Learning To Love Yourself
By Gay Hendricks
122 Pages, March 18, 2011
I was at a crisis point in my work. For many years I had been searching for the answer to one question: How can we bring about change in ourselves? I wanted to know the most fundamental processes by which we could transform ourselves, our relationships and the world around us. This question had propelled me into counseling psychology and all the way to a doctorate; it had sent me to hundreds of lectures, thousands of books and journals, and dozens of professors, gurus, and sages. I still did not know the answer. Actually, I knew many theories and facts, but I knew nothing that resonated in my own heart and mind. Now the question was gaining urgency, because I was about to start my new job as a professor in charge of training therapists. In a week I would stand up in front of my first graduate school class. Although I had my bottomless grab bag of facts and theories, I knew I was not going to feel satisfied spouting the accumulated wisdom of my field. I wanted to be able to teach what I knew to be true from my own experience.
I was sauntering along a mountain path when the moment came upon me. It popped into my mind that the Buddha decided to sit under a tree until he reached enlightenment. In that moment I decided I to stop and wait until I had my answers. In a flash I realized I had been looking outside myself for the answers. I had never really turned the question over to my own experience. I had asked everyone except myself. Suddenly my mind grew still and electric, like the air just before a thunderstorm. To ask myself, to trust my own experience — it seemed so outrageous an idea that I did it on the spot then and there.
I phrased a question in my mind:
What is the one thing we can do to bring about transformation?
Another question spontaneously bubbled up:
How can I deal with negative feelings so that they do not recycle?
What is the one thing I could do to make my life flow freely and easily?
A second or two later the answers to those questions shot through me, not intellectually but in the form of an electric wave of ecstatic sensation that swept up my body from my legs to my head. I reeled about under the trees, staggered by the impact of the energy. I felt as if a benign freight-train of energy was roaring through my body. How I greeted the energy made a difference in how it felt. If I relaxed my body and moved around and let the energy dance its way through me, I felt the energy as an ecstatic, good feeling. If I tensed against it or stopped letting myself move with the energy, I didn’t feel as good. The energy continued to pulsate through me for the better part of an hour while I moved and danced and flexed my body in the stillness of the forest. After a while the energy subsided, and I discovered to my great delight and surprise that I now had all the answers to my questions. I felt a deep conceptual knowing of the answers along with a sense of joy and fulfillment in my body. It felt as if the energy had left behind a permanent imprint of the answers within me.
Over the next few minutes I savored the answers to my big questions. I also discovered that if I wished to know more about any of the questions, all I had to do was to relax into the energy in my body and the answers appeared spontaneously in my mind. It was a whole new way of knowing, and it felt deeply nourishing.
First, here was the answer to my question about how to deal with all the feelings of anger and sadness that recycled in me. The answer was simple: Feel the feelings in your body — don’t conceptualize about them in your mind. Be with them by directing sensitive awareness toward them. Feel them as intensely as you can, and love yourself for feeling them. I was stunned by this answer. All my life I had been trying to figure out with my mind how to deal with feelings, and now I realized that the way to deal with them was not a mental thing at all! I had been trapped by my proud intellect into thinking there was some way to deal with feelings through a mental manipulation. The answer indicated that feelings had only to be felt; the solution was beyond the mind. It was so foreign to my ordinary way of thinking that I went ahead and did it on the spot.
Instead of trying to talk myself out of my feelings as I had always done, I simply stood there and allowed all my feelings to wash over me. I surrendered to loneliness, fear, and longing. I invited up all the anger that I had always suppressed behind my nice-guy facade. Waves of anguish and sadness swelled up from my chest and suffused me. I simply opened myself to whatever was there. For perhaps a half-hour I stood under the trees and danced with the waves of feeling as they came up. My body was a torrent of emotion and conflict until suddenly everything subsided and I felt a warm, peaceful glow throughout my body and mind. Then the glow turned into a rush of exhilaration as I realized what I had learned.
Along with the answer to how to deal with feelings had come the answer to my question about the one thing that brings about transformation. I saw very clearly that resistance keeps life painful and complicated. I had been resisting reality all my life — resisting facing it, resisting accepting it, resisting feeling it. Whenever I would have a feeling, like fear, I would immediately tense against it and try to make it go away. It seemed that my whole life was one big resistance: against my feelings, against love, against my own energy and potential. In that moment I decided to stop resisting. Suddenly everything changed. The moment I stopped resisting I could greet all of myself with love. I opened up to accept the previously unloved parts of myself. After all, what did those parts of me need if not my love? When I dropped my stance of resistance, I felt totally connected to myself. I was free and alive, suddenly moving with the river instead of against it. It was, I believe, my life’s first conscious moment of peace. It was my rebirth-day.
