Up until recently, I thought self-love meant jerking off.
That’s not a joke, unfortunately. For years, love was something I could only receive from outside of myself. “Unconditional love” sounded like a fool’s errand, something relegated to the dogs. Love seemed like a candle, ready to flicker and extinguish at any moment. I stepped lightly, being sure not to see the shadow of the flame shake against the walls. I hid myself. The thought of losing a three-week affair, a year-long relationship, the undying-but-perhaps-not love of a family, or even the curious wag of the tail was an unraveling pall on my mind.
I look back at this feeling with loving eyes; so foolish, so innocent, so sad. Now, I’ve learned that self-love is a rich experience, one where quiddities become charming, blemishes become beauty marks, and anger, sadness, and frustration are all lifted into the caring arms of their creator
“Without suffering, there’s no happiness,” said Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, peace activist, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s nominee for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. “So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.”
Through reading Nhat Hanh, I was able to think about self-love as something more than masturbation. It become less crass and more humane. Instead of looking inside and feeling an odd sense of a missing soul, soiled mind, or broken heart, I was able to see myself as simply a human, one with good intentions who just wanted to be OK in the end. I could comfort myself in moments of suffering and revel in my own humanity in moments of success.
One successful moment was when I realized that there were rivers of love – self-love, love for friends, love for family, love for strangers, love for enemies – coursing through my mind. They were in me; they were me. Love was readily available. The realization was the first time I have ever cried tears of joy, a pleasant shockwave of chills running across my scalp.
It was more than reading that got me where I am right now, a self-loving self. It was the suffering. It was the pain. It was the bad days. It was the things I’d rather not think or talk about, thank you. It was the good times that don’t happen anymore, snuffed out by circumstance. It was the thought that through everything, I could still be here – alive.
It was fucking amazing.
The thoughts I used to have, those that alerted me that I was fucking up or ugly or fat or sort of a general piece of shit, come back often. I’m an active thinker and to say these thoughts are only an occasional visitor would be a lie. Now, I treat them with a combination of respect, disregard, and love. I laugh in their face and think of myself putting my arm around them, telling them they’re crazy and chuckling. They’re me, but they aren’t all of me.