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“I’m a complete mess right now.”
How often do you say this to yourself? How often do you feel like you’re spiraling out of control?
Feeling like a mess is usually followed by extreme self-loathing. We might feel like we don’t deserve love or happiness and that the world is against us.
But really, how often do you embrace this mess within you? How often do you recognize that right now you might be going nowhere and still be okay with it? How often do you fall in love with your chaos?
According to Buddhism, rarely. We rarely love ourselves unconditionally. We rarely excuse our bad days or behaviors. The truth is we expect so damn much from ourselves. “I will truly love myself when I become thinner or prettier.” “I will find myself worthy when I get that job, that place, that dog.” “My life will make sense when I travel to this country.” “I will be genuinely happy when I find my other half.”
In Buddhism, this kind of love is conditional and impure. It’s dependent on an extremely flimsy situation that’s still in the future (and that might never happen).
Chögyam Trungpa, a great Buddhist teacher, says,
“We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful. If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path. But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our ‘self-improvement.’
We’re never ordinary people. We never accept ourselves fully—with flaws and all. What’s stopping us from reaching the Buddhist path of self-love?
The teachings of the Buddha beautifully teach us that all problems have causes. If we want to solve the problem, we shouldn’t dwell in it; doing so is nonsense. Instead, we need to find the root of what’s causing the pain or the misfortune.
When it comes to loving ourselves, Buddhists believe that our greatest enemy is within us. In fact, it is us. It’s our ego, our inner critic. It’s the negative voice that keeps pushing us away from our purpose and potential. It’s the mind that’s rooted in greed and endless desires.
It doesn’t matter how many trips, visits to the spa, bubble baths, or yoga classes we take. This is self-care, and self-care is different than self-love that’s inherently present within each and every one of us. Our self-love will never be pure and authentic unless we remove the cause of its decline: the ego.
What I love about the Dharma is that it teaches us that we can be happy right here, right now, at this very moment. No one can give us this happiness—this pure acceptance that Trungpa talks about. This is why there is so much suffering and dissatisfaction in our relationships with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues. We expect them to fill a void that only we can fill—and refill.
When we give ourselves this unconditional love, this love naturally extends to all sentient beings. When we love our imperfections, we can handle others’ imperfections better. When we no longer desire to become better, it’s when we truly become better.
However, are we genuinely willing to reach our infinite potential and touch the love that’s already residing within us?
Lama Zopa Rinpoche says,
“The whole key to transforming everything into beneficial situations, to blocking all the problems, is which mind you follow, whether you follow delusion or Dharma—your own mind the delusions; your own mind the Dharma; the ego or the bodhicitta; the attachment or the free mind. You can have the satisfied mind, which is pure Dharma. It’s up to you.”
Which mind are you willing to follow? The mind that keeps bringing you down or the mind that’s willing to lift you up? It’s up to you.
It is not enough (and not truly beneficial) to be compassionate and kind to others when you’re not kind to yourself. In Buddhism, everything is interconnected. So you can’t love others but hate yourself. You can’t save a spider or a beetle or an ant but let yourself drown. You can’t follow a plant-based diet and save animals but watch your mind being filled with poisonous thoughts.
This is the Buddhist path of self-love: unconditional acceptance.