“. . . the capacity to love myself . . .” These five little words are powerful. For many, the journey to loving themselves does not come easily. It can take many years and many painful experiences to realize how important self-love and self-acceptance are. For others, our entire earthly journey is discovering how to love ourselves. But a life worth living is a life worth (self) loving.
As you will hear in the following experiences, everyone’s journey to self-love and acceptance is unique. There are no age or time limits, nor are there right or wrong experiences or choices. Our path to love IS our journey, and our journey is our greatest teacher. Our challenge is to stay on the path, and if we stray, come back to the path so that we fully awaken our capacity to love ourselves and follow our inner truth.
The Voice of Self-Acceptance by David
I remember the moment distinctly – that moment I saw his distress. I was sitting in a restaurant a number of months after 9/11 and joking with some friends about the current political situation in our country. My joke was a funny but demeaning one that expressed my opinion about invading Iraq. An opinion I thought everyone else held as well. Others at my table laughed, but as I looked at the man at the table across from me, I stopped. Our eyes met and for a moment my world stopped. Distress and confusion radiated from his eyes. And suddenly I realized that my words had caused this distress. Perhaps for the first time, I realized that my words affected others deeply.
It was a wake-up call for my soul, a realization that I was not as loving and compassionate as I thought I was. I decided then and there that I never wanted to cause another person such distress.
But let me go back a number of years, when my attitude towards others and the world was quite different. I had been a political armchair quarterback for a long time: If only everyone would do as I say, the world would be just fine.
I was against war, against the degradation of our environment, against calling other nations and leaders evil. In 2000, I was angry about the Supreme Court deciding the 2000 election. In 2001, our country’s response to the 9/11 attacks cause me great alarm. I despised the amount of hate and revenge in the world and was frustrated because I felt that it just didn’t have to be that way. Our country was constantly choosing violence over peace. We didn’t seem to have the will to choose differently.
Then, in November of 2001, a few months after 9/11, I facilitated a men’s retreat that had been planned since June. The theme of the retreat was sacrifice. Given what had just happened on 9/11, the discussion of sacrifice took on new depths and meaning. I felt honored to be able to facilitate the workshop because it gave all of us insights and affirmations about living in love and compassion.
We talked about the reasons we make sacrifices in our lives and ways in which the sacrifices we make are sometimes related to the scars of pain and hatred in our lives. We talked about pain and anger in ways that I had never heard men sharing before: pain as a sacred teacher.
So, two years later, when I saw the distress in the eyes of the man across from me, I began to question how well I was actually applying what I was preaching. Obviously, my words and actions affected this man. The way I perceived things and spoke mattered. If this was true, I wondered how I might transform how I communicated so as not to hurt others.
From that day forward I actively sought to hear the voice of spirit in what others said. I sought to hear the sacred meaning behind their words. I began to listen to others, their pain, their sorry, their joy, their concerns. My challenge to myself was to practice what I preached. I had spent so many years, “talking the walk,” I now had to “walk the talk.” For me, it was a lesson in humility and a realization that I had not been practicing what I preached.
But perhaps my real journey was to realized the ways in which my personal pain and grief affected my thoughts and actions. I was challenged by others to look inward to my own depression and despair so that I might be able to show compassion and love to others. I learned that I must face and accept my own pain rather than repress, ignore or detach from it. This process was not easy. It took time and patience, with myself and with others.
As I connected to my own grief and sadness, I realized why I had spent so much of my life ridiculing and judging others. It was so much easier than facing my own pain. I saw that in so many ways I had been at war with myself, and unless I stopped judging myself and repressing my own grief, I would never be able to stop judging others. And finally, I realized that my capacity to love others was directly related to my capacity to feel love and compassion for myself and follow an inner guidance.
What an amazing transformation this capacity to love myself has been. It has allowed me to love and accept others without judgment because I now see the humanness and the divine in everyone. It’s been almost 20 years since I meet the eyes of the man at the table across from me, and I am still grateful for his presence in my life. I sometimes think of him as one of my angel guides who comes from time to time at just the right moment to wake me up and suggest a different way. This time, it was the way of love, humility and acceptance of myself and others, just as we are, and trust the Wisdom Within.
The Voice of Self-Compassion by Anita
My soul’s search for emotional and spiritual connection took me to many jobs and cities, and through many decades. I grew up angry and critical of both the world and the people in it. I struggled to find a way to move beyond how I felt internally and how I responded to others. And that anger and criticism stayed with me. Until I found a way into a deeper reality . . .
A friend suggested I attend a workshop on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). At the time, I thought yes, the world needs less violence, so exploring ways to communicate the importance of non-violence is a great first step. And so I signed-up. What I came away with after this first workshop was an awareness of a different kind of violence with which I had been living. For the first time, I realized that so much of my anger and criticism that I had directed outward was actually the anger and criticism I felt for myself. It all started at that first workshop when our facilitator planted in me the seeds of a new way of thinking and being:
“We add to the pollution of violence on this planet with our thoughts, words and actions.” The words hit a core within me. It’s not that these words were so new or different. But something awakened within me: If I was going to be able to facilitate non-violent ways of thinking in others, I had to start with myself. I had to start looking at my own pollution, my own critical thinking towards myself. I realized that my inner environment had become a kind of violence towards myself – always critical, always condemning, and always demeaning.
Now, my soul was ready for a new way of thinking and feeling. And so my new journey began. I took numerous workshops with local and international teachers on Non-Violent Communication. After one retreat, I was asked to write a mission statement for my life. I came up with Compassion is my Passion. Yes, compassion for others, but compassion for my own weaknesses, vulnerabilities and conflicts.
Over these past 10 years, I have stayed with this heart-felt philosophy, became an Accredited NVC Facilitator, and now teach classes on diversity and compassion. I call it the Divine Design of my life. My long road to self-compassion has brought me to the place where I am grateful that as an Elder Woman, my Soul has learned that my passion for compassion must start with myself so that I can trust and listen to the wisdom of my soul.