In a couple of our recent meditation programs, a few people have brought up the question of ‘loving yourself’. The basis of this increasingly common idea/fad is that if you love yourself and feel good about yourself, then you radiate this love and you become a positive force of change for the better, and everybody wins. You love yourself, and you feel so good about that, that your love spreads everywhere – something like that. Oftentimes this idea is put forward as a part of Yoga practice, and superficially it may seem to be an enlightened outlook to have, but the reality is that it is a perversion of true Yoga teaching.
As we always explain in our meditation programs, Yoga teaching is not an artificial imposition, and if we are sensitive enough we can sometimes naturally tune into its truths even without the help of any formal guidance. Seeing the shallowness and the uselessness of the ‘love yourself’ fad is one such case, although with the spread of love ‘yourselfism’ over the last few years, it’s probably more correct to say that it ‘was’ such a case. I remember when I was at the age when young boys and young girls would talk/gossip about each other, it was quite common to hear a girl say to her friends, something like ‘oh that guy is such a pain – he’s so in love with himself’– and from the guys point of view, more of the same. Without being taught anything, we instinctively knew that ‘loving yourself’ was not some admirable state to tout and attain, but rather it was considered to be a major defect in a person’s character.
Why? Because most people were honest enough to admit (at least to themselves if not to others) the reality of their many faults and shortcomings. In other words, we knew that there was much to not love about our characters, and that it was a good thing to be aware of that. Genuine Yoga teaching formally confirms this. The honest recognition of our faults and shortcomings is said to be the necessary first step if a person is to make a meaningful change for the better, and again, this is a natural no brainer that anyone who is not floating away in the clouds (of being in love with themselves) can easily appreciate.
If we are lost, pretending that we are found will not help; if we are an alcoholic, pretending that we are not an alcoholic will not help; if we are still in school but we pretend that we have graduated, that will not help us. Similarly, we do ourselves no favours by papering over our true state with the superficialities and the vanities of ‘love yourself’ teachings. Why should you love yourself if you have and exhibit bad qualities? The true way of yoga is not to love ourselves, but rather, to be deeply introspective and fully aware of even our minutest shortcomings and to then use that awareness as a motivating factor to actively try to improve our character and qualities.
Of course there is the danger that a person will not use this awareness of their shortcomings as an impetus to improving their situation, but rather they will tend to wallow and be lost in a mire of hopelessness and self pity. This is the primary reason for the existence of the love yourself movement – as a method of counteracting self pity. But as valid and noble as this course may appear to be, the reality is that self love offers no real solution. If a person is a C grade student, they have a choice. They can wallow in that or they can use it as an impetus to progress. So yes, there is always the danger of wallowing in self pity, but pretending to be an A student is not the solution. Realising that ‘Yes, I’m a C grader, I need to work harder’, that is the real solution.
Love ‘yourselfism’ appears in various forms. Another one is the commonly put about saying ‘don’t see that the glass is half empty – see that it is half full’. Again, this may superficially appear to be the enlightened way to see the glass, but if we reflect on this for even just a moment or two, it is not difficult to see the inferiority of that vision. Is it not the person who sees the glass as half empty, that will be more inclined to seriously attend to the business of filling it? Will not the person who is thinking ‘ah yes – I’m full now’ be the one who is more inclined to sit back and do nothing? In this way, if we want to fill the glass, it’s actually better to see it as half empty. It is said that a truly enlightened person is someone, who even though they may be 99.99% full of good qualities, they will not focus and rest on that, rather, they will focus and work on their .01% of faults. In this way they gradually become more and more perfected.
This is the fullness of a truly enlightened person. It is that they are full of real down to earth humility – not that they are floating in the clouds, puffed up with vanity and self love. In such a humble state of mind a person can more easily direct their natural loving propensity towards the Divine cause of everything in existence, and from there it automatically expands to all living beings. As it is sometimes said – if we try to pour water onto the leaf of a tree (try to love ourselves), that will benefit neither that leaf nor other leaves. If we pour water onto the root however, then all the leaves of the tree automatically benefit. That is the true way of Yoga – the true way of spiritual development.