If love is the glue of the universe, the matrix that holds us together and the power that propels us toward a bright and happy future, then why is there so much suffering that arises from its apparent lack? You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to surrender to the warm nurturing presence of the divine, or to a loving other, but why isn’t this the case?
Don’t look outside for love
The developed world is obsessed with this relatively new concept of love—finding your soulmate, creating a life together and living happily ever after. Sure, it happens sometimes. But often it does not.
Somehow, in Western consumer culture, we came to believe that our worth comes from our accomplishments, including creating a stable, happy family life. Many of us were raised to believe that we are appreciated not simply for being who we are, but for what we achieve. According to that theory, if we don’t achieve what we set out to do, our very worth as a human is put in question. Because of this confused view, low self esteem in the Western world is epidemic.
We are all worthy of love, kindness and respect.
It’s important to recognize that this idea of chivalrous love is a product of a certain, bygone era, emphasis on bygone. The romantic notion we have of Valentines Day is a warped creation of Hallmark greeting cards, originating in the dark ages. Perhaps we need a new paradigm, a new concept of love.
Love is feeling connected.
The idea that love is only to be found in a partnership is an illusion. Love with a capital L is about accepting whatever is. I remember a time when a man broke my heart, and yet I’d never felt so connected and full of love. Somehow the cracking open of my heart allowed space to get in, and in that process, something shifted. I walked around for months with a wide open, cracked open heart, filled with love for all beings.
Love is presence.
Love comes from recognizing our deep connection to inner wisdom, and to the larger whole, which happens in the present moment—NOT in some fantasy dream in the future. Love is not a product of intellect–the thinking mind is an obstacle to love. It is not about ego-boosting, or about sympathizing.
An endless reservoir of compassion and wisdom, which is another way of saying love, is always present, if you simply tune in to that. Finding true love is basically learning to be present. When you rest contentedly in the present moment, all the things that impede or obstruct love will be seen for the illusions they are. One simple way to learn to tune into this is by developing compassion through formal practice such as tonglen, sometimes called metta practice.
Let go of love’s opposite: fear.
The strange thing about fear is that you call to you exactly that which you fear. My fear of being abandoned played itself out over and over again throughout my life BECAUSE of my fear of being abandoned. Let go of the roles you play. We are all multi-faceted creatures with a wide spectrum of possible manifestations. Try a new one. I often find myself in the role of peacekeeper. I want people to see me as nice and adaptable (so they won’t abandon me.) This has its benefits—I am flexible and can roll with the changes. But that can come at the cost of neglecting my own needs. If I’m not careful, I can get walked on because I’m so concerned with keeping the peace. So for me, a new role was to invite conflict so that issues can be worked with directly, rather than swept under the rug. I needed to let go of the perceived identity I wanted people to have of me and face my fear of confrontation.
Self love requires a fully formed self to love. Protect healthy boundaries and stand up tall for your needs. Trust yourself. Even in the face of aggressive opposition, or debilitating fear, and even while you question your own beliefs.
Here are some practical things you can do to increase self-esteem and deepen your connection to the source of love:
- Take good care of yourself and those around you. Be kind and generous with affection. Eat well. Get enough sleep and exercise. Know when you need to rest, and when you need to play. Develop a few healthy supportive relationships. Contact a professional if necessary to talk through difficult issues.
- Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
- Find your unique voice. Honour your wishes, dreams, hopes, fears, fantasies, opinions, (let them be loosely held). Write morning pages. to discover what is going on for you. Listen and let this voice guide you.
- Connect with wisdom. Develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice. Go on regular retreats to deepen or develop practice and connect with community.
- Set boundaries and limits. Learn to say no. Be discriminating with how you spend your time and whom you spend it with.
- Create structures and routines. This more than any other on the list was the key for me developing positive self-esteem. Practicing yoga and sitting meditation daily for the past 20 years has allowed me to feel confident that I can rely on myself. I show up on the cushion or the mat. I show up mentally to the tasks at hand. Even if it’s a bad day, the sense of well-being from a commitment honoured is cumulative. When you can trust your self-discipline, you find that the world suddenly appears trustworthy as well.
No one can give you love.
I spent years on my own, believing I was unlovable. That’s hard for me to admit. I didn’t believe in myself so I kept looking for reinforcement from outside that I was OK. And guess what? Since I didn’t believe in myself, I found outside “proof” to confirm my beliefs. I found people to reinforce my belief that I was unlovable, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t until I got dumped me on the doorstep one day a few years ago (figuratively speaking) that I finally woke up to the fact that no one can give me love. For me it was imperative to let go of the fairy tale dream of a relationship that meant happy ever after. Happiness is now or never.
You either tune into it or you don’t. But it’s always there. It’s not about looking outside for something or someone to complete you. It’s about coming home, looking inside to develop your relationship with the inner world, which is vast beyond measure. It’s about connecting with your heart, even when–especially when– it is breaking open. Even if you feel like a complete failure at relationships, (which many of us do) you are still capable of love. You are love. When you realize that, you can change your world.