“If you truly loved yourself, you can not hurt another.” ~Buddha
When I was around 10 years old, my grandmother, who lived in Korea, became fatally ill, and we all knew it would be her final days. When my mother planned an emergency trip to Korea to rush to my grandmother’s side, I desperately wanted to join her. Even though my mother never took a trip anywhere without my father or her children, for the first time in her life, she would make this far journey alone. I remember feeling so fearful by even the thought of mother leaving us behind — that she may never return to us. Before my mother’s impending departure, I sobbed endlessly for hours, hoping she would take me. I sobbed — like a mother losing her own child — until I had no tears left, and through sheer emotional exhaustion, I cried myself to sleep. As a 10 year old, of course, I didn’t understand why I was so traumatized by my mother leaving, but, as an adult, I realized that I was acting out on my deepest fear of losing the greatest love in my life — that of my mother’s.
Love, which seems so elusive, is the only source that provides any real meaning in our lives. While love from a lover, family or friends is wonderful, unconditional self love is the only love that can solve any problems in our lives. Because all of our life issues stem from lack of self love, which informs everything in our lives, we must nourish it first before any other relationship. Louise Hay, the wise life and spiritual coach whom I consider as my second mother, says, “I continue to explain that no matter what their problem seems to be, there is only one thing I ever work on with anyone, and this is Loving the Self. Love is the miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.”
Unfortunately, most of us search for love in all the wrong places — in other people outside of ourselves. Like a water mirage in the desert, when we search love in others, we eventually realize, deeper into the relationship, that true love is not there, but just a fictitious illusion we imagined in our minds. Love is like a seed we plant in our back yard. When we want a lemon tree, we plant a seed and nurture it with water and sunlight, knowing that with care and attention to that seed, it will eventually turn into a magnificent lemon tree that will sustain us. To find true and unconditional love, we must nurture it in the seed stage — within ourselves — before we can find it in others. When we nurture the seed of love within ourselves, we blossom into that magnificent person who is independent, confident, loving to everyone around us, and a shining beacon for inspiring others.
Love also acts in reciprocity. When someone asks you for money you don’t have, how can you give it? While I hate to compare money to love, it acts the same way in receiving and giving: we can not give what we do not have, so when we do not have love for ourselves, how can we give it to anyone else? So when people treat others badly, it is a sure symptom of their own self hate. My father, who never received love as a child, could never give it to his children because he did not receive it himself, which is why I have had abandonment issues my whole life. Because my siblings and I knew in our hearts that my father was not capable of giving love to us, we always looked for it solely in our mother — the reason for my fear of abandonment when she was leaving for Korea.
Self love should not be mistaken for vanity, which is only an outlook of ourselves based on fear. In self love, we fully appreciate that God has created each of us perfectly and that our bodies and minds are no less than a miracle. In knowing this, we fully accept ourselves for exactly who we are and all that we are, so we do not criticize ourselves in any way. Have you ever caught yourself saying you’re too fat, too ugly, too stupid, etc. We can all admit that we are our own worst enemy. Self love is loving yourself unconditionally, releasing all self criticism and embracing every part of yourself. Louise Hay, who believes that any self criticism is bad, says: “criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” In self love, we are simply comfortable in our own skin, so no criticism from others can truly shake the foundation of our identity. We do not have the need to please others because, in our confidence, we are living in our own truth, the only state where we can be happy.
When we embrace unconditional self love, there is a real practical application because we are organically solving every problem in our lives. The most egregious problem we can solve is the fear of abandonment by others. When we have issues of abandonment, it is a serious sign of lack of self love. As a 10 year old child, I don’t think I could have understood that my abandoment issues were related to self love. However, when abandonment issues are not addressed as a child, we often make it into our story that people will always abandon us, so, as adults, we carry this dysfunctional emotional baggage with us everywhere, making every relationship we enter unhealthy. When we have fear of abandonment, we ask the other person “Do you love me?” because there is always that insecurity that the other person will leave us. Then there is the pouty silences and feelings of jealousy. When we have self love, we do not have fears of abandonment because whether someone stays in our life becomes secondary to our happiness. We are happy when someone comes into our lives but just as happy when they leave because we know that love will always stay with us no matter how the situation changes. When people leave, we send them off with love and blessings, rather than with fear and anxiety.
The other really important emotion we nurture with self love is compassion. When we love ourselves, we feel and practice genuine compassion unconditionally — an infinite state of awareness and enligtenment. In Buddhism it is called becoming a “Bodhichitta,” a Being of love and compassion to help others unconditionally. Pema Chodron, one of my favorite Buddhist nuns, says, “Bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment and blame. But under the hardest of armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This genuine sadness can teach us great compassion.” When we have compassion for ourselves, we naturally have compassion for others, so rather than judging them, we only want to help. We do not want to harm others because our compassion teaches us that we all share the same universal human suffering no matter what lot we have in life. As the Buddha said, “when we change our mind, we change the world,” so when we love ourselves, we naturally love and have compassion for the world.
In my own personal life, I have witnessed people with self love only attract others who are mentally and emotionally healthy. We do not attract clingy people, who are afraid of abandonment, but only people who are happy and confident. When two healthy people come together, the relationship is joined to serve a higher purpose, rather than a self serving neediness that only causes suffering and unhappiness in the end. Also, in having self love, we attract amazing opportunities in life — career, jobs, business — because our inner confidence is felt by others who want to be around us, so we are given opportunities that we could not have imagined possible because it is just a manifestation of our own self love.
Like a scale, self love is relative and we all have different levels of it. So in my own practice to have as much self love for myself as possible, I have found verbal affirmations to be very effective. In mornings and evenings, I stand in front of the mirror chanting “I love myself unconditionally.” I love Louise Hay’s affirmation, “Love is everywhere, and I am loving and lovable.” Like training our body when we go to the gym, we are training our minds with self affirmations. Also, throughout the day, whether I’m at the supermarket or just walking or in yoga class, I repeat such affirmations under my breath. The more you chant, the more we switch our thoughts to self love. Another effective practice is visualizations. Often when I’m in bed or taking a bath, I light a candle and visualize love in my heart. I visualize pink light, which represents love, around my heart and that light emanating out of my body and into the world. When we visualize that love light leaving our bodies, we are attracting loving and healthy people into our lives. I also visualize hugging myself, as well as God and my spiritual guardian angels hugging me, which makes me feel so safe and loved. Any self hate or negative thoughts that arise, I just release without judgement and replace them with positive ones. In your practice, while you may not feel the change over night, if you are consistent with this practice, I assure you that over time you will feel a difference within yourself, as it has a cumulative effect. So practice daily verbal affirmations and visualizations to nurture and grow your seed of self love.
The only real answer to our path to happiness is self love, so please do not search it anywhere outside of yourself. When you have self love, you will naturally attract and have healthy love from others. So let’s switch our energies from being our own worst enemy to becoming our own best friend with unconditional self love. As our God and Universe love each and every one of us unconditionally, there is absolutely no reason why we should not have it for ourselves. Love yourself and the world will love you.
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living