What is the difference between loving yourself and being selfish? We are always being told how important it is to love ourselves but sometimes it is hard to know how, so we either try to fake it or mask our insecurity with ego, vanity, or selfishness. Narcissism is a twisted attempt at self-love that comes from a place of insecurity and self-hate. On the flipside, what is the difference between humility and self-deprecation? It is important to let your light shine, not to belittle your achievements, not to put yourself down. But it is also important not to show off. As the Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” Hmm, confusing stuff. I think you can let your light shine without tooting your own horn. Being honest and grateful for the things you have accomplished is different than being proud or bragging. I feel like a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon of “take care of yourself first” but they don’t know what that looks like so they act selfishly in some cases but then let people take advantage of them in others.
In February I chose a theme of love for my yoga classes with each week focusing on a different aspect. First loving yourself, then others, then god. And in talking and thinking about these topics I came to realize that they were all the same thing. Self is Other is God. God is in everyone so loving ourselves means loving god, and if god is in you too then I must love you as well. You can love and care for yourself and also for others. Sometimes serving others is the best way to nurture your own spirit. Being selfish is impossible when you truly love yourself, because, as Buddha said, “If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.
Dr. Wayne Dyer says ego is “edging god out.” If we love our Self regardless of external factors then we are truly practicing self-love without ego. But if our love of self depends on how we look, what we do, who thinks what about us…then we are edging god out of the equation and depending on people’s opinions (including our own.) The goal of self-love is to be able to say, “I love myself, because I AM.” And in turn we can learn to love others regardless of their external factors. This doesn’t mean we don’t hold people accountable for their conscious choices or bad behavior, but we can still love them. Consider a situation from the point of view of a loving parent (as we are all children of god); the parent makes the best decision he/she can for the greater good of all his/her children. When confronting a situation, consider all the people affected by your decision, including yourself. Follow the advice of the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
I decided to go for the smoky look on my third eye today. Sort of. See, today is Ash Wednesday, a religious holiday that Catholics and some other Christians use to mark the beginning of a period of fasting and sacrifice called Lent, which is in turn used to prepare for the celebration of new life at Easter. Although I no longer practice Catholicism, I was raised in the church and certain observances still have a place in my heart. So for the first time in many years I attended Catholic mass this morning and received a smudge of ashes on my forehead. I began to reflect on the tradition of anointing the forehead, which is mentioned in the Jewish scriptures and used in many Christian ceremonies as well. Of course in yoga the space between the eyebrows is known as ajna, the third eye chakra, which opens up our spiritual eye and gives us intuition and perception beyond the physical. Many people have argued for many years about many aspects of religion, so when different belief systems actually agree on something I figure it must be important. My personal journey has taken me from being a Catholic to an atheist to something of a new age hippie yoga teacher. I love the song “Many Roads” by Trevor Hall, in which he says, “There’s many roads and many paths that lead to you. Some say they’re false but I believe all of them are true.” If someone is pure of heart with an earnest desire to find something greater than the self, he or she will succeed. I believe that god, truth, the universe, nature, and whatever other higher power or force that may exist all have one commonality—love. To me, god is love. The only paths I consider false are the ones that lead to hate. And sometimes humans, with our finite wisdom, try to decide what god, in its infinite wisdom, wants for us. And sometimes that leads us down the wrong path. God wants us to love, simple but not easy. I think it is fitting that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day as well. Although some people complain that it has become over commercialized, I still like to acknowledge the day in its pure form, a celebration of love of all types. When they put the ashes on your head, the phrase is uttered, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” To me, the ashes are not a mark of sadness or death. They are a reminder that we have only a limited amount of time and energy on this earth between our first breath and our last. That divine spark that animates our flesh will someday leave the body. Where it goes or what happens after is a mystery, but the matter that we are made of will eventually return to dust. So make the most of the time you have, focus on love. Remember you are love and to love you shall return. Find the divine spark in each sentient being you encounter. Make the most of each breath. Namaste.