[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Much ado has been made over the importance of self-love: the thought that you must love yourself first in order to have waters enough to quench others’ thirst. That’s not a bad thing. Like the old days when we spoke incessantly about self-esteem, the continuous stream of self-love quotes and articles can rescue people caught up in self-loathing. They offer a kindly parenting voice for you to internalize and offset the negative, critical one that you perhaps grew in your inner garden in childhood.
But the emphasis on self-love loses all meaning mere steps into the forest of spirituality. Being concerned with questions of perspective and identification, there on the outskirts of the woods, we must immediately ask: what self is it that we are to love? Are we talking about roles – myself as a parent, as a spouse, as a worker? The body, this vehicle of flesh and blood? The mind, where reflections spontaneously arise in cities of belief? Looking high and low, we soon find that there is no self to love. Or, put another way, that the love we have to give is the self we want to give it to.
The only self is the very ground of consciousness, and it is itself Love. We are confused indeed if we seek to make Love love itself. As Osho said, “If a rosebush starts trying to become a rosebush, it will go mad.”
The emphasis on self-love is a surface psychological endeavor like positive affirmations: useful in clearing out the rotten trees that have fallen in our inner meadows, but then all needless noise and pollution once the meadows are clear. That is a criticism only if you cling to methods and vehicles after they have served their purpose for you. But even after the meadows are clear, we can still have compassion for our vehicles. Though they be but temporary configurations of clouds in our inner skies, they request love in the same manner as puppies and trees. Let us not close our ears to the requests of the body as it tumbles and transforms through the sky, any more than we would slam the door in the faces of orphans.
Mindfulness of the Body
In whole relationships, we listen to the other being without preparing a response. In whole stewardship, we listen to the Earth as she speaks in her languages of seasons and blossoms. In art and creative endeavor, we listen to the forms we create as we create them. So long as we have inner silence, we find that we can listen to nearly everything.
The body is no different. Sitting in meditation and being attuned to your breath, you soon notice such things as tightness in your chest and muscle pain in your back. You could immediately seek to argue the body out of it using positive self-talk or beginning plans to counteract the unpleasantness, but that is not a whole relationship. The very first principle of any compassionate relationship is listening, and sensations are the language of the body. So sit, notice, and listen without preparing a response. Before you can have compassion for the body, you must hear what your body is saying.
Mindfulness of the Mind
Continuing to sit and listen, you will eventually and inevitably find that waves of sadness or anger ripple through your mind. And, while all such waves might seem to all be anchored on mental attachment and memory, it is not so. Surely it is true that clinging or resisting the world with the mental violence of ideals will create such inner storms, but also many negative thoughts arise from an orphaned body.
Without listening to the body, you might mistake the disorientation of dehydration for some sort of low-grade anxiety. You might think the illness in your gut and palpations in your chest arising from an inflammatory response are depression or fear. You might even suppose that the pollution in the air or in the ground means you are in toxic relationships. Without compassion for the body through listening, many people spend long fruitless hours in addiction groups, therapist offices, and religious counseling.
If you go to a doctor with a general complaint, he or she will likely give you a pill or shot to mask the symptoms without investigating the root cause. If you go to addiction groups, therapists, and religious counseling with a general complaint, they will all do the same within their contexts. You can only seek a solution when you have a belief about the nature of the problem.
Doctors, addiction groups, therapists, and religious counseling are all important and beautiful resources, of course – and please do not think I am discouraging you from them. I just ask you check in with your body before you fight the shadows it casts into your mind.
Health and Divine Guidance
The messages of the body are often profound and life-changing. Your body is a collection, an aggregate, of your mind. When you do not deal with stress, anger, and fear as they occur in your mind, they become lodged and eventually seek physical expression. When you are always in a rush and skip the basics such as drinking enough water, getting some exercise, and having breakfast – the body complains. The body communicates extremely well about eating meat, seeking after the void with alcohol or drugs, and working excessively. If you do not remain mindful in your life, the Beloved will eventually use your body to remind you of whatever ghosts you avoid and falsehoods you place on your inner altar.
In the final analysis, the physical body is just one of the primary ways in which we receive divine guidance during our time in this place.