“If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.”~Dalai Lama.
This world can be a scary place, with examples of hate and violence evident in living color whenever we turn on the TV. I know many people who respond by not turning on their TV! But if we are to make our world safe for our children and our children’s children, we owe it to them to be part of the solution. Dr. Martin Luther King said that hate cannot drive out hate, that only love can do that.
Where do we begin? Over the past few weeks I revisited a time in my life that was full of fear and weakness. Many years ago I felt trapped by my situation, and thought I was powerless to move beyond it. In my doubt and cowardice I did things of which I am not proud, and hurt people that I loved. Fortunately they forgave me, and I was able to move on. This week I realized that I had never forgiven myself, that I was still holding on to guilt and shame.
I am surrounded by caring people. My coworkers are more like friends or family, and we laugh and joke between classes. We also explore deep philosophical topics, or share stories in the hopes that our experience will help others. We were discussing the concept of loving yourself first. Some people have that concept down pat. For others it is a struggle, it feels as if it goes against the grain of our upbringing. You must first love yourself. But what about our family? Most of us love our kids more than life itself! (And don’t mention the grandkids!).
My friend reminded me that the admonition to “Love your neighbor as yourself” implies that you must love yourself. I may have heard that before, but it was the first time that I really thought about it. I had always felt that the emphasis was on loving others, and had not recognized that it required first the act of self-love.
Much of our acts of unkindness and cruelty come from a place of self-hatred. This latest act of heinous violence must come from such a place. The act in Charleston drowned out the other ‘news’ of the white woman who so identified as black that she took steps to change her appearance. Of course that in itself is not remarkable. Many of us spend a lot of dollars trying to change our physical appearance, from hair styles to more drastic plastic surgery. Yet what often makes us look beautiful is finding our natural beauty and enhancing it, not striving to change it.
I have to admit that when I first read about the story of the ‘transracial’ woman I had to laugh, for I have my own particular experience to reflect on. When I was growing up white in rural Jamaica, many people were celebrating ‘Black Power’. It was the era of ‘Black is beautiful’. I was a minority in an environment of beautiful young Jamaicans, and could be quite surprised when I looked in the mirror to see a blonde haired blue eyed white girl! But even though I was frustrated at not being able to ‘go natural’ and wear an afro like everyone else; even though I could be embarrassed by my non-pigmented skin burning and blistering if I stayed out in the skin too long; I knew that the outer appearance was just the superficial representation. The history of oppression and shameful treatment by one group over another had left a lasting legacy which had to be forgiven and overcome.
Moving to the USA I became even more aware of the lasting effects of slavery and racism. Those effects can still be seen in the inner cities; in the horrendous homicide rates; in the criminal justice system. I recognized that although I may identify strongly with the Jamaican culture, and move freely within it, the reality of being black in a white dominated society can only be truly experienced by ‘people of color’.
Bill Nye the science guy was asked about the science behind race. And he explained that racially we are one human race. There are no cellular biological differences between us. The physical manifestations notwithstanding, we are one race. However, he pointed out that we are a tribal people, and that is where the trouble and strife exists. We judge each other, distrust each other, and base our beliefs of each other on stereotypes and prejudice.
And so I come back to the premise of self-love. If we do not truly love ourselves we will do all manner of evil and terrible things to try to avoid confronting the recognition of self-hatred. I must love and accept myself as I am, I must truly embrace myself (imperfect as I may be) before I can truly love another. And in order to do that I may have to dwell on uncomfortable truths, for there may be things I have done that I must forgive myself for first, before I can work on the love.
I have been spending some of my Sundays with Oprah, watching her ‘Super Soul Sunday’ series. One of her guests recently made the statement ‘you are already enough’. We often are so consumed with trying to be more, to grow more, to learn more in order to be better people, that we fail to recognize that we are already whole. The piece of the divine that we carry within us, that lights us from within, is perfect, and that should be good enough for us. We can still strive to do better, but we do not need to beat up on ourselves, to constantly compare ourselves to other. We are enough.
This Friday morning, may you be able to practice compassion for others, but first of all for yourself. May you remember to love your neighbors, but first love yourself. Try to forgive your enemies, but first forgive yourself. And give yourself a big hug! It’s a simple reminder to love yourself.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!