a relationship where love is no longer being equally exchanged the way it once was is often very painful. Thus, it is a terrific learning experience and opportunity. It is not a reflection of some reality that you are not lovable or not capable of loving others appropriately. Instead, it can be understood as a chance to learn about the ways you can better love yourself. 

For more information about the one on one work I do, visit my website, www.dreamitout.com 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

We Must Love Ourselves, Part 1

If we want the world to be a better place, we must love ourselves. I’m not saying that this is the only thing that needs to be done. I’m not even necessarily saying it is the most important thing. I think there are emergency situations around this planet, like the suffering of the incarcerated in the United States, like the world’s oceans and coral reefs, like the abuse of women in India and around the world, like torture, like drones, that need attention right now. There is so much to be done I would never deign to weigh one issue over the other. All I know is if we want to make a real change, at some point we are going to have to dive in head first to one of the hardest tasks in life. We must love ourselves.

I know that in the midst of all the suffering of the world the call from some damn woo-woo hippie like myself to feel the love might sound annoying. But to me it’s only annoying if I try to make it sound easy. I’m not trying to make it sound easy. If all we had to do is wake up in the morning, look ourselves in the mirror and say, “You’re the best! I love you!” and then our problems would be solved well then why do we have so many damn problems then?

We must love ourselves, and it is not an easy task. Actually, it is really fucking hard. If you don’t think it is hard, then you probably aren’t really trying to do it. The task of falling in love, deeper and deeper, with yourself and what you are capable of as a human on this planet never truly ends. It hurts like hell, makes no sense, and it is both infinite and terrifying. Everyday I set out to succeed in this task and everyday I fail in infinite ways, in ways I am aware of and in ways I have no clue about.

Why must we love ourselves? Well for one thing, when we don’t, we live out an illusion, an illusion that has very real effects on the world around us. This illusion could be called narcissism. Some people think narcissism is loving yourself “too much”. But really it is a complete absence of self-love. Narcissism contends that the central task in your life is to be the person you “should” be, or to be some idea of a person you have created in your mind, instead of just accepting yourself as you are.

Instead of loving yourself for precisely who you are, whatever you are, no matter what you do or how you have been treated, narcissists spend their whole lives focused on living out some set of self-concepts they decided a long time ago was ‘who they are’. This identity is usually tied to a lot of external, societal standards of appearance, opinions, values, assertions, and judgments. These factors, taken as a whole, can usually dictate what kind of jobs the person should take, what kind of partners they should have, and how much money they should make. This identity can be more or less unusual, tied to individual experiences, where and how you were raised, what you were taught, but to whatever extent it involves you not being in a state of acceptance and love for who you are right now, it is narcissistic. It is not about loving yourself, but rather a state of being enslaved to some idea about who you are or who you should be. 

When narcissists fail to achieve these standards they hate themselves, believe they are unworthy of love, and can act out negatively in a myriad of ways, mostly because they did not make the original commitment to truly love and accept themselves. When narcissists succeed in achieving these standards they feel pride, entitlement, perhaps some sense of satisfaction, but they still can not experience truly loving themselves in an unconditional way, because for them, love will always be conditional upon them succeeding to the standards they lay out for themselves.

Who we really are is so much more complicated and astounding and mysterious than any ideas we come up with about that person. It is not that we can’t know ourselves but rather the understanding that there is always more to know. To love ourselves is to understand we are living a life that is unfolding every moment in ways that we cannot imagine. To truly love ourselves is to understand that whatever we do, whatever has been done to us, whether we fail or whether we succeed, we are still, on a basic fundamental level, just because we are human beings on this earth, lovable. 

Needless to say, it can be confusing. How do we know when we are really loving ourselves, or just trying to live up to some idea of who we should be? Well, one clue is that feeling love can be one of the hardest things in the world. It burns like cleaning out a wound with hydrogen peroxide. It is startling and uncomfortable and incredibly vulnerable. It has the power to make everything you’ve made so important and argued for and lost friends over and feel like a huge lie. It has the power to make all those times you walked away or chose the safer thing or stayed silent so incredibly painful. From the perspective of loving yourself, all the things you did when you didn’t look very ugly, and it takes enormous courage to face into that. Love has no limits, and thus humbly reminds us of our own. 

For all of these reasons, and more, love feels almost exactly like pain. Really they are the same thing, seen in different ways. When we let ourselves feel our pain, we lose all of our defenses. We can no longer hide beneath the shells of our personalities and our ideas and our accomplishments and our assertions, because we are in pain, and thus we just are. And when we just are, we can feel love. The strain of the contradiction almost breaks our hearts but it is actually expanding them. This is the power of a good cry. This is why deep love brings tears to our eyes.

It’s good to keep in mind that there is illusory pain. A tip-off is that it has no energy, felt in the mind instead of in the body. Some names for it are self-hatred, nihilism, shame, embarrassment, guilt, anxiety and the like. It says you don’t matter, it says the world doesn’t matter, it says nothing matters. Or it says you will only matter if... you will only feel love if… It denies how difficult it is to feel love, it says there is something wrong with you because you don’t feel it. It says everything in your life is your responsibility, that it is all your fault. It denies how scary the truth is, that you have no real control over anything. It tells you that your individual version of true love, that version of love that you only let yourself fantasize about for brief moments long ago, is a total lie, that you will never get to have it. It convinces you by saying it is rational, realistic, practical. It gives you the illusion of control. It makes you doubt and judge everyone, because in thinking all of these things, you doubt and judge yourself. It is lonely, isolating, numbing, and persistent. It definitely sucks, but it is not the same as real pain.

Mostly because real pain doesn’t need a reason, doesn’t need to be explained, doesn’t need to be justified. It just needs to be felt. Pain is always the doorway to expanding our ability to feel love. This sounds like a contradiction, I know, and because it is a contradiction it is very difficult to explain. But just the mere fact that through enormous hardship and injustice and trauma individual humans still harbor the capacity to feel love for themselves and others demonstrates to me the enormity of what’s possible. It is in understanding that even in the darkest corner of our hearts there is still a way feel loved that we come to feel it in an even more visceral and intense way. It is this increased vitality feeling of purpose and joy that being loved by another person can give us that we always have the opportunity to give to ourselves. 

We must love ourselves. It is a challenge and it is a responsibility and a journey. But most of all, it is the most thrilling ride possible in life. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, Loving Ourselves Through Relationship 

Acknowledgments to my teachers at North of Eden, especially Marc Bregman. To learn more about the psychological/spiritual work I do, you can visit my website, www.dreamitout.com