How is your relationship with yourself? Instead of answering intellectually, identify the felt experience. Is there a quality of warmth and tenderness, or is it more cool and objective? Is it immediately comfortable, or is there a disconnect- like you're not sure, or maybe a hesitation- like you don't want to go there?
Why does it matter? It's like the air we breathe: so ever-present that we may not notice it. But how we speak to ourselves, how we treat ourselves, colors our experience most of the time. And since we are each our own primary relationship- and we are creatures of habit- these patterns of behavior are projected onto the people around us. It's definitely worth putting some effort into this relationship if it doesn't feel kind.
Self-love is apparently more elusive for us than other cultures. There isn't a concept of self-hatred, or even a word for guilt, in Tibet. The implication is that unworthiness is not built into being human, rather it's culturally specific. The good news is that anything learned can be changed.
How does it feel to hold on to guilt for our actions? It's heavy and paralyzing. Under it's sway we're too busy obsessing about ourselves in a negative way to be more generous or kind to others. If we instead practice cultivating gentle remorse, we feel lighter and happier: in this uncontracted state we tap into our innate capacity to care and to grow. The experience is both empowering and realistic.
How does it feel when we think we are not enough? Most of us can't meet the ridiculous societal standard of eternal youth, perfect health, and ever-increasing material accumulation. We may get stuck in shame, and lose the energy and the confidence to flourish. If we instead softly accept our so-called imperfections, we realize and feel that we are in this business of being human together. We stop competing with each other to be attractive or successful, and find compassion and connection.
When environmental activist Gary Snyder was asked about what we should do about the current state of destruction of our planet, he replied, "Don't feel guilty. If you're going to save it, save it because you love it." He said, "You don't do it because it has to be done. You do it because it's beautiful."
Seeing the good in ourselves is a turning point for thriving. If we downplay our positive qualities in a misguided attempt to avoid conceit or narcissism, we may fail to cultivate our strengths and use them in the world. I'm not suggesting self-centeredness; this has been proven to make us less happy. I am suggesting self-respect, which will then naturally be reflected outward to value the experience of others.
The following meditation is adapted from Gil Fronsdal:
Take as much time as you like to settle into your body and relax your breathing.
Bring to mind a person you know toward whom it's easy for you to feel love and goodwill. This feeling is satisfying, and it brings you well-being just to care for them.
Thinking about them, what is your attitude toward them that helps you to feel the goodwill? Friendliness has an element of generosity, it looks upon the person as both worthy and valuable.
See if you can turn that attitude around and have it for yourself. Look upon yourself with goodwill, generosity, and love. Offer yourself respect. See yourself as worthy of appreciation, in such a way that the attitude itself is both meaningful and satisfying.
Repeat to yourself silently, "May I be truly happy." "May I be truly happy." Say the phrase as many times as you like. Feel free to alter the phrase to make it more meaningful to you.
Rest in the felt sense in the body.
Try to be open-minded and open-hearted to what comes up in the practice. Imagine how you would move through the world if you offered yourself support and understanding. A sense of well-being would underlie your emotional state through the ups and downs of life.
Envision being a source of love, starting with yourself and overflowing into the world. Realize that if you offer yourself love, you don't need to receive it from another to experience it. You will, of course, receive it from others as a natural result. Love will permeate and saturate your experience; because you are the source, it will be everywhere.