Instead, the ego-mind is trapped in all the negative labels that we have learned to apply to ourselves. Even those who think that they are pretty great in various ways, have areas that they feel very negative about and it is those areas that loom large. The same goes for people with big egos. And so we all suffer because we all feel insecure and in important respects do not value ourselves.
Someone recently asked me how does one love oneself, unconditionally. The question itself already indicates a point of confusion. If you love yourself but only conditionally, then you don’t really love yourself. It’s the same as when you feel someone loves you conditionally, you don’t really feel loved at all. It’s either all or nothing. It’s not that you don’t feel there is something about yourself that could benefit from growth or change, it’s that you love yourself unconditionally just as you are right now.
So the first part of the answer is understanding that you, meaning your ego-mind, is a product of your learned experience. You have been programmed by that experience to act and think in certain ways, both regarding yourself and the world around you. Your free will only operates within a very small range. It’s not the broad free will that our legal and moral systems assume we have. This does not absolve us of responsibility, but it does absolve us of guilt. Because guilt assumes a choice, a control, and that just we don’t have.
Better put, we only have control if we are present, aware, and committed to freeing ourselves from the control of our ego-mind. But even then, as I’ve often noted, all we can do is the best we can. We are not saints. Perfection, 24/7 awareness, is not the goal. And the ego-mind is very strong. As long as we are trying, as long as we are walking the path, there is never failure.
At this stage of your understanding, you learn to love yourself because you’re just the way your are. It’s the same as looking at all the things that push your buttons and saying, it’s just the way it is. You cannot change your ego-mind. You have limited control over what you think, do, or say. With that awareness, develop compassion for yourself.
So just do it! Love yourself! Even if you’ve done terrible things or think you are a failure, love yourself. And have the intent to act in a more spiritually appropriate way in the future.
The second part is becoming aware that the person that you don’t love, the image that you don’t love, is a hologram of your ego-mind. It is not your true self. Your true self is your Buddha nature, your heart. And it has none of the qualities or labels that cause you to not love yourself. It is indeed the polar opposite. It would never harm someone and would never label you a failure. What is there not to love?
None of this gainsays your actual talents or weaknesses, or the nature of your physicality. What I am saying is that when you connect with your heart you stop applying labels, whether positive or negative, to yourself. You realize you are just as you are. And love yourself as you are.
“But if my heart is my true self, why do I keep doing harmful things or thinking negative thoughts about myself?” the reader may well ask. This is a common question. Whether you’re just starting your practice or whether you’ve been doing it for years as I have, the ego-mind does not give us a rest. It keeps rising. Even though as our practice goes deeper, it rises less frequently and when it does it is not as strong.
And so it is very common for people to feel discouraged, to feel that they are weak, not committed enough. You get the idea. And actually the more committed we are to our practice, the more common it is to get down about these “failures.”
But we must always remember that the ego-mind is very strong and its roots go very deep. We have fed our ego mind throughout our lives. Whereas our true self has until now sort of been orphaned; it has not been nourished and so is weak compared to the ego-mind. It’s roots don’t go deep.
The point is that these aren’t failures. That is the ego-mind talking. This is just the way life is and we do the best we can in walking the path. Always with the intent of trying to be present and aware more moments of the day and so not fall under our ego-mind’s control.
When you understand that, then one is free to be one with your heart and to love yourself unconditionally … to embrace all aspects of your being and experience.