There’s a big misconception about the meaning of self-love. In fact, the words self and love mean different things to different people. Some have concluded that there’s no way to love oneself, yet others view that self-love is all there is.
We usually believe the ‘self’ to be is a lie crafted by the ego or the ‘I-sense’ that is always focused on the objects of pleasure. In other words, our greatest misery lies in believing the ego to be the real self.
The ego thrives in the duality of polar opposites of pleasure and pain. Whatever we perceive as pleasure or happiness is attached to pain or unhappiness, an inseparable part of it. It is conditional.
When the conditions are favorable to the ego, you feel happy, and when that is not the case, you feel unhappy. For example, you leave for work in the morning, it’s a bright sunny day, and your mood is elevated, but on the way, you get stuck in a heavy traffic jam for hours, and you reach late, so there’s an instant change in your mood.
By the time you reach the office, you’re restless, anxious, and irritated. Now you can’t picture the bright sunshine and re-elevate your mood because your ego has completely taken over. You find your friend or a coworker to talk to and unburden yourself.
You feel relieved. But shortly, your boss calls and reprimands you for tardiness, and you’re back to square one. So what next? Drink coffee? Eat a savory? But even that is a temporary fix. We keep toggling between happiness and unhappiness incessantly chasing the objects of sense-pleasure.
That’s how the mind works. That’s why you feel anxious. That’s how you remain stuck. Because you’ve created the egoic structures of happiness and unhappiness in your mind. The content (objects) keeps changing, but the structures remain fixed.
The only way to break through these egoic structures is through self-acceptance followed by a correct understanding of love. Self-acceptance means “seeing” the ego for what it is rather than fighting or resisting it.
Don’t even think about fighting the mind; it’s futile. Remember that it’s the ego in and of itself that gives you the idea to fight because it knows that it’s a losing battle for you. The more you try and resist, the stronger it becomes.
Self-acceptance also means that you’re entirely content with yourself without needing to get somewhere. Through the past conditioning, which was never in your control, the mind created the idea of achieving something and being somebody of high worth.
The ego gives you the idea that you need to control your life; otherwise, someone else will control it. And we have all seen what craziness this thinking leads to. You can’t control anything on the outside.
The need to control events and other people is a consequence of fear that manifests in varied ways. By maintaining control, you invariably bind yourself to others, i.e., your ego becomes stronger by creating identifications. An inflated ego means a world of pain.
If you were born in a dysfunctional family, just like I was, where the love and affection shown by your caretakers were conditional, it’s likely that you’ve created strong structures in your mind about success, fame, wealth, and happiness.
This is a never-ending chase. These structures were never yours in the first place. You unconsciously acquired them through training or conditioning imparted by your parents, teachers, relatives, friends, or other people close to you during your childhood.
Now your pursuits, goals, and efforts are entirely oriented in fulfilling these unconscious ego structures. They’ve got nothing to do with real happiness or love. Your failing attempts at chasing happiness and fulfillment have made you anxious and hypersensitive. As a consequence, you accept suffering as an inevitable reality.
Your oversensitivity is because of you strengthening your egoic structures and acting out the same compulsive behaviors repeatedly. In some cases, this even leads to neuroticism. So what to do? Yes! That’s the big question.
The answer is simple, yet most misunderstood. Abide in love. But before that, let me explain what love is. We usually associate love with a feeling or sensation, but all feelings and sensations are impermanent. They are based on conditions, as I mentioned earlier.
Love that I’m talking about is not a feeling. It is your true essence. It is the unchanging awareness that witnesses all phenomena without involvement. Therefore, abiding in the love or beingness of who you are, is the gateway to liberation.
It is not that you’ll be free from the limitations of the mind-body complex, but the idea of personal ‘self’ will disappear along with the accompanying afflictions it holds. It is the happiness of a different kind. A realization that there is “one” that stands alone without another. That means there is no accompanied unhappiness.
It is extremely difficult to express this feeling in language, but the closest is “peace and bliss.” When duality disappears, there is no sense of personal “doership” and hence, no guilt and no responsibility. It is an experience of impersonal (nondual) bliss where the ego dissolves.
Unfortunately, when the duality disappears is not our control, but when it happens, all concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral, break down.
Of course, you still operate in the world and do what you have to do, but there’s an understanding that it’s not you who’s doing, but the non-dual source or the consciousness (absolute love) expressing itself through an impersonal experience.
With this understanding, all thoughts of low self-esteem and self-hatred disappear because there remains “no-self” to do anything. It is what true self-love means. It is unconditional and is present in this very moment as unchanging awareness—the essence of your knowing or being.
Self-acceptance is the first step towards this path. Simply observing the workings of the ego, or as Maharishi Ramana put it, ‘Self-Inquiry,’ is the stepping stone towards this path of awakening and liberation.
But still! How to abide in this infinite and absolute love?
There are many ways to do this. You can do it through devotion, service, meditation, self-inquiry as suggested above, or through pursuing passions like art and craft: singing, dancing, painting, sewing, playing a sport, etc.
The only difference is that when you do any of the above activities, surrender yourself completely and allow the absolute to unleash creative energy through you.
You will then truly achieve the flow state, where no notion of the ‘self’ exists, and the work is being done through you by the divine will of absolute love.
The most challenging part is surrendering because the ego doesn’t like that. It will create hindrances and obstructions in the path. The ego operates by creating an illusion that “You” or the perceived false self has control.
When you’re in the grip of your conditioned mind, you’ll doubt yourself. I sometimes experience this as writer’s block. Staring at a blank page, I imagine how my work will be perceived, that I’m not good enough, nobody will like my work, and so forth.
But something miraculous happens when I surrender to the absolute and allow the work to happen. Then the load is off me. I feel light. I become a mere spectator witnessing the beautify and grace of the absolute expressing itself as the happening.
And since it’s not my work, I don’t have to worry about how others perceive the work. If it’s a lousy piece of writing, I don’t have to feel guilty. If it’s good, I don’t have to take the credit. My perceived mind-body-ego is only the medium through which the universal energy has expressed itself to itself.
Non-duality is the realization that you, the limited consciousness considering yourself to be separate from others, operating in the world of names and forms, is nothing apart from one absolute reality called love.
All names and forms: subtle or gross, are parts of the same absolute reality. We call it the source, consciousness, absolute, infinite, love, or god. So, self-love is nothing other than abiding in absolute love by unconditional surrender.