Everywhere you turn from personal development books to Oprah, we are told to love ourselves, but what does this really mean? And what are the benefits of loving yourself?
In my own journey to “loving myself” my enquiry started with just that question “Do I really love myself?” Coming from Scotland, a culture that delights in its self-depreciating humour, “loving yourself” is not seen as an endearing characteristic in any way!
In Scotland, loving yourself is seen in the same light as being conceited or better than another. The “Tall Thistle” syndrome, a saying used for anyone who happens to stand out or get themselves noticed, soon sees those who “love themselves” cut back down to size, usually with a sharp witted comment!
So putting aside my cultural conditioning, the initial answer to the question of whether I loved myself was “Er, yeh I guess so…"
“Put on your own oxygen mask first”
When you fly in a plane the air-stewards always instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask first in an emergency, before helping others. I think this is an important metaphor for those who are on a path of revealing unconditional love. If you want to extend your love to others, it seems prudent to have loved yourself first. So with that in mind, I decided I would go on a journey of loving myself.
So before your could say… well nothing actually… I was on my way to a 10-day silent retreat with the Forest Monks in Thailand! I thought that spending some time in silence would maybe offer me some insight into how to love myself.
I remember my room at the monastery being true to the time of Buddha, wooden carved pillow and straw sleeping mat and thinking how, already, I was “loving myself” by packing my yoga mat. Five millimetres of comfort can make all the difference to a good nights sleep!
The 10 days in silence was a remarkable journey into knowing myself, literally sitting with what ever was revealed with no place to run, no external distractions, just sitting, watching my mind and connecting.
“…my eyes were shining, my skin was glowing, the peace on my face seemed to make me look younger and all in all I was pretty convinced that I was loving myself.”
The first day I returned home I went to my nieces’ Christmas concert. I thought I looked the best I’d looked in years, my eyes were sparkling, my skin was glowing, the peace on my face seemed to make me look younger and all in all I was pretty convinced that I was loving myself.
My sister Helen and I look very similar and as we walked in an older lady who knew my sister came bounding across the hall towards us and cried out “ Oh, two peas in a pod!” (which people say to us all the time) quickly followed by “Helen, you brought your Mum!!!” as she put her hand out to shake mine!!!
It slowly dawned on the woman that I was Helen’s sister, and mortified she scurried off! It was a very funny and very grounding moment, where I realised just how much I had attached loving myself to my external projection! My Scottish friends would have been proud of her accidental “Thistle Chopping” though!
“Self love is about connecting to that unchanging part of yourself, that is beyond condition, your Higher Self, your true nature.”
So while embracing all that you are, and accepting yourself is a great, and necessary starting point, it’s still looking at the conditions and making a choice.
I started to unpack the thought “What if loving yourself is more about an un-doing than doing? What if through our un-doing we can consistently connect to a part of ourselves that requires no effort to love, no “decision” to love, it just is?”
That connection, that I uncovered on retreat and through my yoga practice, is now what I believe loving yourself is about, not a love of your external projection to the world, nor your own perception of who you think you are. Self-love is about connecting to that unchanging part of yourself that is beyond condition, your Higher Self, your true nature.
So rather than taking action to try and love ourselves, we can take action to de-clutter, tidy things up, chip away at the negative aspects that have gained momentum around us, and quite simply connect. The un-doing may involve forgiving yourself and others, dropping your judgements, or letting go of what others think you should be.
By increasingly taking charge of your choices in life, and the ways in which you use your personal energy, gradually you can cultivate a positive mental attitude and watch aspects of life that no longer serve you fade away, resulting in your true self being revealed.
“Yoga practices present a toolkit for cleaning ourselves up and experiencing the world from a connected perspective.”
There are many avenues to approach this de-cluttering and connection, from taking time out on retreat, to seeking professional counsel. Your work, is to explore and find the right avenues for you.
For me, the yoga practices and time spent in retreat, present a toolkit for cleaning up and experiencing the world from a connected perspective. Through asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathwork) I have found a structured way to connect with myself, and I back this up with time spent in nature and doing other things I love.
“To find out how you connect requires your attention and time.”
To find out how you connect requires your attention and time. So wherever you are on your unfolding path of self-love, a practical step is to give yourself the gift of time and self-attention. The perfect opportunity is time spent away from the daily grind in retreat. Dedicated time for you to un-do, explore how you best connect, and connect daily.
Once you have discovered how best you connect, then in my opinion, loving yourself is about connecting to your source and being in touch with that connection in all aspects of daily life.
By regularly and consistently connecting to that part of myself, I notice that my relationship with myself, to life, those around me, and my environment, is vibrant. Life flows, I have clarity, sound intuition, happiness and a genuine love of life.
“..the greatest thing that loving yourself unconditionally means, is that once you do, you’re better equipped to love others in the world and to let the world love you as well.”
Above all, the greatest thing that loving yourself unconditionally means, is that once you do, you’re better equipped to love others in the world and to let the world love you as well. And when you connect in this way you are better equipped to live a life of purpose, wake up and come alive.
Alison Ritchie is co-hosting The Power of Being Present at Samahita Retreat 12 – 19 Dec 2015, with Paul Chambers. <Bookings and Details>
Alison Ritchie is passionate about life and yoga and believes that yoga should be accessible to everyone, regardless of age, flexibility or body condition.
With a positive and friendly teaching style, Alison teaches asana and pranayama from the heart, drawing on her own direct experience of dedicated practice. With the ability to put across both technical and subtle points in a simple and easy-going manner, Alison supports each student, ensuring they get the most they can out of each class. Alison creates a nurturing atmosphere in her classes, using a combination of theory and practice, plus her Scottish sense of humor to keep the classes refreshing and light!
Now based in Melbourne, Victoria, Alison is originally from Scotland and has been living in Australia for the last 15 years. Alison runs Soul Train Yoga at The Linden Gallery in St Kilda. Having studied many aspects of the meditative art and science of yoga over the years, her main teacher is Paul Dallaghan, where she continues to study each year.
For more information about Alison see: www.soultrainyoga.com