Self-love is important. We cannot give away what we don’t have (or don’t know that we have). Just as importantly, we cannot accept love from our brothers and sisters if we do not recognize the love as it is offered.
Self-love is both how we know we have something to give to everyone, and how we recognize it in everyone, thus allowing it to be given to us.
Another way of saying this is to say that loving our self liberates us from fear, and allows us to both offer and receive more of the infinite love that we share with all creation.
To be liberated from fear is to be liberated from attachment to all its forms in the world – impatience, anxiety, worry, addiction, distraction, depression, angst, et cetera.
If you really want to immerse yourself in self-love ACIM-style, read – or reread – Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. It’s easy to dismiss it as too New Age, too simplistic, too commercial. It’s easy to find ways in which it doesn’t align perfectly with A Course in Miracles, especially the course’s metaphysical underpinning.
Those are all fine arguments – I make them myself from time to time – but none of them undo the fact that Williamson understood in a deep and sustainable way how A Course in Miracles is premised on self-love.
Indeed, the extent to which Marianne Williamson is an “ugh” moment for us is the extent to which we are still scared of love. The mirror she offers us is vast.
Our defense against the light is always some form of guilt that we project onto ourselves or others. God can love us infinitely, the universe can support us unendingly, but until we agree with God’s kind appraisal of us and the universe’s merciful behavior, we will do everything in our power to keep the miracles were entitled to at bay. Why the self-hatred? (283)
The “why” part of that question is easy: fear underlies self-hatred. We project because we’re scared. A better question is how do we undo fear? Williamson has an answer for that (and it is the answer contemplated by ACIM): “through the acceptance of God’s will as our own” (283).
God’s will is that we be happy. God’s will is that we forgive ourselves. God’s will is that we find our place in Heaven now (283).
Williamson frees you to care about your own happiness. Do you like chocolate? It’s okay to eat chocolate. Got a less-than-perfect body? You’re beautiful. Put some fresh flowers out to remind yourself. Neighbor being mean? He’s just crying out for love. Give him some fresh flowers and chocolate.
Basically, treat yourself as gently, kindly and generously as you would a child or a beloved pet. Bring all your best self to loving your self. You deserve it.
This feels selfish – or it sounds childish – or perhaps both – but in practice it’s a form of self-acceptance and self-approval that works wonders in our unhealed mind. It clarifies our values, softens our expectations and maximizes our interest in cooperation with our brothers and sisters.
When we love ourselves, we have a lot of love to give away. We also recognize love in others and are happy to accept it from them.
Here, I want to say something about recognizing love in others.
Sometimes, people offer love but the “love” is actually fear wearing a mask of love. Under the guise of love, somebody is projecting fear.
An example of fear masquerading as love might be the friend who offers us unsolicited criticism about something sensitive – what our body looks like or how we parent, say. We didn’t ask, there was no problem and all of a sudden, here’s this person “fixing” everything. “I don’t mean to be critical but . . . “
This is not love – it’s fear. I’m scared that I’m not attractive enough or a good enough father and so I project that fear on to you. I want you to feel those feelings, not me.
But I also want to pretend I’m a good guy so I pretend I’m being helpful. “Hey, I notice you never exercise . . . “
That’s a fairly obvious example. Sometimes the projection of fear is much more subtle. Sometimes it’s habitual as often happens in families. We don’t even notice it happening until the Holy Spirit (or a lesser therapist 🙂 ) points it out.
Getting better at self-love allows us to get better at noticing fear-based behavior and not accepting it by pretending it’s a form of love.
“Not accepting” should be free of conflict. It’s not aggressive – it doesn’t even have to be vocal. It’s more like noticing the projection before it reaches you and gently side-stepping it. Someone says “that color’s not flattering on you” and you just smile and say in your shared mind, “Not today, sister – I love you too much.”
We all have issues. That’s a given in bodies in the world. So that’s not the problem. The problem is whether we are seeing our issues as symptoms of the deeper conflict between fear and love and – through interaction with the symptoms – choosing love instead of fear.
Sometimes we are the one who is projecting fear – our control issues, our insecurity issues, our unwillingness to be vulnerable issues. When people gently and nondramatically refuse these projections, it is a beautiful gift to us, even if it stings, which it probably does. These brothers and sisters are reminding us that our problems are our own and can’t be projected. We must face the fear where it actually is – with us.
So the question is always to notice the relationship we are in – with a job, a person, a political movement, a spiritual tradition – and be as honest as possible about what the relationship is for. Is it helping us discern between fear and love and thus helping us choose love?
Or is it keeping us away from discernment and thus making a choice for fear? Is the relationship healing the underlying error or is it reinforcing the underlying error?
It is not a crisis to experience self-love at the level of a body in the world. It’s okay to treat ourselves to a vacation, a meal, a good night’s sleep, a night out, whatever.
This is okay because these joys are symptoms of the underlying choice for love. When you are happy in the world, you are choosing love over fear. That choice is actually happening at a very deep level and up here – at the shallow and ephemeral (the phenomenological) level of bodies – it looks like a great sandwich or meditation or lingering by a pretty flower.
The stuff that’s problematic – the wars, the friends who died too young, our inability to quit drinking – are simply symptoms of the choice for fear.
A Course in Miracles teaches us not to despair when these show up because the choice for love can always be made again (T-31.VIII.1:5). That’s what the world is for – to provide a framework in which to choose love instead of fear, for us and for our brothers and sisters.