True love begins with the self. When we are intolerant of our own shortcomings, how can we be tolerant of others?
Perhaps the wonderful and familiar suggestion to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not so much a rule as it is what we do.
Only to the capacity that we have love and compassion for ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our talents and our shortcomings, our favorite parts of ourselves and our least favorite, can we have love and compassion for those same things in others.
We are all part of what I call the “human predicament”, and our understanding of our own predicament, our own vulnerabilities and secret wounds, allows us to understand that all human beings exist in the human predicament with us.
Ways to nurture self love, understanding and acceptance are numerous. Here are few key concepts:
• Allow yourself to fully feel. Life is full of happenings, ones that feel good and others that don’t. If we suppress our feeling capacity, we suppress not only our capacity to feel sadness, for example, but also joy. Give yourself permission, and alone time when you need it, to feel your life and find the gifts in your experiences.
• Meditation practice can help us get us in touch with our own inner nature, and deepen our relationship with ourselves.
• Write your story. Write down the events of your life, whether they feel positive or negative. Write what comes to mind as shaping who you are. Then, contemplate the gifts in your experience, the strengths and vulnerabilities, the values and passions that your experiences have created in you.
• Practice acceptance of your story. Smile at your vulnerabilities, and practice expressing love within yourself to the parts of yourself that you normally do not care for. This is your human predicament, the existence in you of strengths, weaknesses, and a whole array of opposites; honesty and dishonesty, sweetness and anger, and so on. Also, contemplate that all human beings have a story…
• Work on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. We all have shortcomings that we can become preoccupied with “fixing”, but isn’t our energy better used in developing our strengths than fixing our imperfections? We are imperfect beings with infinite potential in our strengths and virtues.
• Lastly, practice kindness with yourself. We are all our own worst critic. Give that inner critic a name—it could be any thing, like “Clyde” or even “critic”, just choose the first word that comes to mind—and when he or she begins to list in your head say, “oh, hello critic,” and notice that the act of observing rather than believing the inner critic diminishes its effect on your state of mind.
With these practices, we can develop love and understanding for ourselves that becomes love and understanding in the world.
May the wonder that you are shine brightly through your strengths and talents, may compassion bloom in your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and may love for others grow in your self-understanding.