Self-love = Self-Development
A few months ago I had a very interesting conversation with my sister about the subject of self-love and self-development. Loving my sister as much as I do, I was trying to explain to her that she needed to love herself more, not just constantly trying to improve herself. (Note to self: it’s easier to give advice than to follow it!) Her question to me was fair and accurate, something I have struggled with myself many times. Basically, why would you want to improve yourself if you’re good enough as you are, ie. if you love yourself? Surely you would just stay the same and accept all your flaws and never change them.
Yes, indeed, why would you? I believe that self-love and self development can exists side by side. When you love yourself, you also want to develop yourself, because you love yourself and you deserve that time and effort it takes to bring about change. The point is that you don’t change because you criticise and dislike aspects of yourself, that kind of approach will always invoke struggle and rarely truly work, but because you have accepted who you are. Self-love is an acceptance of yourself as you are, not as you could be or as you are on your good days. It’s also not assuming that you lack flaws or are in any way better than anyone else. It’s accepting good and bad aspects of yourself.
One way of cultivating this form of self-love is through meditation. As the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron explains: “loving-kindness -maitri- towards ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”
From this point of view it is easy to conclude that if I befriend myself, I won’t change or improve or better myself. But that is not the case. When we sit with ourselves as who we are, when we really see ourselves (and how often do we do that?), most of the time we’ll realise that we’re not as bad as we think. But more than that, we can start seeing the patterns that rule our lives and develop ourselves in a way that is actually true to who we are.
And it is development not improvement that is the focus here, because we will NEVER improve enough to be perfect. Especially if your belief patters in: “Never good enough”. We will never fix or get over that thing, we will just learn to live with it. The less we want to fix it, the more it will soften and settle and just be. The more we struggle against ourselves, the more struggle and discontent we breed on our bodies and minds.
This is something that struck me when working with Ana Forrest. She put her finger on the exact crappy pattern that I had and I think many people live with. She said, let go of self-criticism because it keeps you small. You think that it’s what has helped you and made you better, you think it’s a tool to improve yourself, but in fact it is just a way to steal love from yourself and keep yourself small. I had always thought that my critical self was my good cop that was helping me to become better. But in fact it was a way to protect myself from the fear of love, self-love and fulfilment. Better to never be good enough than discover that you are good enough and now you actually have to do that thing you never thought you could do!
In a very simple way, the more I love myself the more right decisions I make, the more I am willing to forgive the bad decisions and learn from them. The more I love myself, the more I develop.