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I published my first book, a memoir entitled Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness, on Valentine’s Day 2020.
From the very first musings in a word document to the publishing date took six years. During that time, I kept asking myself the question I knew I’d be asked once the book was published: What’s the book about?
I simply couldn’t settle on a single theme. It was about healing and evolving. Authenticity and vulnerability. Spiritual growth. My relationship with God/Goddess. My relationship with my parents, my husband, my children, myself. It was about depression and anxiety and emotional expression. I could’ve made an argument for any of them.
Finally, when I thought I’d never get there, it hit me: the overarching theme of my story is self-love.
It sounds simple, maybe, but if I were to pick a turning point from the book, it was when I, on a homework assignment from my yoga teacher, looked in the mirror and said, “I love you.”
That’s the moment when my healing began in earnest. When my authenticity began to shine through. When my relationships with myself and others improved by leaps and bounds—and when the ones that no longer fit me fell away.
Self-love was the pinnacle of all the other changes in my life. And I don’t mean self-love in theory or in fridge magnets. I mean it in action and in practice. A commitment to oneself as sacred as any made to another. And that is why I chose Valentine’s Day as my publication date.
Self-love is not simply about liking oneself. It is not a passive exercise. It’s far more comprehensive and active than that.
I see the practice of self-love as having three distinct facets:
Self-Acceptance: “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” ~ Carl Jung
Human beings all have shadow and light. It is much easier to love our light—the parts of ourselves that are accepted and enjoyed by others. But our shadows must be included and accepted as well if we are to come to wholeness. Shadows are not “bad” parts of ourselves; they’re simply what’s unknown or repressed. They’re in the dark, and because of this, they can sabotage us when we least expect it.
Self-acceptance is the process of drawing all parts of ourselves into the light for examination, understanding, discernment, and ultimately, acceptance. None of us will ever be free of our shadow sides—our jealousy, rage, short temper, or whatever they might be. That’s not an honest or even desirable goal. The movement is toward meeting and greeting our shadows. That’s when they lose power over us. That’s when they merge with our light and keep us humble, curious, and of course, human.
Human emotions, being messy, unpredictable, and often social pariahs are probably the hardest parts of ourselves to accept. But our emotions are simply messengers. “Shooting the messenger” does nothing but keep us from our own truth. Fear comes to us to warn us of potential danger, real or imagined. Guilt is a manifestation of our inner moral compass. Anger comes to warn us of an injustice or unfairness. They all have their purpose, and they all have value. Learning to talk with our emotions and accept their messages is a critical component of the self-love practice.
Self-Compassion: “Being human is about being as life created you.” ~ Kristin Neff
Compassion is made of two words: “Com,” which means “with;” and “passion.” So compassion, whether given to others or ourselves, means to feel with passion. Compassion is a practice, and it is more than empathy. It is definitely not pity. Compassion realizes that we are all human. Compassion recognizes light and understands shadow. It doesn’t deny.
Compassion says, “I feel the pain you’re going through, and I understand that if this [disease, loss, trauma] can happen to you, it can happen to me, it can happen to any of us. You are not alone.” The more we accept the truth about others, the more truth we make space for in ourselves, and vice versa. Instead of “I never,” we start realizing that “I could, I do, I have that within me.” Compassion begets self-compassion. As we do for others, we do for ourselves.
Author and teacher Byron Katie says, “I am a lover of what is…because it hurts when I argue with reality.” Compassion is a practice of acceptance. This requires strength and willingness to see and hold as much truth as we can.
Self-Trust: “For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
This third facet has probably been the hardest for me. I used to think all the answers were found in books. I believed in authority and trusted authority figures. Luckily for me and my own journey to self-trust, these people and institutions have failed me enough to stop placing my trust where it doesn’t belong.
We have an issue in our culture of equating value with popularity. We think that credibility comes with the name, the stage, the title. We get starstruck by gurus and coaches. I did all of that. I’ve sat at the feet of many great teachers. I even gleaned some wisdom. But when the answers, approval, permission, and validation we seek do not exist in any one person or out in the world, we begin looking inward, seeking a higher personal authority.
Those humans out there playing the role of healer, guide, guru, coach—they are only human, just like us. And not all of their wisdom is right for us. We have to walk our own path. Wisdom repeated is not the same as wisdom embodied.
This facet of self-love means to begin trusting in your own personal authority. Know where you begin and someone else ends. Remember that you are enough. Value the information from your heart and intuition as much as anything you can read in any book. And claim your sovereignty–your ownership over your whole self—your body, your emotions, your truth, your life.
Working simultaneously on these three facets of self-love slowly returns us to the wholeness that is our birthright. I say “return,” because wholeness is something we all had at one point in time. None of us arrived on earth broken. We all know, innately, what it is to be whole. Some part of us remembers this, even if it was way back in childhood—even if it is barely a memory.
The practice of self-love builds a landing space for us as we claim more and more of our wholeness. We can hold all parts of ourselves—even our shadows.
We spend the early part of our lives saying, “I’m not this, I’m not that.” This is an important part of learning who we are and finding our way. But the next stage of the journey is about saying, “I am that. And yes that, too.”
Returning to wholeness is not about reaching for something outside of ourselves. It’s not a mantra, or a set of tools, or the right experience.
Returning to wholeness is settling ourselves into our fundamental nature—which we have claimed through the practice of self-love.
You can now read excerpts of Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness on Elephant Journal:
To get your own copy, visit the book’s website.