The term “self-love” has floated freely through the health and wellness industry for years.
Self-love is the unifying thread behind yoga and meditation classes, world-renowned retreats, and Instagram captions. It’s on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and every handmade sign in a Home Goods store across America.
But what is self-love, actually?
It’s a heartbreakingly difficult journey into your own shadows.
Don’t trust the superficiality: self-love is not bubble baths and candlelit dinners for one. Self-love is a wildly messy ordeal; it’s a lifelong journey into the deepest shadows of your being. Let’s stop painting it as if it were colored in glitter and gold. Self-love is dark, but the journey toward it is brave because in order to truly love yourself, you must acknowledge all the ways and times in your life in which you haven’t.
When have you kept yourself from receiving love? To whom did you give all of your love at the expense of your own power? How many times have you put yourself last, because you waited for or trusted him, her, them?
Many times, I imagine. Just like me.
Self-love is not a destination. It’s a commitment. You have to commit to loving yourself, because there will be many days when you won’t want to. There will be many people who will sway you from it, even if they don’t outwardly mean to. No matter our spiritual practices or tools, self-love is not a destination that we reach and shout to say, “I’m here! I did it!” More often than not, it’s far from a loud, victorious celebration. Rather, it’s a quiet acknowledgment, and sometimes even a silent resolution that you will continue to try again tomorrow.
Self-love is an ego death.
When we think of the shallow concept of “self-love,” we can see how safe it is to process this word logically and theoretically. If all we do is understand “self-love,” we’ve shielded ourselves from feeling it. In this way, our heart is protected and muted, and our ego is unthreatened. But when we step out of our logical understanding and into the complexity of our emotions, “self-love” truly shines its intense light. This illumination breaks down the rigid walls of our ego and throws us into the spiral of emotionality, which often feels like a total loss of control. Can we then choose to ride the waves of our storm, or will we desperately swim back to shore?
It’s a lonely journey and you can’t take anyone with you.
You will want to, though—take people with you. You will cling passionately to someone, anyone, with whom you can walk this path, just so that you’re not alone. But the truth is, loneliness is part of the learning. Who are you when no one is around? How much harder is it to love yourself when there’s no one else to confirm it, deny it, or reflect it back to you? When all you have is yourself, self-love becomes your mirror.
It’s the greatest act of devotion to who you are and who you are becoming.
Even though it’s the hardest spiritual path you’ll ever take, it’s also the worthiest. Learning how to love yourself is like praying for rain to ease the droughts, and then dancing in a monsoon. Its floodgates open, finally, to let in the light that we’ve so desperately been seeking outside of ourselves. It’s like coming full circle back home to yourself, where it doesn’t matter who you end up with—because you’ve ended up with yourself! And that’s always been the plan.
It’s not meant to be easy; it’s meant to be a journey of self-reflection so deep that you can’t possibly deny any more love for yourself. Now that you’ve seen all of yourself—the dark, the light, and everything in-between—love just lands, like an unbothered butterfly.