Love; it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. - Mumford & Sons
Today, I want to share a love story with you. It’s a different kind of love story though; it’s about love for the self. It was shared with my group during our teacher training in India almost two years ago in one of our philosophy lectures. It resonates with me to this day.
Sunil, our teacher, told us this story to explain to us the importance of loving yourself first. Later on, I learned from him that it’s from The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Swami Krishnananda. He told us just a small part, but it was enough to bring his message across: a married couple, Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi, woke up from two similar dreams; each dreamt that they loved themselves more than they loved the person they're with. They woke up, shared their dreams and rejoiced that love.
We found the story hard to grasp. First of all, loving yourself more than others? More than the person you’re married to? Second, sharing that fact with your husband/wife? And third, actually rejoicing it with your partner? It wasn’t easy to swallow. The further Sunil explained though, the more it made sense to us.
How can you expect someone to love, value and respect you if you don't do so yourself? Immediately, we all started reflecting. Everyone wants to feel loved, it’s an expectation that we have as part of our human nature. Am I worthy of that love though? That was a question that came to many of us. It wasn’t meant to make us feel unworthy; it was meant to push us to understand that we need to love ourselves before expecting others to do so. Would you love you? Would you befriend you? Would you spend the rest of your life with you? It showed us perspective.
We usually try to change the people we love for the better, point out areas for improvement, yet we know that change comes from within. Do we attempt to change our own selves for the better? Do we strive to pursue the best versions of ourselves? These were questions that came rushing in. We lead busy lives and when we give, we give to others. What about the self? Self-nourishment and love fuel you to love and nourish others.
Do you accept you? That was another question that came to mind. Nobody’s perfect; well, perfection itself has subjective definitions. You can work on yourself, you can work on others, but eventually, we learn to love each other the way we are. We love our partners, our families, and our friends unconditionally. Do we love ourselves unconditionally?
That day, I made a list of things I need to improve about myself. For me first, then for the people I care about. I realized that I had been doing so unintentionally through yoga, but it became a lot more efficient when I added intention to why I wanted to pursue a better version of myself everyday. I realized that to benefit others, whether my students, my friends, family, or loved ones, I had to work on myself first. I had to cleanse my energy that I will share, refine the words that I will speak, improve the actions that I will take, better the thoughts that I will have, and purify the intentions that I will set. I wanted to be satisfied with myself, to harmonize my body, mind & soul, to love all of me before sharing love or expecting to be loved in return.
Indeed, he who has seen, heard, reflected and understood the Self – by him alone the whole world comes to be known. - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5b
So this is for love, the love of your Self, and the love of your soul, your thoughts, and your intentions. It’s an ongoing love, one that you’ll continue to strive and work for. Like any relationship that needs effort and communication to make it work, your relationship with yourself requires the same; prioritize it, and work hard for it. You deserve to be loved by you.