The self-love movement seems to be keen on extra softness.
Take that bath, no you don’t need to push yourself, relax, it’s ok to cancel your commitments, take it easy, you deserve it!
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe in stressing ourselves out and struggling against life to get a bunch of things done. Harsh language and negative self-talk are not love.
But the other extreme is also not true: love is not always soft, accepting, and allowing everything to just be and let go. It is not loving to allow ourselves to step in our best interests, not take challenges, and eternally just cope with life.
Sometimes, it is loving to get a massage, and, other times, it is loving to go work nonstop on that dream of ours.
Which brings the question:
What is self-love?
Self-love is a major quality to be integrated in all of us, to treat ourselves with love and care, to not diminish ourselves, to shine our light, to bring forth what is within us, to live in joy. Yet, self-love, as any quality, is an abstract concept. The question is: what are the practices and behaviors of self-love?
As the term self-love has gained massive attention, its meaning seems to have been inclined towards beauty and cosmetics self-care, doing whatever feels good right now. Massages, beauty days, nights of rest. It’s not like well-being has no role to play but is this really it?
What if self-love was the exact opposite: because you want and dream about writing that book, you go and sit and write it, and not keep getting baths and massages on your free time.
The thing is, out of love for ourselves, we attune ourselves to what is contributing to our growth, and go for it instead of stagnation. And so we nurture our visions and dreams, to create and live the life we want to live.
Love knows when enough is enough.
And so we say no to ourselves out of self-love.
And so we don’t overeat, don’t overdrink, don’t oversleep, and don’t over evade reality.
Think about it: would a loving mother allow her child to have ice cream whenever the kid wants?
If anything, when I try to conceptualize what love is, the word that comes to me is nourishing.
Love wants you to grow and thrive. And, when we cut ourselves too much slack, we don’t grow — we stagnate.
To grow, sometimes we need to rest. Other times we to make it happen, show up, and challenge ourselves.
Rest too much, nothing happens. Work too much, burn out.
As any plant will teach us, a certain amount of sunlight and of water are needed for the plant to grow. Much more and much less sun and water, the plant doesn’t thrive and dies.
Likewise, love knows what is not nurturing, and it knows it better not do it — in the name of love. Otherwise, whatever one was trying to nurture, will certainly die.
Taken from that, self-love requires, above anything, discernment.
Discernment to understand what is needed at that time. Is it time to go for a race, or to take a bath? When am I pushing myself too much and hurting myself — and when am I getting myself off the hook too easily?
Discernment to distinguish between what is actually impactful for what I want — and when am I just stressed and busy with meaningless things?
Above anything, truth serves love and so love with truth invites us to cut with our excuses and lack of intention.
In a society of comfort zones, comfort foods, and all kinds of escapisms behind screens, we forget that what makes one grow is challenges, for it is through challenges that we outgrow ourselves and go beyond our limitations.
Allowing ourselves to constantly take it easy in the name of self-love and self-care can easily deviate us from growing. The result: exacerbate our already crazy comfort, and lower our tolerance to risk-taking. No wonder we are drowning in fear, anxiety, and easily triggered nervous systems.
Maintenance vs growth
Here is the thing. There’s a difference between living well and growing. It’s a difference between maintenance, like doing the dishes and doing admin work, and actually making our dreams come true.
If you are a high maintenance person I ask you: is your maintenance blocking you from growing?
Too much self-care as self-love has been labeled as maintenance — not growth.
If you are stuck in too many self-care and life admin, chances are you have no room to grow.
Again, don’t get me wrong: maintenance is needed. We are to take care of what we love and need to live well. No one wants to just grow but live poorly. We want to grow but also be fine, and not make a mess out of our lives. But too much maintenance is also escapism, as it leaves us with no time and energy to grow. Again discernment is needed.
It is about the ratio between the two. How is your ratio? Can you let go of some maintenance tasks — even let go of them completely, or outsource them? What maintenance can you say no to?
We seem to easily go from one extreme to the other — lots of negative self-talk, beating ourselves up with harshness, or too much comfort and compliance with the status quo. Too much growth or too much maintenance. The middle way of nourishing ourselves on an ongoing basis seems out of sight.
We confuse the voices within us. Love can push us forward to beat our limitations, but it doesn’t do it with harshness, telling ourselves “go now you loser, you can’t do anything, you must do this now”. Only the mind can be this intolerant. Love is more encouraging, “come, I know you can do it, I believe in you”.
Love is like a great coach that, when we are exhausted but 80% done in our training wouldn’t say “it’s ok, stop” but rather “you are nearly at the finish line, don’t give up now, I know you can do it, only two more push-ups to go”.
Encouragement. How often do we hi-five ourselves and keep going?
Yes, go do that hard thing you are scared the shit out of. Feel the fear and do it anyway, breathe into the discomfort, beat it, grow, and celebrate yourself. No more getting into your pajamas with a glass of wine and Netflix every week.
We live in duality. The beloved new age movement with its “you are perfect as we are” only sees one side of duality, and that’s why it doesn’t hold. Sure, we are perfect — but we also are to grow. To expand.
We are not here to stagnate. Life moves — stagnation is the only thing life doesn’t do. When we stagnate within, we cut a part of our connection to life itself. When we’ve done that, it takes some effort and pain to reconnect back. That’s the cost of getting out of inertia.
We are here to discover who we truly are, to go beyond our self-imposed limitations and get out of the cave — and enjoy it all. Out of self-love.
In this way, saying no to our habits and ways that are stopping us is actually saying YES to our higher selves.
It’s about self-awareness: seeing what lies behind our choices, for sometimes we use self-love as an excuse.
Out of self-love, be a warrior fighting for what you want, and not giving up easily.
To create strength we need to train that healthy warrior inside, and develop loving discipline. A warrior soul doesn’t fight because he is bossed around and told to fight. A healthy warrior fights for something he believes in, and even as a sport: he likes the fight because it allows him to go beyond himself, get better, grow, fulfill his purpose.
It’s not only about the goal but about the fight itself, its learnings, its adventure, its growth. He knows he can die, but he still doesn’t dread the fight. Ultimately the warrior knows nothing will happen magically if he doesn’t fight — he can’t pamper himself to his vision.
When we are truly connected to this part of us, the healthy warrior, we know how to say no to temptations that are doing nothing but blocking us from acting on what we want and believe in. The sword of discernment, of boundaries is always at our disposal to help us to keep walking forward.
This strength comes from discernment and a burning heart. It’s a discipline that comes from heart devotion, and from ideals, dreams and visions — and not from harshness.
It doesn’t mean we will get it right the first time, it’s not about perfection, but it’s about giving our best.
Integration, not polarization
The healthy warrior comes with the inner marriage of this polarity: being perfect as we are — and needing to grow, at the same time. If we only repeat to ourselves we need to grow, we will beat ourselves up and become self-destructive.
Life is to be lived, in it’s full of beauty and yes we are perfect — but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that we need to grow. It might seem a paradox but both are true at the same time.
That’s what makes duality, duality.
The work of duality is to integrate polarities, and not to stay on only one side of the equation.
When working with spiritual growth, we start bringing all of our different aspects together, in oneness. Total connection, being all we truly are. It’s a work that requires presence and discernment as a base, for it is these qualities that allow ourselves to catch ourselves when we are not standing in our truth.
Where are you being too harsh on yourself — and where are you slacking?
Ready go to deeper?