What the hell is self-love anyway and what’s an insecure person got to do to find it?
I’ve been privileged to staff dozens of initiation weekends with the ManKind Project and seen previously insecure, lonely men experiencing profound positive change toward self-love, brotherhood and self-understanding. There’s a curious step in the process though. When people dig into the underlying reasons for what’s been stopping them from living fully, there is a paralyzing fear that in becoming empowered they’ll lose their friends and loved ones. In other words, unconsciously many of us connect self-love with losing the love of others. We’re social animals but if it’s stopping us from living magnificently, something about this urge to belong must to have gone wrong.
The Self-Acceptance Solution to the Fear of Being Lost in a Lonely World
How does this dumbing ourselves down and selling our souls, become a better choice than being alone or finding new friends? I think it’s connected to what the older women in the Baptist churches where I grew up made me do. “Speak to people,” they’d say if I walked past anyone without lifting my eyes and muttering a greeting. “Who do you think you are?” So who do I think I am? Who do you think you are?
All these years later, I’m finally ready to answer the question, but I had to spend this winter staying warm in Panama to help me finally figure it out. You see, here in Panama people “speak” to one another. Almost everyone I encounter is ready with a warm, “Buenos” or “Hola” and it takes me back to my childhood in small town in Ohio where that was standard behavior. That it wasn’t standard was the most notable thing about my first visit to New York City (or later to the absolutely impersonal Hong Kong), where almost everyone rushed by with nary a nod. I say almost because Black people would still meet my eyes and we’d acknowledge each other, something that fascinated my white friends. “They grew up listening to the grandmothers,” I’d explain, leaving out all the sociology around acknowledgment and the unstated, “I see you brother. I see you sister, even if this crazy white world acts like it doesn’t.” The root of my answer grew from this memory. I was shocked by how little I mattered to people in the cities. I’d grown up feeling connected to everything; the weather, the farm animals, and every single person in my bucolic little town, even the hillbillies and hoods were my friends growing up.
Today, however, in the boom town of Silicon Valley where I live, it’s what I call a transactional world. People are just part of my harsh necessity to survive and thrive. We exchange cards, negotiate a mutual exchange if possible, have precious little time for more than that and are essentially fungible to one another as soon as a better deal comes along. Like the palpable energy one feels in New York City, Silicon Valley vibrates with a kind of tangible tension moving between all the wanting and having. Self-worth is measured in IPO’s, Teslas and which wine you drink, a kind of lewd, irresistible, narcissism.
So I’m seen here in Panama even though we didn’t even bother renting a car, acknowledged for nothing more than existing, and it feels wonderful, connected, and safe. But everything those older women (I also had 10 aunts serving in the role) ever told me went deeper than first glance. Granddad Rumi wrote about the self-love insight like this:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud,
Otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying, with that sweet moon language,
What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?
Self-Acceptance As The Sacred Antidote to Alienation and Fear
Don’t you just want to walk down any street in the world and be loved? Aren’t we all dying to hear “that sweet moon language?” But if you have to travel half way around the world to find that, what can we do right wherever we are? Let’s consult the wise women for an answer. Every grandmother in my life told me to speak, not just to acknowledge others, but because it’s the right thing for me to do. The right thing to do for these church-going women and Rumi was to see everything as sacred. If, we begin to see the sacredness of the universe despite the confusion and problems that fill the world, we can also see that phenomenal existence is constantly being influenced by how we show up in it. Rumi would have us honor the “friend,” our own soul. My aunts the spirit of the divine that animates.
Are we the light? Are we virtuous?
Are we clean, courteous, compassionate?
When we speak, are we speaking in some immediate and direct way to all of ourselves?
Can we experience ourselves as sacred?
I think that’s the answer, I’m the one speaking and being spoken to and both are sacred. Or as poet Derek Walcott speaks of self-love in Love After Love:
The time will come
When, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Indeed, speaking to others is a smile at one’s own self as represented by another, an invitation to rest in one’s own acceptance, safe away from a lifetime of seeking to be loved by others. It’s a way to give your love to the stranger you became while you chased belonging. I hear Walcott wondering when you last wrote love letters to yourself, snapped a selfie and put it on the mantle, were completely comfortable with yourself?
In between all the worries of the world, all its toil, trouble and entertainment do you take time to just sit with yourself, in silence, so your mud settles and everything clears?
Greeting yourself is a chance to end the self-alienation and splintered identities that have us running self-critical tapes and arguing with ourselves in our heads. The self-alienation is understandable. Billions are spent on marketing to convince us we’re not good enough or safe enough just as we are and will be enough or safe only when we buy their product or service.
Our institutions use guilt and fear to control us “for our own good” and then afraid to express our wild passion, we repress ourselves into living lives of quiet desperation and meek consumption. We’re craving everything, addicted to something, but never satisfied by anything.
To live the lessons those women taught me requires I accept my unique life and myself fully before I walk out in the world. Insists I fill myself with that joyous, “sweet moon language” until I become the acceptance every other eye is dying to hear. Our self-acceptance ends the narcissistic need for attention from others and makes room for us to actually love and accept our world. What a feast!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you feel alone even in a crowd?… Because you’re the boss? Don’t feel like you belong? Is having photos on your desk of people and places about which you really care as close to belonging as you get at your job?
Let’s talk about how to savor, expand and feast on your life… Get in touch…