The First Step Toward Self-LoveNone By Sharon Salzberg
In our 5-part series, Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned meditation teacher and author of the new book Real Love, answers your questions about how to truly connect with others.
Question: What is the first step you suggest taking toward self-love?
Self-love is often the hardest kind of love, and there is a biological reason for this. Many evolutionary biologists say that for survival, we were born with a negativity bias, continually looking for threats on the horizon, or danger in our midst. As a result, we may tend to distrust the good things that come our way, and even the good within us. We may have a tough time looking for the good in our lives as well, so much are we oriented toward staying ahead of danger. To disrupt this bias, we start small to gradually convince ourselves that we are deserving of love.
The first step toward self-love is to ask yourself: What is the good within me? We tend to dwell on what we do not like about ourselves rather than notice the many good qualities that we exhibit in our lives every day. We may discount the simple gestures like letting another person go first in the checkout line, or holding open the door for someone whose arms are filled with packages. These may appear like little drops in the well, rather than consistent expressions of decency. But I caution you not to gloss over these actions, as they are significant evidence of a loving and kind heart, as well as a place to begin appreciating how you are worthy of love.
If you cannot find anything good within, or find these small actions too trivial to note, remember that all beings want to be happy. We deserve to be happy—everybody does. This is a basic desire that connects you to every creature in the world. The exploration of self-love comes from a desire to learn how to be happy. There is hope for self-love in saying: If I’m not there, I can learn. If you are skeptical about your ability to learn, take some encouragement from the fact that you are thinking about these things.
The other aspect of self-love is self-compassion. Many people who have broad compassion for those who struggle in the world do not have that same ability when it comes to their own missteps. When things go wrong, when we make a mistake and have fallen down in some way, remember: This is part of the human condition. You are not the only one who makes mistakes and does things that you regret. The depth of your feelings about the things you have done wrong is an expression of your desire to do better and be better. Another way to view mistakes is to see them as another thing that connects us to the human family. If you can see that all around you people stumble and then right themselves, striving to correct the things they have done wrong and make amends, you can see that in yourself. Instead of making you feel so alone and ashamed, remember that these flaws make you human.
If you are struggling to love yourself, you are trying something difficult and brave. For that alone, you deserve love.
Sharon Salzberg is a central figure in the field of meditation, a world-renowned teacher and NY Times bestselling author. She has played a crucial role in bringing meditation and mindfulness practices to the West and into mainstream culture since 1974, when she first began teaching. She is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA and the author of ten books including NY Times bestseller, Real Happiness, her seminal work, Lovingkindness and her latest release by Flatiron Books, Real Love. For more information, visit SharonSalzberg.com.
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