Loving, But Not Liking, Ourselves

Loving, But Not Liking, Ourselves

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 29, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

As a psychotherapist, I believe that self-love — to value and treat yourself in a loving way — is an important part of cultivating happiness and resilience. But, if I am honest, sometimes it seems like self-love isn’t as easy to access as I would like. At times, I feel like l am on a roller-coaster of self-worth. One day, I’m riding high with strong self-regard and then feeling full of self-criticism the next.

When I’ve turned to Thích Nhất Hạnh’s (Thầy’s) talks and writings for guidance about how to feel better about myself, I’ve been uncertain about what his guidance meant for me.

Below is the beginning of Thầy’s response to a similar question in May of 2014 at Plum Village:

How do you love yourself? First of all, you breathe in, mindfully, and you become aware that you have a body. “Breathing in, I know I have a body.” Your body is a very important part of yourself. You spend two hours with your computer, you are stressed, and you don’t know how to stop, and you forget completely that you have a body during these two hours. You are looking for something in the future, in your work, while your body suffers. So the first act of love is to breathe in and to go home to your body.

I must admit that this response has previously triggered impatience in me. “How is breathing going to help me feel better about myself?” I’ve wondered. But I have come to see that his recommendation involves getting off of the roller coaster of positive and negative self-assessment that I have been struggling with. Instead, I believe that Thầy is encouraging us to step back and view ourselves from a much broader perspective. Thầy explains that when we observe ourselves as part of the marvel of human life, that recognition naturally engenders a desire to care for our miraculous selves:

Do you have the capacity to appreciate that wonder that is your body? Mother earth is in you — not (only) underneath, or above or around you — but in you, also. And father sun is also in you. You are made of sunshine, you are made of fresh air, of fresh water. And to be aware of that wonder and to value that wonder can already bring a lot of joy and happiness.

As I have endeavored to meet my self-doubt by slowing down and observing my breath and my body, I have noticed a shift away from fixating on a perceived flaw. As my breath deepens and my body calms, I’m better able to notice and sit with the feelings of criticism or judgment I’ve been directing at myself. I believe that observing my feelings, like observing my breath, is a beautiful act of self-love. Perhaps what I am discovering is that by just being with myself, no matter what shows up, I don’t always have to like myself in order to love myself.

This Thursday, after our meditation, we will explore the practice of self-love.

Our Dharma sharing will begin by considering these questions:

  • What is your experience of loving yourself?
  • Has mindfulness practice or other life experiences changed your understanding of what it means to love yourself?
  • What supports you and what challenges you?

You are warmly invited to join us!

An excerpt from Thích Nhất Hạnh on accepting ourselves appears below.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

From “True Presence” a 1995 Dharma Talk by Thích Nhất Hạnh
The Practice of Loving Kindness

But first, we have to learn to look at ourselves with the eyes of understanding (prajna) and love (maître). Many of us cannot accept ourselves. We are at war with ourselves and want to run away from ourselves. Practicing looking deeply into ourselves and seeing the nature of the joy and pain within us, gradually we are able to accept, love, and take care of ourselves. “Know thyself” is the practice of love. If we look deeply into ourselves, we discover the conditions that have formed us and then we can accept ourselves – both our suffering and our happiness. So first of all, we accept ourselves as we are. Then we can accept the other person as she or he is. Looking deeply, we see how that person has been formed. Just as a flower is made only of non-flower elements, that person has been made of elements that are not him – his ancestors, his parents, his society, and so on. Once we see the causes and conditions that have made him, we are able to accept him and take good care of him.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 29, 2024