posted by Lissa Carter, LPCA
Self-love (especially these days, with narcissism parading itself all over the news) can get a bit of a bad rap. If we love ourselves, where is our motivation to change? If we pay attention to ourselves, where is our compassion for others?
The decision to love yourself can be greeted with disdain, with accusations of greed or pride or self-centeredness. And that’s just in your own mind! The accusations from others in your life can be even louder and stronger.
So—is it worth it? Or will self love merely morph you into a navel-gazing hedonist?
I invite you to take data for yourself. Below, I have written out a practice for self-massage that includes a meditation on self-love. Here’s the challenge: for the remainder of this week, at the end of each day, write down honestly the answers to each of these questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being abysmal and 10 being delightful, rate the quality/depth of your interactions today with your family and friends.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being abysmal and 10 being delightful, rate the honesty and authenticity of your interactions today with your family and friends.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being cruel and 10 being exceedingly kind, rate your interactions with strangers today.
- 1 being all day and 10 being practically no time at all, rate the amount of time you spent today feeling grumpy, moody, or self-deprecating.
- 1 being all day and 10 being practically no time at all, rate the amount of time you spent today feeling lighthearted and positive.
Then, next week, make time every day to engage in the practice below. It’s self-absorbed! It’s completely self-centered! It will appear to squander a full ten minutes of your precious time! Do it anyway. Engage in this practice every day, then answer the five questions above each night. Then compare your answers from week 1 and week 2.
If you are anything like me (and you may not be; we are all wired so differently!) your numbers on week two will have shot upward (except for question 4, which will have dropped).
Why is this?
Because you, my dear, are a person. You are the person with whom you have the most intimate relationship of all. And the way you treat yourself cannot help but have an influence on the way you treat others around you.
There is also a sneaky way in which, when we are not filling our own cup, we begin to expect others to fill it for us. We grow needy and angry and frustrated with other people. Filling our own well with self-love means we lessen our expectations on the people around us. And that is a very loving thing indeed.
- Begin by sitting quietly in a place that you have made sacred through lighting candles, burning sweetgrass or palo santo, or spritzing an herbal mist. Take a few deep breaths to calm and center yourself in your body.
- Take a massage bar or place some warm oil into your hands and cup them, warming it between your palms. Close your eyes and think of something or someone that brings you deep joy. As you inhale, pull the sensation of joy up your spine. As you exhale, pour it down your arms and through the palms of your hands into the massage bar. Continue breathing in and out, visualizing joy like light pouring into the bar, until you can feel a radiance between the palms of your hands. Allow this radiance to fill your mind and heart, thinking only thoughts of love, joy, and acceptance throughout and toward your body, for the duration of the massage.
- Deep in the center of your heart, ask yourself: what are the words I am always longing to hear? What do I most wish someone would say to me? Whatever it is that you most long to hear, begin to whisper it to yourself internally. It doesn’t matter if you believe it at first; simply repeat it internally as a mantra.
- Continue to warm the bar with your left hand. Stroke the fingertips of your right hand across the warmed bar to gather some balm. With these fingers, using small, concentric circles, start at the nape of your neck and very slowly press your fingertips side to side along the back of your neck, working from side to side and down toward your shoulders. Work very slowly, using your inhale to massage and your exhale to press deeply. With each touch, visualize the radiance of the bar soaking deep into your skin, energizing and nourishing your cells.
- When you have reached your shoulders, return the bar to your right hand, gather some balm on your left fingertips, and use side-to-side motions down the right arm, continuing to massage on the inhale and press deeply on the exhale, all the way down to the wrist. Continue to send a sense of radiance and joy into the body through your fingertips. Clasp your wrist gently for a full breath.
- Repeat this process using the right fingertips on the left arm.
- If you have time, repeat on both sides working upward from the sole of the foot to the groin, cupping the hands over the pubic area for a full breath to finish.
- Take the bar itself and press it gently into the skin of the stomach using the fingertips of both hands. Massage in gentle concentric circles, moving in a circular motion clockwise around the belly button. Finish the belly massage by placing both hands palms-down on the belly, pressing gently inward, visualizing radiance and joy flooding from the palms of your hands into your belly.
- Finally, gather some balm on the tips of the left fingers and massage the right hand, pressing deeply into the palm and gently pulling each finger outward. Concentrate on the feeling of giving the touch, the sensations that your fingertips encounter as they stroke and press on the hand.
- Gather balm on your right finger tips and massage the left hand. This time, concentrate on the sensation of receiving the touch, both in the skin of the hand and in the heart.
- Complete the self massage by pressing the palms of both hands together at your heart. Breathe deeply, allowing the inhale to swell your heart into your hands, and as you exhale, visualize the light and warmth from the massage swirling throughout your body. Whisper the words to yourself one final time, or speak them aloud. Close the space by blowing out the candles or smudging a final time with sweetgrass, palo santo, or herbal mist.