I want to explore resistance further because it felt at the time, and still does, to be the monumental problem we encounter in our psychological growth. Throughout our lives we have experiences such as fear, sadness, sexuality, things we want, creative urges. We learn to resist these experiences, either because we are told to resist them by parents and society, or because we do not know what to do with the experiences at the time. Take sexuality as an example. We may resist our sexual feelings because we have received overt or covert messages from other people that we should not allow ourselves to experience our sexuality. Even in the absence of such messages, though, we may decide on our own to resist sexuality because we do not know what to do with it. To open up to it would be to open Pandora’s box.
When we resist our experience, certain predictable results occur. First, we lose our direct relationship with life. Since our personal experience is our direct response to life, to resist it is to begin to see life through the fog of our beliefs, opinions, and conditioned responses: through a veil of mind-stuff. We yearn for clear, direct experience; we are not satisfied with watching life through the veil. Another result of resisting our experience is that we begin to dramatize it. To continue with the example of sexuality, when we resist experiencing deeply our sexual feelings, we dramatize sexuality by fantasizing about sex, flirting, worrying about sex, and forming beliefs about sex. Freud, of course, made history by first noticing in his practice how many people who had resisted their sexuality dramatized it to the point of developing medical symptoms.
It appears, then, that one fundamental problem of life is resistance to experience. Logically the solution to this problem is to become willing to experience what we experience, and that tiny little thing is so incredibly simple yet so difficult that most people are content to live in the world of nonexperience, of drama, of shadow.
The results of that turnaround moment were manifested in my life. A few days later I did the first session of therapy I’d ever felt good about. A woman consulted me about some fears she was having, as well as about some life decisions she had to make. We dealt with the fears first. Instead of trying to talk her out of feeling scared, as I might have done the week before, I helped her open up to the fear, letting herself feel it to completion. When she came to the end of the fear, which took about fifteen minutes, a small miracle happened. The decisions she needed to make, which had seemed thorny and formidable before she let herself experience the fear, came to her mind spontaneously and effortlessly. She saw the path she had to take, the moves she had to make, the actions that were required. It was as if letting herself experience things the way they were connected her up to some inner reservoir of creativity. I was moved.
Shortly after learning to love myself that first moment, I watched another ancient pattern of my own dissolve. All my life I had craved love while simultaneously repelling it. I would get close to people, then do something to drive them away.
After that moment in the forest I saw that the old pattern was based on a deep conviction that I was unlovable. When I felt love for myself, I found that I was suddenly able to receive love from others without pushing it away at the same time. Within a week or two I met an extraordinarily loving woman with whom I developed the first truly satisfying love relationship of my life.
Now for the bad news. Learning to love ourselves means expanding to a new level of awareness, and with that awareness come new challenges. Learning to love means that we will see more that needs to be loved. When we explore a dark room with only a candle, we can see only the vague outlines of things. Give us a powerful light, though, such as the light of love, and we can see every little nook and cranny, all the dust and cobwebs, all the clutter, every imperfection. In short, we can see everything that needs to be loved. Then life becomes a process of lovingly getting that room straightened up, and you know how we hate to clean house. Love brings with it, though, a refinement of our vision. Instead of seeing the housework as a curse, we can begin to see it as a set of opportunities to expand in love. With this attitude life becomes rich and passionate.
If only there was a guarantee that learning to love meant that we could retire and never feel off-center again! Instead we can only guarantee the opposite. Learning to love yourself will bring into your awareness the very next thing that needs to be loved, and you will be stretched by it, sometimes to the limit. You will forget, as I often do, to love yourself until the very last moment, then you will remember again, only to forget again, and remember. You will get it and lose it a million times. And it really does not matter, because the essential transformation takes place at the moment you become willing to love. Being willing to love ourselves means that we are greeting life with acceptance rather than resistance. Coming at life from a stance of willingness means that you have changed the one thing that must be changed.
For me it changed everything. Life took on great joy and depth. Before that moment I felt I had been bored all my life. After that moment everything unfolded with passion. My work as a therapist and teacher became a blessing rather than a burden. It feels very good to begin each day knowing I will have the opportunity to assist people in learning to love themselves and at the same time learn to love myself more deeply.
When we experience what we are experiencing, we line ourselves up with what actually is. We stop pretending that it isn’t. This is the source of much power in our lives. Masters are people who allow themselves and others to be the way they are. Accepting what is real is also the source of creativity. When we line ourselves up with what is true within ourselves, it seems to open us up to more truth. And what better thing could life be about than opening up ourselves to more power, clarity, truth, and love?
“When we don’t love ourselves deeply, we’re always looking for someone else to do it for us… We’re demanding from others the love we’re not giving to ourselves. When you love and accept yourself deeply and unconditionally for all that you are and aren’t, you attract people who love themselves. That’s where the magic begins — and relationships become partnerships on the path to love.”
— Gay & Katie Hendricks
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