• Heather Lilleston


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There is a term that has been floating around recently called “self-love.” It’s an interesting concept because it seems like it would be the most innate thing to all of us, to love ourselves. We have been with ourselves from day one, by our own sides for basically everything -- every betrayal, every achievement, every embarrassing moment, every crush, every heartbreak, every time we danced our hearts out and sincerely felt that all was okay with the world, and always would be, and every time we fell on the floor wondering, “why me”?

We have had the closest eye to empathy and compassion for ourselves as anyone. And yet, conjuring up tenderness and understanding for ourselves is often the farthest thing from our initial response. We get caught in the mix of “I should be better,” “If I did this maybe I could be better,” and end up adding pressure to the situation instead of support.

This is where the so-called practice of self-love comes in. I think in the most general sense, and when we are under the banner of WELLNESS this is how it pans out, the term translates into eating well (matcha versus coffee, celery juice before it all, mainly plant-based, etc), plus activities like face masks and infrared saunas, meditation retreats, acupuncture and manifesting journals -- when practiced, all begin to add up to a daily regime of “self-love.” Don’t get me wrong -- I participate in these activities, I believe in them (for the most part) and I think they can be important parts of a healthy life.

However, so much of what falls under the category of “wellness” practices, or “self-love” practices, insinuates that there is something wrong with us initially. That there is something wrong with our aging skin -- so we need masks on masks on masks. Some sort of false pressure to meditate daily otherwise we fail in this task of self-love. That we must journal or eat a certain way implies that something before was missing. That love is only expressed through an outer thing. And that love, well self-love, becomes the act of doing something to IMPROVE oneself, instead of the act of ACCEPTING oneself.

I am debating with myself as I write this. The discipline of daily mediation, eating well, getting thoughts/emotions out on paper through journaling, and taking good care of our skin and bodies is all beneficial. Discipline is often one of the quickest roads to happiness. However, this is self-care, not self-love.

Self-love to me really means embracing our own humanity. Loving ourselves as imperfect, aging, messy, neurotic, goofy, kind, fierce, opinionated human beings. Getting really familiar with the wandering mind through meditation (which by the way, everyone has -- I know NO ONE who has a perfectly still mind in meditation, so you can all delete that from your lever on what makes someone good at meditating!). Not comparing ourselves or being down on ourselves if we miss a day of meditation, or eat off-course of our plant-based diet of spirulina and sprouts, or feel like our mind wanders so much in mediation, we just aren’t good at it. Self-love to me means that we know how not to indulge in too much wellness-ing, but also know how not to indulge in too much sugar-infested pleasure-filled backwards laziness -- like binge drinking, or binge shopping, or social media or Netflix.

Self-love shows up in the moments when we have binged in one direction or another, and we know how to forgive ourselves, gently, recalling why anything out of balance isn’t going to serve us in the end, or those around us, and then tenderly returning back to some sort of middle ground. Self-love shows up in the moments that we sit with our jealousy or self-doubt or resentment and recognize that it is part of our humanness, part of our learning curve, and most importantly, part of what is going to make us more compassionate human beings towards others in the end.

Self-love is about giving attention equally to our achievements and charisma and charm as it is to holding hands with the "stinky, unattractive" qualities of being human. Making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, losing our temper, and screwing up. Not abandoning those aspects, but instead recognizing them as part of the whole intricate mess and beauty of existence and knowing that no matter how many masks we slather on before bed, or how many journals we fill, we are still human. Getting old, getting wise, rising to the occasion and over and over and over again, being forced to embrace the vulnerability of our complexities and humanness. You already have all the tools you need to exercise self-love.

As we enter this Valentine’s Day period, where the emphasis on love often leads to the following concerns: “am I loved?” “am I worthy of love?” “does the one who loves me, love me enough?” “do they know how to make me feel special?” “why don’t I have someone -- maybe I should do X, Y, Z and so I am worthy of someone’s love” or even “everyone is totally wack these days and that’s why I am alone.” These concerns seem to override the underlying intimacy that strengthens any relationship -- whether romantic or not. And that is the vulnerability of being seen by someone -- being seen in your own humanity -- and still being loved.

To me this is what makes or breaks the depth and longevity of a relationship. Even our relationship with ourselves. The more we can exercise this transparency and love-in-action with ourselves -- balancing our efforts to improve with our efforts to accept -- then the easier it becomes with someone else. Friends, family, romantic partners -- anyone and everyone.

I will leave you with one of my favorite definitions of love from Alain de Botton. He recently defined love in his talk for Zeitgeist Minds, “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person” as:

“Love is the willingness to interpret someone else’s on the surface not very appealing behavior in order to find more benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding…. to love someone is to apply charity and generosity of interpretation. Most of us are in dire need of love, because actually we need to have some slack cut for us, because our behavior is so tricky, we wouldn't get through any relationship without it.”


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