Do you love yourself?
Do you strive to fully know yourself?
Do you know what is the difference between self-neglect and selflessness? Is self-neglect necessary for selflessness?
Is it selfish to spend time knowing myself?
Or could it be that I could be more selfless and better love others as I truly know myself and love myself? At first glance it seems like a contradiction. But could it be that self-neglect and lack of self-awareness ultimately causes disharmony with and even harm towards others?
Let’s allow these questions to settle for a moment and switch gears for a bit.
I’ve practiced yoga for about 8 years now and every time I bring myself to the practice, a definition of my current self emerges. When I am really engaged with the work, I become very aware of my physical boundaries and my limitations. I can see where my imbalances are. My unconscious tendencies are suddenly revealed. I am confronted by my patterns of habit and oftentimes I'm given a decision about whether I want to do anything about them or not. And it doesn’t matter if I am working on my handstand, aligning myself in warrior 2 in a chair or practicing stillness in a restorative posture on the ground - I learn something about myself by paying a lot of attention to myself. Sophocles provided a little nugget of wisdom a long time ago with the simple phrase “know thyself” and yoga provides a lot of tools towards that end. Yoga recognizes that the body doesn’t lie. Underlying the tension in the trapezius, hidden in the stiffness of the hips, concealed in that collapsed cervical spine is a message from none other than yours truly. Yourself. Your body not only tells the truth, but it tries very hard to work for you.
But how aware are you of what exactly you are giving and doing to your body? Do you know what things you do to yourself that are actually harming your body? Consider certain foods or certain activities (and yes, sitting counts as an activity). When you eat a sugary and/or caffeinated drink, do you really understand how that is affecting your mind and your body and perhaps even interactions with others around you? When your shoulders are tense, your hips constricted, or when you suddenly find you have thrown your back out simply by reaching down for something, are you aware of exactly what things contributed to your current state of pain and discomfort? And what about when a major disease hits the body or mind and brings you down? Could it be that your state of disease is a representation and embodiment of some things you have been neglecting about yourself?
Self-neglect is not the same as self-surrender. When we are in loving relationships with others, we do surrender ourselves from time to time for their sake. We see others in their distress and assist them; when we are down others lift us up. But self-neglect is not a wholesome activity for you or even for others around you. At the end of the day, who knows you better than you? Others cannot always be there for you when you feel you need them, nor do they at the end of the day really understand everything going on inside of your mind and body. We are finite and we have boundaries. Each and every one of us are ultimately responsible for caring for our own self. Self-neglect is self-harming and can very much cause a negative effect on others. Be careful if you tend to confuse self-neglect with self-surrender. One path leads towards true love; the other leads to a thorny road of disharmony and discontent.
The more you pay attention to yourself (since you are with yourself 24/7 you have a huge advantage over others in this process), you can start to come to terms with your limitations and habitual tendencies. Everyday you can choose to better know yourself and be responsible with this precious self - you can love yourself. You do not always have to run around and do for others - you can be still with full awareness and attention of yourself and simply be. This is not “selfish.”
So if you could take time to understand how a certain food or drink shifts your energy and makes you grouchy and impatient towards others or if you pay attention how the tension in your neck and shoulders makes it hard to be present with others, then you are beginning to win some ground in the battle for love. Through self-awareness you could learn why a certain activity keeps your hips from functioning how you’d like them to and you could really start to pay attention to how the discomfort affects the level of interest you have with others. You could start to understand why you keep getting the same kinds of sickness year after year or why your immune system always fails you at a certain time of year. Is sickness a time where you choose to listen to yourself or where you ignore yourself and what your body is telling you? Are you prone to escapism, not wanting to honestly look at yourself? Do you respect yourself and your boundaries and limitations? Listen to yourself and love yourself and then you can really love others.
I’m a big fan of the treasure trove of truth found in the Bible. There’s a passage in Corinthians where the Apostle Paul talks about love and this idea of growing up and being fully known. I'm going to share the excerpt so that you can continue to think through your own ideas of love and self-awareness.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
My encouragement to you is this: practice self-love. Grow up and know yourself. Put aside your childish ways, exercise some responsibility over yourself and don't be afraid of yourself. Encounter yourself as you are and be patient with yourself. Honest with yourself. Kind to yourself. With faith, let hope guide you. See how this process of maturity begins to increase love and selflessness in your interactions towards others.