Monday, August 3, 2009

In Search of...a second commandment

For those of you who have been wondering about it since the first commandment, pacing the floors of your cleaned up homes and lives, here it is, commandment #2:

Love yourself.

I know, I know. Just like "Clean up your own mess" it sounds a tad elementary and like something you might scoff at, but I dare you to do, actually I command you to, oh trusty followers of my religion of personal responsibility which still has no catchy name.

Notice I didn't predicate that love on some other kind of love like some other religions. That's where you get into some tricky territory, if you ask me. That whole "love others the way God loves you" or "love others as you love yourself" - that presupposes a lot of knowledge and practice that, judging by the world around us, we don't really have. So I thought I'd start with a basic, simple and straightforward - love yourself.

What does that mean? Well, for starters I can tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean to buy yourself anything and everything, or to treat others condescendingly or disrespectfully. Those wouldn't be signs of self-love at all, and though you would figure that out for yourself eventually, why waste time? Loving yourself begins with respecting yourself, and if you think about the qualities in someone that would earn them your respect - which is different than your fear, obedience or even admiration, by the way - those are qualities that indicate self-love.

In general we know a lot of the qualities that would indicate self-love, at least we do intellectually - honesty, integrity, loyalty, courage. In fact, we bandy these words about with little regard for their actual meaning, so I'll clarify. Honesty is easy when there's nothing at stake, but try telling the truth it when there's something big on the line, like your relationship with your spouse. See if you choose to rock that boat or live with the status quo.

And look at integrity. It's easy to have it when your livelihood isn't jeopardized. Try it out when it would mean losing your job. Also, not so easy when our national security is threatened. Then we somehow manage to look the other way about people skimming off the top, or very obviously, torture...which brings me to loyalty, an issue I've thought quite a bit about in recent years.

Who or what is worthy of our loyalty? Or is loyalty in itself an ideal worth being loyal to? Most of us do it - with spouses, religions, political parties, sports teams, friends - we say we're loyal. We choose sides. But loyalty isn't tested when your team is winning. It's tested when they're not. It's tested when your spouse is ill, your team is losing and your party is not in power. It's tested when you're deciding whose fight is your fight, like in the schoolyard. If someone picks on your best friend, do you stand by and see how it plays out, or do you put yourself between your friend and that bully? Or what do you do if your best friend is the bully? What about if your best friend, the bully, is taking the other kids' lunch money to buy his cancer-ridden dying sister the toy that would bring a smile to her face? It's not so clear-cut, is it? But these are choices we make day in and day out nonetheless. And notice I'm not saying what the right decision is. I'll just tell you that loving yourself, in my estimation at least, involves making the choices that you can live with in those quiet hours of the night when we are left alone with our own thoughts. Can you sleep soundly? Do you respect the person whose eyes you encounter in the mirror? Do you know peace inside?

I've spoken a lot about courage lately too because I don't think it's such a common trait to possess and utilize these days. And I'm not referring to skydiving as an example. I'm referring to speaking truth to power - or truth to anyone, for that matter. I'm talking about doing what's right as opposed to what's popular. I'm talking about facing life and death with equal optimism. I'm talking about living in the biggest, broadest way possible. I'm talking about showing up, being a leader, taking ownership of your own life and the life of this planet. That takes real courage.

So to me, loving yourself, will at times not be such an easy road to walk. Sometimes it will be solitary, sometimes filled with others cheering you on, sometimes filled with others who are not cheering you on. I suppose the person who truly loves him or herself is the person who walks their path unfazed and undeterred by the changing circumstances and people surrounding them. I suppose they choose what it right for themselves, even when it's difficult, unpopular, or seemingly futile to an onlooker - and I suppose that someone who truly loves him or herself meets those choices with the same attitude as the choices that are easy, popular and obviously going to be successful.

What you are willing to risk for the sake of being true to your own soul is in direct correlation to how much you love yourself. There, I said it. Are you willing to risk losing who you were in order to gain who you are meant to be? Are you willing to be wrong and forgive yourself for that? Are you willing to forgive someone who's wronged you and forgive yourself for having allowed it, or maybe contributed to it? These are not only signs of maturity, they are signs of a person who truly values him or herself.

So love yourself enough to forgive yourself. Love yourself enough to be honest with yourself. Love yourself enough to change the way you operate in the world. Love yourself enough to be grateful for your life. Love yourself enough to know you have something unique and essential to contribute to this world at this time or you wouldn't be here. Love yourself enough to care about your physical well-being. Love yourself enough to speak up for yourself, for your principles, for whatever and whomever you would be loyal to. Love yourself. Period.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your love themselves too.

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