Plumbing the depths of self-love can be a surprising exploration, as you may have discovered. When I feel into the vitality of self-love within me, it feels most essentially composed of self-respect, self-compassion, self-trust, self-forgiveness, and a generous dose of no longer giving a fuck about certain peripheral aspects of life that used to consume my attention.
Granted, these qualities are far easier to string together in a sentence than to truly embody. I’m inspired to try and articulate some of my thoughts on self-respect, specifically. Because I don’t know about you, but for me, true self-respect has been particularly hard-won. It has come with time and grit, vigilance and resolve; an ongoing willingness to intimately face inside myself that which hasn’t been respectable in the least.
Almost two decades ago, my spiritual mother Gangaji said to me: “You must learn true self-respect. You must learn to be as fierce as a mother lion in your own care!” This comment did not come out of the blue. She had been watching me as I was caught in an anguished cycle of suffering with a lover who was not a healthy match for me. I had become oddly addicted to the painful emotional drama this relationship entailed. Somewhat masochistically, I just kept going back for more.
Due to what I now understand must have been some degree of unresolved wounding, at that stage I still lacked the true self-respect necessary to know my own worth, to value my own deep listening about the truth of what I wanted, to speak this clarity and choose to align my life with it, come what may. As I found the courage to break this pattern, the toxic relationship was released once and for all, leaving in its place a wholehearted prayer to fully receive the lessons I had been given so I wouldn’t need to attract them in that way ever again.
In retrospect, I can say that from that point on I was able to stand true to my realization and my prayer to embody deeper self-respect in relationship. I never found the need to attract another partner whose qualities might tempt me to repeat that specific self-destructive pattern again.
However, I would say that every relationship since then has profoundly served to trigger and test my resolve for true self-respect.
What true relationship doesn’t?
It’s such a juggling act—the way relationship asks us to neither abandon nor betray ourselves by catering to another’s needs, while requiring that we surrender bravely to the humbling commands of Love.
One of the most important ways we can foster true self-respect is through active inquiry; through listening to our own heart, and then daring to honor what it is we hear.
When we realize we are accountable to our own living Truth, we stand tall in the self-respect this awards.
When we realize what choices are in alignment with our evolving self, and then line our actions up with that, this tends the garden of self-respect. If instead we choose to ignore or minimize what we know to be true, the cost of this pattern over time is a vitally diminished self-respect, and a lack of trust in our capacity to live from our own holy integrity.
Have you ever noticed how we become trustworthy and respectable to others only in direct proportion to the degree we trust and respect ourselves?
When we do not respect or trust ourselves to live in alignment with our deepest hearts, how can we expect anyone else to trust or respect us? This cycle of self-deceit and self-betrayal feeds an insidious pattern of self-loathing, potentially causing dis-ease on all layers of our being, which then easily translates to dis-ease at all levels of our world.
What does it mean to be “as fierce as a mother lion” in our own care? To me it means that we defend our own integrity, our sacred sovereignty, own tender aliveness, and the sanctity of our soul’s worth.
It means that we treasure our deepest knowing with all the ferocity we can muster.
It means that we love ourselves enough to not betray our own bodies, our health, our heart’s wisdom, or our sacred attention by behaving in ways that diminish our dignity and honor.
It means that when the temptation to follow an addicted or fixated response arises (whether that be to a substance, a person, a behavior, or an emotional/mental tendency), we stop and consider the consequences. We know better. We know from experience what following this temptation will lead to, and we know all too well the cost to our self-respect.
It means that we finally choose the delicious sobriety of self-respect over the tempting familiarity of avoidant distractions, reactivity, or the glory of some fleeting pleasure.
One of the most valuable ways I know of to cultivate self-respect is discovering firsthand our capacity to meet any discomfort and challenge that comes our way. When we discover that we can face whatever it is we dread—boredom, loss, aloneness, shame, rage, futility, despair, illness, failure—and rather than indulge a habitual reaction to this discomfort, instead choose to simply feel the array of feelings rising within us, then we discover the invaluable knowing that we are capable of bearing this life, as it is.
Of course in our still-learning, ever-humbling human ways, we inadvertently fail. We fail to be sober in our response each and every time we are triggered. We fail to be unwaveringly vigilant. We fail to be consistently respectful of another’s perspective or psychic space. We fail to be consistently respectful of another’s feelings. Like just a couple of mornings ago, when I lashed out angrily at one of my beloveds from a place of deep internal hurt. Ouch.
And yet, how important to fully turn toward these moments. How important to notice the ways in which each mistake serves to hone our self-awareness, while beckoning an authentic path home towards repair—inside our own hearts and the hearts of those we hold dear.
When we recognize how to balance this fierce sword of discerning self-respect with true respect for others, as well as self-compassion and self-forgiveness for all the human ways we undoubtedly fall short, then we know we can trust ourselves with our life.
What a thing to know: we can be trusted with our own life!
When we trust ourselves with life, this is deep self-love. What a great relief. We can finally let ourselves rest. It’s enough to simply be as we are. As we rest in this love with ourselves, absolutely anything is possible.