(As published in “Featured Today Highlight” and “Popular Lately” on Elephant Journal)
Too many people these days tell us the importance of “self-love.”
But, what does this really mean, anyway? And how does one really do this, in a practical, day-to-day way?
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of health promotion and disease prevention, has many wonderful insights for the meaning and practice of self-love.
My Ayurveda teacher, Acharya Shunya, once taught about how Ayurveda explores three primary relationships in life. One is our relationships with objects, including our car, clothes, computers, phones, televisions and teddy bears. Another primary relationship we all have are those with other people. This is where family members, friends, partners, colleagues and acquaintances come into the picture. Then, there is a third relationship Ayurveda teaches us about the importance of cultivating. This is the relationship we have with our own higher self.
Developing a strong foundation of a relationship with our higher self is critical not only to our spiritual journey, but to the prevention of many diseases, as Ayurveda recognizes the role that adverse relationships play in the creation of health problems of all kinds.
Many of us, sadly, never even become aware of the possibilities associated with nurturing this third relationship. Or, we may hear about how important it is to “love ourselves,” but no one really tells us how to do this.
Like so many of us, from a young age, I, too, was conditioned to believe that everything I sought, everything worth having, exists outside of myself. So I spent exorbitant amounts of time, energy and resources trying to manifest love, safety, health, and happiness from some socially acceptable external source, whether that was my work, achievements, relationships or even through giving and service.
Developing a “designer relationship,” as Acharya Shunya would say, with our own Self is really exciting, because, in doing so, we not only prevent all sorts of imbalances; we actually get to learn to fill ourselves up with what really matters.
I have found that, in mindfully cultivating a relationship with my own higher self, I am no longer so hungry for the approval, love and attention of others. My ongoing studies of Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta with Acharya Shunya have revealed to me that my own higher Self is the eternal source of all the love, safety, happiness, health and hope I seek in my life.
Here is my personal list of the top five practices that help me connect to those higher aspects of my own being:
1. Alone time.
Having always surrounded myself with people for much of my earlier life, I have grown to appreciate the value and importance of solitude more and more with time. As with any other relationship, we have to really spend quality time with our own selves in order to find out who it is we are, and to be able to access our own deepest reservoirs of strength, power and potential. I truly feel that all the healing and transformation I have been able to undergo with Ayurveda (overcoming years of eating disorders, digestive disturbances, insomnia, anxiety and more) has been thanks to carving out the time and space for being by myself on a regular basis.
I have found that the voice of my soul speaks most clearly to me in the space of silence. It is difficult to go inwards to access our deeper essence when we are constantly distracted by the sounds of other people, the radio, television, phone and more. In Ayurveda, silence is intimately connected with the element of ether, or space, called akasha in Sanskrit. Like space, I find silence to be as expansive as the sky.
Sometimes, when we are new to the practice of mindful silence, it can be scary. As Acharya Shunya once taught:
“It is natural for dreams to intensify, emotions to want expression, and feelings to build up steam, and then gradually dissipate into the silence you mindfully offer to such internal events. Silence will allow you to heal your inner landscape.”
All of my inner demons arise in the space of silence. So, too, do my deepest treasures, which I, and we all, have to dig deeper and deeper still to truly discover. Only in knowing what monsters lurk in the darker recesses of our psyches can we begin the process of loving them to death.
3. Waking up early.
It is not always easy to find time to be silent in the midst of family obligations, job requirements, traveling, and the myriad other demands of modern life. I have always found that the early morning is the best time to discover the power of silence, in its fullest bloom. That is because the atmosphere between the hours of 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. blossom with what Ayurveda psychology calls the quality of sattva, which is the quality of clarity, harmony, peace, wisdom, and inner knowing. It is for this reason that Yogis have been waking up during this time, called Brahmamuhurta, since time immemorial. Brahmamuhurta is considered the most auspicious time, in fact, for my next favorite practice.
Meditation allows us to see that eternal, ever-present aspect of our self—that which is unaffected by age, change, and all the many diverse cycles of life, including death. Through meditation, we can see what attachments we have (to our body and/or mind) that keep us trapped in our own internal prisons of sorrow and distress. As we delve deeper into our practice of meditation, we eventually can see that our so-called inner demons (our fears, worries, anxieties, anger or resentments) are not actually as real as we may feel them to be. I find that meditation is the practice that allows all that is not needed to naturally fall away and leave me to be more and more truly free.
5. Being in Nature.
Nature is one of the greatest healers. In Ayurveda, we strive to live as close to nature as we possibly can, through our daily and seasonal routines, foods, exercise regimens, and other lifestyle practices. The way to achieve a state of health and balance changes throughout the course of the year.
By spending time outdoors, we can start to observe how all of nature is in a state of continual change and renewal. We, too, undergo continual change in our human body suits, and have the opportunity, through living close to nature with Ayurveda’s wisdom, to continually renew ourselves with nature’s healing powers. I personally love to spend time with animals, particularly dogs. I find I learn and receive so much from them, as they are always in a state of Yoga, which is definitely not just about asanas (postures), but is rather a profound state of union and connection with all manifest creation.
In my silent time in the early mornings, I also cultivate my lifelong love affair with the sun in the sky, as a representation of the universal soul, present in all beings and situations, even and especially those that challenge ourselves.
The sun never asks for anything. It doesn’t shine for love, approval, or attention; it simply shines because the nature of the sun is to shine light. As the poet Rumi once eloquently revealed:
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘you owe me. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.’”
May we all grow in our self-love so much that we, together, light the entire sky. Much love to you.